When the Internet was first created it was designed to have one simple task and that was to connect people through a network regardless of their location. This holds true to this day, as there is a constant mindset to make information better accessible to everyone all over the world. The one downside to this connectivity that we share with everyone around the world is that there has to be rules invoked in order to have or maintain some sort of control or at least guidance to the usage of Internet, but with any rule there will always be rule breakers. That’s where we get the Dark net, which is essentially what the Wild Wild West was in the United States of America. There are no rules in the Dark Net and it’s a breeding ground for criminal activity of all sorts. Even though it may sound like a terrible thing there are certain benefits to having the Dark Net around and those benefits can help law enforcement agencies and federal agencies acquire information on criminal activity and communication.
When it comes to information about the Dark net or the topic of the Dark Net we always tend to come at a crossroads with either people who know all about it and understand what it is or people who have never even heard of it. This is not because people are uneducated, but because information on the Dark Net rarely gets out for people to fully comprehend what it is. Also there are other terms that are used interchangeably with the Dark Net such as Dark Web, Darkweb and Darknet. Though deep web may sound like it can fit into this very category it is actually very different. According to Brook, Z. (2016) “The Deep Web refers to any webpage that is not accessible through a search engine.” While that statement might be true as well for the Dark Net itself, the websites that are on the Dark Net are also “inaccessible by standard search engines and browsers.” Brook, Z. (2016).
So this brings up the question what is the Dark Net anyway? The answer is quite simple and not as far-fetched as one may think. The Dark Net according to Hacker Lexicon: What Is the Dark Web? (2014) is “a collection of websites that are publicly visible, yet hide the IP addresses of the servers that run them.” All this means is that the Dark Net websites can be found like any other regular page with the proper search tools, except that the server in which the Dark Net website runs on, is hidden from authorities in order to avoid the shutdown of that specific server. Usually these servers are strategically located all over the world and specifically placed in countries where an international agreement is not in place when it comes to cybercrime activity. This type of server can be run from across the world as well because private companies that offer server services do not ask questions about what is actually being hosted on these servers. All these companies really care about is that the subscription money is paid on time and so for that matter anything can happen on their servers. These types of companies are extremely difficult to deal with especially if you work in a cyber crime division because companies like these let things go unchecked as long as they get paid. Though they themselves may not be doing the actual crime their need for money makes them turn a blind eye to the criminals using their service.
Even though it was mentioned that the Dark Net’s hidden services could be accessed publicly there is also a trick to actually viewing these websites and that is with the usage of a certain anonymity tool. The most popular software tool for anonymous web browsing is called Tor also known as The Onion Browser/Router. What this tool does is that it “encrypts web traffic in layers and bounces it [web traffic] through randomly-chosen computers around the world, each of which removes a single layer of encryption before passing the data on to its next hop in the network.” Hacker Lexicon: What Is the Dark Web? (2014) All this means is that a constant bounce of different IP addresses is done in order to hide the original location of the person trying to access or maintain a service on the Dark Web. This type of IP hopping is done so well that even the person hopping through different networks could not retrace their very own steps back to their own network. This is usually why law enforcement agencies and federal agencies try to stop the usage of the Tor tool because most of the usage of this tool has to do with the Dark Net.
With this web surfing anonymity comes the usual lurker who is just trying to see what the Dark Net is all about. Questions like where to find the Dark Net or how to access the Dark Net are very common in search engines. Though it may seem like a difficult thing to access the Dark Net does have an actual following. There is a community out there that helps each other out in locating these hidden services and most of them are in plain sight because they are technically not doing anything wrong. It is the same thing if person A gave person B the address of a bank, but person B ends up stealing from the bank itself. Person A did nothing wrong all they did was give you a location of where to look. That’s why there really is not a crime being broken by these online communities. These communities of Dark Net supporters run on all types of blogs and social media websites. The most common website used for these communities is Reddit because the blogs and pages that are run on the website can consist of questions being asked about the Dark net followed by the answer for that said question. This makes it easy for people to locate the hidden services in the Dark Net and proceed forward with actually accessing it.
