What is a dark web or darknet? What is the deep web? What are the issues related to it? How is it regulated? Read to know more.
Dark web or darknet is in news frequently. It is important to understand the different terminologies associated with the concept. As easy as it is available to use, the sheer complexity of it in the cyber world is baffling and hard to trace or control.
The easy availability of dark web forums dedicated to freely sharing privacy-enabling technologies, intrusion software, and exploitable code means global law enforcement agencies are constantly engaged.
What is a dark web or darknet?
The darknet is a part of the internet that cannot be accessed through traditional search engines like Google nor is it accessible by normal browsers like chrome or safari.
It uses non-standard communication protocols which make it inaccessible to internet service providers (ISPs) or government authorities.
Surface web vs Deep Web vs Dark Web (DarkNet)
The World Wide Web (www) hosts the many connections of web pages on the network of computers connected through the internet. The www, or the web, consists of the ‘surface’ web and the ‘deep’ web.
The surface web is that portion that can be accessed by ordinary internet users using standard search engines like Google, Yahoo, etc. But it can retrieve only approximately 4 per cent of the search results, while the majority of the results are hidden.
What is the deep web?
The deep web constitutes 96 per cent of the web- the password-protected or paywall-protected websites, including online banking services, for instance, are considered a part of the deep web. Such websites hold the information relating to accounts of millions of individuals that is not accessible to the entire web population. The content of personal databases like email accounts, social media accounts, scientific and academic databases, legal documents, etc. that are accessible to only a closed group also forms part of the deep web.
What is Darknet?
Darknet is a part of the deep web, but the deep web is accessible whereas the darknet is deliberately hidden.
The content of darknet is encrypted and requires specific browsers such as TOR (The Onion Ring), FreeNet, Invisible Internet Project (I2P), TAILS (The Amnesic Incognito Live System), Whonix browser to access those pages.
TOR was developed by United States naval research laboratory employees to protect US intelligence communications online. It is termed so as the traffic from the browser created several layers like those of an Onion before reaching the destination site.
TOR is also used for legitimate purposes like secure and sensitive communications relating to medical ailments, helping law enforcement officials track down criminals, and assisting cybersecurity professionals to conduct security testing on their networks securely. It also provides access to social media websites in countries where they are banned. Using the Tor browser is not a criminal activity, although intelligence units keep a track of Tor downloads to predict any possible criminal activity.
The exploitation of the dark web
The dark web has turned into the site of illegal transactions, posing a threat to cyberspace across multiple dimensions. Since anonymizers on the dark web make it difficult to track web patterns such as browsing history, location, etc., they are misused by criminals to hide their identities and carry out illegal activities.
The dark web market, ‘Silk Road’, was the first modern darknet market known for selling illegal drugs. This was taken down in 2013. But since then, users across the world have searched the online dark market to anonymously access weapons, credit card data, malware, Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS), stolen data, etc.
Criminal and terrorist activities: The anonymous chat rooms and communication services on the dark web make it an ideal platform for planning and coordinating dangerous criminal and terrorist activities.
Drug trafficking: In March 2021, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned people against the sale of counterfeit Covid-19 vaccines, particularly on the dark web. Fraud services like fake vaccines have the potential to exploit the huge unmet global demand for Covid-19 vaccines criminally.
Illegal activities like money laundering, drug trafficking, terrorism financing, ransomware, cryptocurrencies on the dark web are all strongly linked to one another.
Challenges to regulate the dark web
Encryption technique and anonymity: This is one of the biggest challenges faced by the authorities- the dark web is completely anonymous making it difficult to attain sufficient information that could help combat cybercrimes and track criminals who exploit this space.
Cryptocurrency: Most financial transactions on the dark web are performed in cryptocurrencies which provide further anonymity. The technology of cryptocurrency called the blockchain is a digital ledger of transactions distributed across the network in which the blocks are cryptographically secured. It records information in a way that makes it difficult or impossible to modify or hack the system.
Bitcoin transactions have facilitated all kinds of illegal activities by cybercriminals and terrorists on the dark web and this has made it extremely difficult for law enforcement agencies to follow the trail of money to gather evidence of a crime. Regulation of cryptocurrencies is possible only concerning their legitimate use while a large portion of them can still be used for illegitimate purposes.
The dark web is a complex environment having both benefits and disadvantages based on whether it is utilized or exploited by the user.
- Darknet helps to protect the right to freedom of information and online privacy of individuals and is therefore often used by journalists and other activists across the world to carry out communication safely and securely. At the same time, it is misused by miscreants giving rise to a series of crimes.
- The law enforcement agencies need to take a refined approach to protect the benefits of this space as well as eliminate the illegal activities in it.
- Cooperation between public and private organizations can help in dealing with the new and emerging technological challenges of the dark web, by providing solutions such as new encrypting tools, etc. Law enforcement agencies should actively take the help of sophisticated technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, etc.
- A specified regulation on the amount of personal data collected by various companies and their automatic deletion after a stipulated period could increase the efficiency of cyber systems to secure the data and prevent such incidents in the future to a large extent.
- The challenges of the trans-border nature of the dark web can be dealt with by sharing intelligence data across different sectors, agencies and organizations.
- International co-operation in the form of multilateral exchanges through seminars, forums, and joint capacity-building exercises is highly beneficial in this regard.