FBI Discord: which began as a way for gamers to communicate, has grown in popularity to the point where it now has 150 million users and is valued at $2 billion.
However, rapid growth has resulted in troubling criminal activity. Forbes can reveal that the FBI is investigating Discord groups dedicated to cybercriminal activities, thanks to previously unreported court papers.
FBI Discord $2 Billion Gamer’s Paradise
Low-level hackers utilise the groups to share stolen data such as usernames and passwords. Police in the United States are also warning of a few cases in which groomers have used the chat app to target children who are vulnerable to online compulsion.
The site, which was founded in 2015 by young entrepreneurs Jason Citron and Stanislav Vishnevskiy (a Forbes 30 Under 30 alum), still describes itself as a gaming community. It boasts 150 million members and, as of 2017, had overtaken Slack, another major communications service.
However, when money and size grow, problems arise. Discord has become a tumultuous arena in the last two years, with the voices of innocent gamers increasingly mixing with those of shady criminals, child groomers, hate-mongers, and, most notoriously, white supremacists.
The founders of Discord declined to be interviewed for this piece, but a spokesman stated the company’s terms of service and community guidelines forbade “harassment, threatening communications, calls to violence, or other illegal conduct.” They also cover “actions that are more expansive than the regulations of other sites, such as doxxing and distributing private information.”
“While we do not read people’s private conversations, we do investigate and take swift action against any reported breach by a server or user,” the representative continued. “This can include closing down problematic servers or banning users.” “When it’s appropriate, we engage collaboratively with law enforcement agencies to safeguard and strengthen the safety of our community members.”
Hell’s Gate to Heaven’s Stolen Password
Forbes discovered a search warrant detailing an FBI investigation into a Discord group named Hells Gate in Ohio. It’s the first indication that the FBI has looked into cybercrime on the site.
The gang was selling “generated” credentials, according to the warrant. In the search application, an FBI special agent noted, “I suspect the account credentials produced on the website belong to unwitting victims whose credentials have been stolen or are somehow being used without authorization.”
Forbes later discovered a Discord-linked advertisement for a Hells Gate account generator. Customers of the illegal trade may gain access to tens of thousands of internet accounts, including cryptocurrency wallets, social media profiles, and pornography site logins, for as little as $9 to $50 each month.
According to a forum post that accompanied the ad from January of last year, Hells Gate was giving access to up to 109,506 accounts.
The HellsGate server was removed from Discord. It’s also been putting out fires started by hackers in other places. SentryMBA, a tool that automates the process of inputting millions of hacked usernames and passwords on various websites in an attempt to obtain access, was one of the numerous examples of unpleasant groups.
Before it was taken down, David Shear, an analyst at the U.S. cybercrime tracking firm Flashpoint, kept an eye on the SentryMBA Discord community, where participants regularly shared lists of hacked passwords as well as upgraded versions of the programme.
GiftCardKing was another example, where a single person provided custom-built account takeover software for a variety of online websites.
On top of that, there are Discord channels where people’s credit card information is sold, as well as discussions regarding shoplifted items and drugs.
Though it appears that most, if not all, of the above groups have been shut down by Discord, Forbes was able to immediately discover similar live conversations, including one that offered $100 Amazon gift cards for $50 and another that sold malware-as-a-service for a $115 lifetime charge.
FoxCult was one of the more interesting groups, with discussions ranging from the usage of stolen credit cards and selling PayPal accounts with thousands of dollars of credit to data dumps on the internet.
These data salesman and saleswomen aren’t the most dependable. According to security specialist Alex Holden, scammers are also active on the platform.
They usually pretend to have access to services and data when they don’t, then disappear with the money from the customers, never to be seen again under their Discord identity.
Why do hackers like Discord?
Following the 2018 law enforcement takedowns of popular dark web drug and weapons markets AlphaBay and Hansa, Rafael Amado, senior strategy and research analyst at Digital Shadows, claimed Discord has become increasingly popular with digital criminals. Ex-dark web inhabitants, according to Amado, believe Discord provides an appropriate level of anonymity.
However, thinking of Discord as a safe haven from legal action is just untrue. The site can and does pass over user information if the government comes forward with an authorised request, as the search warrants indicate.
Data thieves are aware that Discord does not give full anonymity, according to Shear. Instead, Shear’s opinion is that Discord has all of the necessary tools to easily start up data-stealing operations.
