On a recent day at a crowded Starbucks in downtown San Francisco, Tom Pageler powers up his laptop and takes me online shopping — with a twist.
Pageler is not one of the cybercriminals. He’s a former Secret Service agent who studied them and is now in the private sector, with a Bay Area company called DocuSign.
He takes me to the anonymous Tor network, to a website that requires a login. He doesn’t want to reveal the name of the site because he doesn’t want to tip off anyone. Being a trusted user on a criminal website takes work. It’s a lot like eBay; you have to visit, buy and sell regularly, and get rated and reviewed by your peers.
“When they transact with you, no one’s getting arrested, no one’s getting burned,” Pageler says. “So every time you make a transaction on the underground, you’re just building your street cred.”