Current Trends in the Turkish-Language Dark Web
Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt of a full report. To read the entire analysis with endnotes, click here to download the report as a PDF.
We analyzed advertisements, posts, and interactions within Turkish-language hacking and cybercrime forums to explore the capabilities, culture, and organization of these communities. This report is a follow-up to our previous reporting on the state of the Turkish-language dark web as part of a series analyzing cybercriminal communities in Brazil, Russia and China, Japan, and Iran. It will be of greatest interest to organizations and geopolitical analysts seeking to understand the cybercriminal underground in order to better monitor security-related threats, as well as to those researching the Turkish-language underground.
Turkey’s increasingly unstable financial situation, with record inflation rates and a plummeting Turkish lira, has created conditions for disenfranchised young people to join underground communities and engage further in cybercriminal activities. We found that Turkish patriotic hacking collectives are continuing their defacement operations and at least 1 threat group is working to engage in more sophisticated hacking activities. Turkish-language cybercriminals are active on English- and Russian-language forums where they share and sell compromised data from Turkish entities. In our research, we identified at least 3 Turkish-language ransomware groups and we developed a YARA rule to detect TurkStatik Ransomware.
With the prevalence of ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) models and the resulting decrease in barriers for entry to the ransomware space, we expect an increase in the number of Turkish-language ransomware groups. As a cornerstone of the Turkish underground community, we expect patriotic hacking collectives to continue their operations.
- Turkish patriotic hackers continue their defacement operations targeting countries they perceive to be “enemies” of Turkey, and in some cases aim to ramp up the sophistication of their activities including leaking confidential data and building a hacktivist botnet.
- Turkish-language, financially motivated threat actors advertise their services, methods, and stolen data on popular global forums to avoid Turkish law enforcement attention and appeal to a larger audience. We identified at least 3 Turkish-language ransomware variants being used by threat groups including TurkStatik, SifreCikis, and DeadLocker. At the time of this report, we do not know the number of victims in Turkey affected by these ransomware variants as the operators of said ransomware do not operate extortion websites.
As outlined in our previous reporting, Turkish-speaking dark web communities primarily focus on 2 functional areas: patriotic hacking (hacktivism) and financially motivated cybercrime. Patriotic hacking communities frequently respond to geopolitical events around the world, especially those relating to Turkey, and show support for the government agenda by targeting countries perceived to be “enemies” of Turkey. Financially motivated communities focus on a variety of fraud-related activities such as payment card fraud, data breaches, and social engineering. Due to pressure from law enforcement, Turkish-language forums do not host content, data, or methods targeting Turkish organizations. A majority of the compromised data and attack methods targeting Turkish organizations are found on English- or Russian-language forums like BreachForums, XSS, and Exploit.
Increased political and financial instability in Turkey are likely contributing factors to the popularity of dark web forums and financially motivated cybercrime. Researchers have argued for a correlation between financial instability (particularly youth unemployment) and cybercrime rates, using the case study of Nigeria as an example. On October 3, 2022, data from the Turkish Statistical Institute (TUIK) showed that inflation levels hit a 24-year high with 83.45% inflation, while independent experts at the Inflation Research Group (a private research group in Turkey) estimate the annual rate to be much higher at approximately 186.27%. Despite high inflation rates, the Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey has been pursuing an unorthodox easing cycle approach by lowering interest rates. As a result, the Turkish lira lost 44% of its value against the dollar in 2021, and the lira hit an all-time low in September 2022 with a further 100-point reduction in interest rates. The rising cost of living combined with the volatile financial situation continues to impoverish Turkey’s youth.