Years ago, hackers had to create their own private chat rooms, known as IRC [Internet Relay Chat] rooms, to communicate. Those chats were frequently hacked or taken down by distributed denial of service (DDoS) attempts, according to Shear. “For the most part, they don’t have to worry about any of that with Discord,” he added.
“The permissions system is simple enough to keep out anybody they don’t like, and given how easy it is to create a new Discord server, even if the server is banned, they can quickly start up a new one the next day. We’ve seen communities get banned a half-dozen times and still be able to use Discord.”
After speaking with the people behind SentryMBA, Forbes discovered that Shear’s theories were correct. Discord is useful, according to the owner of the SentryMBA Twitter account.
because of several easy-to-use and free features that were originally designed for gamers to chat, such as screen sharing and voice calling.
SentryMBA’s Discord community of 1,000 to 2,000 members was frequently discussing hacking techniques, while a spokeswoman for the company maintained they didn’t encourage unlawful conduct.
They told Forbes, “We regard it as facilitating freedom of speech for others who share a similar interest online.” “We cannot dispute that it is a very popular topic, and as time goes on, more and more people are becoming victims of such attacks, and these people must learn the necessity of self-defense.”
Grooming of children on Discord?
A few of examples where Discord has been utilised as the starting point for child grooming are more concerning than the increased cybercrime activities.
Another previously unreported search warrant from 2017 was discovered by Forbes, detailing the case of William Lee Dela Cruz, 22, who was using Discord to communicate with an anonymous 12-year-old. The government alleged they used Discord to talk about having sex and masturbating, among other things.
The communications surfaced after Jane Doe was reported missing, having vanished in a vehicle with Dela Cruz, according to a search warrant detailing further sexual activity between the two.
Dela Cruz was charged with enticing of a juvenile and travelling with the purpose to engage in illegal sexual activity. (He has yet to be tried.) Dela Cruz was ordered to be hospitalised for treatment for up to four months by the judge in the case last Thursday, “until his mental health is so improved that trial may begin.”
This wasn’t the first time the spot had been used for grooming. Six men and one woman were arrested in Florida earlier this month on charges of sexually exploiting two adolescent girls.
Police have issued a warning against the predatory use of Discord, claiming that at least one of the females was originally approached by the accused via the network, according to local media. The FBI was also stated to be involved in a 2018 missing child investigation in Mississippi, when a 14-year-old kid was allegedly enticed via Discord.
Other types of non-cyber crime have been discovered on Discord in recent months, according to the search request for the Hells Gate probe.
According to the FBI’s account, the subject of the search warrant, Stephen McQueen, was also seen posting on Hells Gate about guns and marijuana.
According to the search warrant application, McQueen was seen conversing with another Discord user about cultivating marijuana. (According to the court record, the warrant seeking McQueen’s DNA was not properly executed, and the case was dismissed.) There were no charges filed against a Stephen McQueen in Ohio, according to Forbes.
The identity crisis in Discord
Discord has other concerns in addition to these emerging issues. It has a notorious reputation for being a hotbed for white nationalists.
Following the now-infamous Unite the Right demonstration in Charlottesville, where a 32-year-old counterprotester was mowed down and murdered, Discord was forced to erase a number of alt-right chat groups, according to the New York Times.
However, it looked that Discord was unable to keep hate speech out. April Glaser of Slate joined around 20 Discord forums “that were either expressly about Nazism or white supremacy or relished in exchanging anti-Semitic and racist themes and imagery” in 2018.
Discord has become far more rowdy than the gamer-only site it was designed to be, as seen by the investigation and the criminal use of Discord described here.
It may be impossible to return to childhood innocence. At the very least, Discord has money to throw at the problem. It raised a massive $150 million in December.
Shear feels Discord has to progress beyond the current whack-a-mole game, in which misbehaving groups are simply banned. “To combat the widespread nature of threat actors utilising Discord as their home,” the company should collaborate with researchers.
Shear added, “Otherwise, it will be just reactionary as it is now.”
However, once thieves find messaging applications appealing, it’s difficult to get them to stop using them. From Facebook to Kik, social media platforms have spent millions in an attempt to purge criminals from their platforms. Until now, their wins in the wars on drugs, child abuse, and cybercrime have been largely symbolic.