• February 2, 2023

Ireland’s crime gangs use the Dark Web during Covid-19 pandemic to sell drugs and weapons

The crime gangs have been using the Dark Web – in which Adrian Creavan Mackin (Hero Garda Tony Golden’s Killer) buy and sell drugs, weapons, stolen credit cards, Bitcoin, individual data, and engage in money laundering.

With a 63% increase in cyber attacks and a 43% jump in online fraud in Ireland this year, the offenders are now firmly in the sights of the Garda National Cyber Crime Bureau.

In an exclusive interview with the Irish Sun, Det. Chief Supt Paul Cleary, who conducts the GNCCB and has 27 years’ policing experience, cautioned how Cybercrime is “rapidly evolving.”

He said: “We’re actively targeting and patrolling the dark web to spot the criminal groupings and people using this for prohibited purposes.

“Drugs and illegal solutions can now be ordered at the push of a button, which is only going to grow.

“Organized crime gangs are harnessing the world wide web to communicate and control their empires.

“We’re satisfied that criminals and organized crime gangs are using the dark web to buy and sell drugs, firearms and encrypted telephones.

“Cybercrime is quickly evolving, but law enforcement is making substantial strides in tackling the presence and growth of internet crime. The agency is committed to ensuring that the online security of the public, private individuals and business.”


Another significant crime investigated by the specialist unit is the field of child exploitation, including sickos viewing images of children being abused.

At the moment, 360 suspected child exploitation cases are currently being probed.
Each instance can take weeks to research as laptops, telephones and other devices captured must be forensically examined.

Det Chief Supt Cleary said: “The exploitation of children and the proliferation of child abuse substance is among the most heinous crimes which our bureau investigates. It targets the most vulnerable in our society and there’s a victim in each case.

“A substantial portion of our resources and time are willingly spent on identifying the perpetrators of those crimes and their victims.

“We’ve had notable successes where members of the agency are centrally involved in the investigation of child abuse and the identification of the victims through the forensic evaluation of their computers and the media they used.

“Encryption has been used by criminals, including terrorists and sexual predators, to conceal their crimes and identities. Law enforcement agencies must defend the vulnerable and the State.

“The agency uses recognized tools and methods to make sure its examinations can find and identify the best evidence to prove the guilt, or the innocence, of the suspects involved.

“Our detectives have to appear at these videos and images and categorize them. We’re aware there’s a victim in every case. I also give priority to the welfare of my members. We’ve got the correct welfare supports in place; I take that quite seriously.”


Although drug gangs and sick perverts are major targets for the agency, which works closely with specialist units under the command of Assistant Commissioner John O’Driscoll in Serious and Organized Crime, those engaged in encouraging extreme views online are also on their radar.

Det. Chief Supt Cleary added: “The agency plays a central role in these investigations as lots of the crimes that involve terrorism or hate speech are dedicated over online forums.

“The in-depth investigations of the contents of the computers, and the intent of these consumers, often provides evidential data which is fundamental to the investigation and could lead to a stronger case in court.”

Currently, the agency’s specialist investigators break down their probes into ‘Cyber-Enabled’ and ‘Cyber Dependent’ crimes.

Cyber-Enabled crimes include regions of fraud, theft and child exploitation, which are committed using computers, but also other digital devices.

Cyber Dependent incidents relate to using computers just as well as the crimes include hacking, ransomware, malware and denial of service attacks.

Det. Chief Supt Cleary explained: “Offenders are using the exact methods to extract cash and information from victims if it is via email, text or social websites, but they still play on people’s fears.”


Since the pandemic continues, the cybercrime group also has researched 324 ‘phishing’ cases and 178 ‘company email compromise’ cases between February and October of this year.

Other characters show how there were 149 ‘investment frauds’ and 43 cases of ‘unauthorized access’ to computer systems.

And there’s been a 37% increase in love frauds this season – while the latest figures also demonstrate how Cybercrime currently costs the global economy a staggering $6 trillion.

Since Det Chief Supt Cleary’s appointment to the agency in July, the senior officer has drawn up plans to boost the unit’s capacity by appointing 50 new researchers and 20 civilian staff members.

Alongside the growth programs, 220 frontline officers throughout the country also have been trained as ‘Digital First Responders,’ and they provide the expertise needed to secure and preserve evidence from digital devices at crime scenes and online hunts.

At the moment, the agency has the latest state of the art equipment to handle the rising number of gangs that are involved in a variety of types of Cybercrime.

And six ‘cyber satellite hubs’ are also established in Garda stations in Wexford, Mullingar, Galway and Cork at the end of 2020, with two hubs to be introduced in Dublin and Cavan by next year.

Det. Chief Supt Cleary said: “It is a place of law enforcement that has massive potential, and I am very excited to participate in improving the Garda cybercrime abilities in the future.

“This significant expansion of GNCCB is a powerful indication of how badly the Garda organization chooses this sort of crime and the dedication to make sure we have a strong capability in this area to the future.

“Each Garda district in the nation will have coached Digital First Responders to help members of the public when reporting Cybercrime.
“This is all about providing the highest standards of service to individuals reporting Cybercrime.

“The new recruits will combine different teams in cybersecurity, cyber investigations, cyber intelligence, computer forensics – they will also participate in cybersecurity, contributing to awareness and education campaigns to keep people safe.”


As part of his remit, Det. Chief Supt Cleary also includes responsibility for the Garda National Technical Bureau and the Garda Operational Support Services, including the Air Support Unit and the Sub Aqua Unit.

As well as the senior officer, who headed the investigation that led to the conviction of Kinahan cartel killer Fat Freddie Thompson, has also urged anyone with information about computer hackers to come forward.

Det. Chief Supt Cleary explained: “There are people out there with information on those involved in hacking and we would like to hear from them.

“This could be done on a confidential and anonymous basis.”

And as the struggle against web crooks continues, plans are also underway to present a particular online platform for people to report cybercrimes.

In their efforts to face the threat of Cybercrime, Det. Chief Supt Cleary and his staff work closely with Europol, Interpol, the FBI, the Banking Payments Federation of Ireland, Eurojust and the National Cyber Security Centre.

The best cop urged people to stay vigilant to the many types of Cybercrime, including: “As a result of the pandemic, people are spending more time in their devices.

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