Artificial Intelligence and the Fight Against Illegal Narcotics

August 2021

Drug trafficking is one most profitable illegal activities in the world, generating an estimated $400 billion per year from the illicit sale of fentanyl, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines, controlled prescription drugs, and “designer drugs.” Transnational Drug Trafficking Organizations operate globally, creating a vast web of intricate communications and operations. This illegal trade contributes to a host of related issues, including violent crimes, accidental overdose deaths, and social and family disruptions and tragedies on a massive scale.

One of the enabling game-changers for illegal enterprises was the creation of The Onion Router (TOR), the system that serves as the gateway to the infamous Dark Web, allowing users to operate and interact with a much higher level of secrecy than possible on normal Internet platforms. Use of the Internet (and the Dark Web in particular) has also led to a more globally networked narcotics trafficking trade, bringing additional complications for investigators due to the many differences in criminal, customs, and trade laws from country to country, as well as foreign language challenges. While the layers of encryption and identity obfuscation created by the Dark Web provide drug dealers, weapons traffickers, child pornographers, counterfeiters, sellers of stolen financial information, and other criminals a high degree of protection from the law, new strategies and technologies are making it more difficult for them to go undetected.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology has been and is being developed to equip investigators to execute their searches more effectively in the world of the Dark Web, scanning illegal marketplaces through sophisticated keyword searches and customized parameters that have been demonstrated to be highly effective in identifying and isolating illegal narcotics trade activity. These automated AI processes can gather massive amounts of information about marketplace names, current drug-related jargon, manufacturing, processing, and shipping origins and destinations, payment information, and a range of other critical information. Just as importantly, this type of AI can process and analyze these oceans of data, learning actively as it works, and provide clear, concise, actionable results for investigators and analysts in near real-time.

While the use of AI in the Dark Web is vital to counter-narcotics investigators, its use is certainly not limited there. Virtually every person who conducts activity using TOR also has a presence on the surface web. For this reason, AI systems can be programmed to link their findings on the Dark Web to data gathered on the surface web. This expands the data and strengthens the analysis and findings. For instance, a photograph, reference, phrase, or identifier from the Dark Web might also be found in publicly available data, enabling investigators to draw stronger inferences about an offender’s identity and connections. These applications of AI are invaluable to law enforcement agencies to increase the speed, accuracy, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness of their investigations and analysis.


Share this post