Intelligent Systems Division

Feature Story

DIG Sheds Light onto the Dark Web’s Shadows

Spring 2016
by Brendan McNally, USC Viterbi Magazine

ISI’s Craig Knoblock and Pedro Szekely help connect the dots on gun traffickers

It isn’t at all surprising that so much of the illegal weapons trade now takes place on the Dark Web, the shadowy parallel Internet system where criminals operate vast, untraceable, anonymous marketplaces for  outlawed goods and services. Gunrunners, whether global or just down the block, thrive in anonymity.

They usually steer clear of meeting customers in person and never take even remotely traceable payments. Until now, it was nearly impossible for law enforcement agencies to fight the booming illegal gun market, but that is about to change.

Craig Knoblock and Pedro Szekely of USC Viterbi’s Information Sciences Institute and the Department of Computer Science have developed DIG, or Domain-specific Insight Graphs. This groundbreaking, cloud-based  analytical tool is part of Memex, a special browser developed by DARPA to help law enforcement enter the heretofore unsearchable Dark Web to find, extract and correlate the hidden information gunrunners and other traffickers inadvertently leave behind.

Memex is now being tested by six police departments and law enforcement agencies, which, according to Knoblock, could expand to as many as 200 by the end of 2016. Memex's early successes have led Manhattan  District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. to describe it to "60 Minutes" as "Google on steroids."

"The DIG software is being used by several law enforcement agents to investigate human trafficking cases, but its potential is equally strong in thwarting and catching gunrunners," Szekely said.

Memex needs to be powerful because the full Internet, beyond the “surface web" that most of us never get beyond, is a vast ocean of data, where conventional indexing and searching doesn't work. That's because the data is either too obscure, too vast or, in the case of the Dark Web, because it is encrypted and kept inside a private "anonymity network."

There are approximately 300 million guns in the U.S., according to a recent Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms study. Each year, half a million are stolen. They used to get sold in backrooms and empty parking lots. Now they're sold on the Dark Web, experts say.

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Congrats, Emilio!

September 27, 2016

The Complex Systems Society (CSS), which promotes development of complex systems science in and beyond Europe, has granted its junior scientific award to ISD’s Emilio Ferrara.  The award recognizes extraordinary scientific achievements by CSS researchers within seven years of completing their PhDs.

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Pedro Szekely on NOVA site

September 27, 2016

ISI research lead and USC research associate professor Pedro Szekely is quoted on the PBS NOVA science show’s website about AI’s potential for disrupting sex trafficking. The September 21, 2016 NOVA Next article, "How Artificial Intelligence Can Stop Sex Trafficking," cites the DIG open-source system that transforms web pages into searchable escort ads.

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Farshad Kooti is Newest ISI Ph.D.

August 9, 2016

On July 27, 2016, Farshad Kooti executed what his advisor Kristina Lerman calls “a masterful job” of defending his dissertation, “Predicting and Modeling Human Behavioral Changes Using Digital Traces.”  Emilio Ferrara, who also participated, echoed that sentiment.

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Feature Story

DIG Sheds Light onto the Dark Web’s Shadows

Spring 2016
by Brendan McNally, USC Viterbi Magazine

ISI’s Craig Knoblock and Pedro Szekely help connect the dots on gun traffickers

It isn’t at all surprising that so much of the illegal weapons trade now takes place on the Dark Web, the shadowy parallel Internet system where criminals operate vast, untraceable, anonymous marketplaces for  outlawed goods and services. Gunrunners, whether global or just down the block, thrive in anonymity.

They usually steer clear of meeting customers in person and never take even remotely traceable payments. Until now, it was nearly impossible for law enforcement agencies to fight the booming illegal gun market, but that is about to change.

Craig Knoblock and Pedro Szekely of USC Viterbi’s Information Sciences Institute and the Department of Computer Science have developed DIG, or Domain-specific Insight Graphs. This groundbreaking, cloud-based  analytical tool is part of Memex, a special browser developed by DARPA to help law enforcement enter the heretofore unsearchable Dark Web to find, extract and correlate the hidden information gunrunners and other traffickers inadvertently leave behind.

Memex is now being tested by six police departments and law enforcement agencies, which, according to Knoblock, could expand to as many as 200 by the end of 2016. Memex's early successes have led Manhattan  District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. to describe it to "60 Minutes" as "Google on steroids."

"The DIG software is being used by several law enforcement agents to investigate human trafficking cases, but its potential is equally strong in thwarting and catching gunrunners," Szekely said.

Memex needs to be powerful because the full Internet, beyond the “surface web" that most of us never get beyond, is a vast ocean of data, where conventional indexing and searching doesn't work. That's because the data is either too obscure, too vast or, in the case of the Dark Web, because it is encrypted and kept inside a private "anonymity network."

There are approximately 300 million guns in the U.S., according to a recent Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms study. Each year, half a million are stolen. They used to get sold in backrooms and empty parking lots. Now they're sold on the Dark Web, experts say.

Read More

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