Darknet: The digital underground



The arrest of two Delhi youths for the import and sale of illegal marijuana through the darknet in December last year sparked widespread discussion on the rising prominence of the darknet in India. With dark net being the new market for drug peddlers and illegal traders, it is slowly becoming one of the most challenging problems to be tackled in this cyber age.

What is the darknet?

The world wide web can be divided into three categories- the surface web, the deep web and the dark web. While pages on the surface web(visible web ) are indexed and can be easily accessed by the public, pages on the deep web are not indexed and hence cannot be readily accessed. The content of the deep web is hidden behind HTTP forms and includes many common uses such as webmail, online banking, and services that users must pay for, and which is protected by a paywall, such as a video on demand, some online magazines and newspapers, and many more. Content of the deep web can be located and accessed by a direct URL or IP address and may require a password or other security access past the public website page. The dark web is that part of the internet which can be accessed only by ‘overlay networks ‘ and needs special browsers like TOR to access. Browsers like TOR ensure anonymity to the host as well as the user, by protecting the IP address with its ‘overlay network’ structure.

Illicit drugs, weapons and online fraud : the endless dangers of darknet

The promise of anonymity the darknet offers has led to an alarming increase in its use in the last 4 years. A 2015 study showed that drugs are the most traded commodity on the dark web and 26 per cent of its content can be classified as ‘child exploitation’. A December 2014 study by Gareth Owen from the University of Portsmouth found that the most commonly hosted type of content on Tor was child pornography, followed by black markets. Stolen credit card details, forged documents, counterfeit currency and weapons are the other types of content. Reports of crowdfunded assassinations, hitmen and live streamed murders are believed to be available on the darknet.

How does it work?

Cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin are used for transactions on the darknet. Purchases on the darknet come with reviews and ratings just like on Amazon and Flipkart and are delivered to the customer’s doorstep just like any other order. Service providers like ‘escrow’ ensure that the transaction is made to the seller only after the customer receives the package. Often disguised, these illegal products mostly make their way through customs to the customers' doorstep.

Cracking the whip :

Though highly evasive, browsers like Tor aren’t completely untraceable. In early November, a coordinated action by the FBI and Europol known as Operation Onymous seized dozens of Tor hidden services, including three of the six most popular drug markets on the Dark Web. For now, just how the feds located those sites remains a mystery.

“ The Interpol, Europol and the FBI are the ones striving hard to keep the darknet dangers in check”, says J.Prasanna, Director of Cyber Security and Privacy Foundation, Singapore.

” The first step towards net safety comes down to parental supervision”, says J .Prasanna who provides dark web monitoring for banks.

“ The Indian government should ensure stringent punishment for the offenders using darknet for illegal trade and activities. The police department too should be technologically advanced to handle such crimes”, says V.Rajendran, Chairman, Digital Security Association of India.


The bright side :

It would be safe to say not everything is dark about the darknet. The privacy it provides is a major attraction to many who are looking to escape the watchful eyes of service providers and federal agencies. Anonymous messenger services and access to tonnes of resources (data, books, documents) argues the use of darknet for good.

Author:
Yamuna Chandran
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