The Dark Web: anarchy, law, freedom and anonymity

The Deep Web, the bit of the World Wide Web that's not indexed by search engines like Google and Bing, is of intense interest to people who want to avoid government spies and law enforcement.

It is a lawless cyber-frontier with similarities to the Old West; it is intrinsically neither good nor bad but it holds particular attraction for pioneers because its resources haven't been fully explored, and it holds particular attraction for criminals because they can get away with doing things there that they can't do elsewhere. Like the Old West when it was everything west of the Mississippi river, the Deep Web appears to be larger than the territory that's already been settled but genuine outposts of activity are probably quite sparse and widely separated.

For the most part, the fact that sites in the Deep Web don't appear in Google results is a reflection of Google's commercial priorities and indexing methods rather than anything sinister.

Most of the Deep Web is dark for the same reason that the Old West was dark - it hasn't been worth anyone's while to install good lighting.

A small corner of the Deep Web is really dark though - so dark that it's called the Dark Web - because fundamental things like who you are and where you or the website you're using is located are a secret. This is the domain created by tools like Tor and I2P that provide ways to interact that are difficult to discover, and are anonymous and untraceable.

The Dark Web is many things to many people - it can be a safe haven and a secure communication channel for spies, citizens, journalists and whistle-blowers for example - but for the worst criminals it is the safest place to conduct their business online. It attracts people who want to engage in things like robbery to order, sex trafficking, arms trafficking, terrorism and distributing child pornography.

A report published by the Global Commission on Internet Governance entitled The Impact of the Dark Web on Internet Governance and Cyber Security proposes areas that law enforcement efforts should focus on.

Although their report is deliberately focused on the negative impact of the Dark Web they offer an even-handed view, describing it in non-judgmental terms and detailing both its capacity to save lives and the extreme criminality that finds safe haven in it.

The paper provides an interesting insight into how the content of the Dark Web, not just the technology, makes life difficult for law enforcement: ...crawling the clear Internet is usually an operation involving the retrieval of resources related to a site, this is not recommended in the Dark Web.

The paper exposes our most modern dilemma, writ large again; I want personal freedom, I want encryption, I don't want dragnet surveillance but I don't want safe havens for paedophiles or sex traffickers either and I don't want to have to make an absolute trade between any of those things.

The Dark Web isn't intrinsically bad, nor criminal, but it's folly to deny that alongside its ability to protect privacy and save lives, it is a magnet for extreme criminality.

As police forces get better at prosecuting cross-border crime on the regular web, it's likely to become an ever more popular place for criminals to do business too.

Sophos

 

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