Since the amount of hidden services and websites to access on the Dark Net is vast in size, one usually asks what was the first service on the Dark Net, if any? First we must look at who created the Dark Net and the answer is simple, we did. By we, I refer to specifically the United States Navy who developed the Dark Net “in the mid-1990s in order to communicate with agents in the field without divulging their whereabouts, so as not to put them in danger.” Everett, C. (2015). This is one reason as to why there is some positive benefit to using and having the Dark Net around because of its original intention. The only thing the United States Navy did not account for was that criminals and enemies alike would use this same method to communicate with themselves. So it might have been the greatest idea at the time, especially with the communication between field agents and headquarters anonymously, but now it has turned into a breeding ground for anonymous communication between multiple criminal parties. The one thing you can take from this creation is that it is at least still usable in the sense of anonymous communication because even though criminals and groups of all kinds use the Dark Net, it does not mean that our military and our law enforcement agencies cannot use it anymore. If anything it means that they should use it as an opportunity to learn as much as they can from it and even begin to use it against the criminals themselves.
The Dark Net is known mostly for its association with the black market in regards to sales of weapons and the distribution of child pornography. The ability to remain anonymous and purchase weapons all over the world is the epicenter for criminal activity. It seems that the only setback to the black market is the delivery of the weapons purchased, but if a delivery service that does not check the contents of its boxes were used then the delivery would not be a problem. Usually services that have the ability to just use ground shipping come in handy for orders that go through the black market especially if explosives are on the way. The last thing anyone wants is to have explosives moving carelessly around an airplane. Distribution of child pornography is a big issue when it comes to the Dark Net because of its anonymity, this in no regards means that black market weapons are a lesser crime, but it puts into perspective what exactly law enforcement agencies are on the hunt for. They are specifically looking to target who is exactly running these hidden services that are specifically attached to child pornography and though it seems close to impossible progress is made everyday in searching for these people.
The classic approach of social engineering is what is being used to track and gather data on criminals that use the Dark Net for all activities especially in the child pornography realm. Methods like posing as a solicitor or someone who is intrigued in the areas of child pornography in order to hopefully gain information on the person providing them is commonly used. This type of social engineering and having people trust you because you present yourself like you belong there is greatly used all over the world especially with hacking and gaining physical access to area where one is not permitted. Things like carrying heavy boxes and having the person in front of you hold the door for you without them knowing if you actually belong in that private establishment is just one example of how this method works. So when it comes to the Dark Net a little manipulation of actually belonging there is used in order to gain the trust of other users. This is also seen in the social media community where fake accounts are made and friend requests are sent out in order to view people’s livelihoods. It always surprises people how much information is actually available to the public and all it really takes is a simple search of your name and some inspector gadget type searching in order to find some personal details about someone’s life. With this approach we can see there is much greater concentration from law enforcement in finding the people who are providing child pornography to other users.
The sale of illegal and prescription drugs is also heavily associated with the Dark Net. There are websites and hidden services in the Dark Net where the layout of the websites looks identical to if you were on an amazon website. A full selection of drugs and a search bar located at the top of the page is strategically placed there for your convenience if the drug you are looking for does not show up on the main page. It is especially convenient if the drug you seek is marijuana as it is now slowly starting to be legalized across the states. This is extremely lucrative for a person who lives in a state in which the drug is legalized in because customers from other states purchase from them knowing the drug they have acquired has been made properly to a certain extent. A problem that arises from sales like this is that medical dispensaries now have a clientele out of state that they can reach through the usage of the Dark Net. If they manage to properly promote themselves on the page and show that their marijuana is made safely then that will attract customers to them. As with everything on the Dark Net anonymity is the primary concern for activity like this and so if they manage to stay anonymous then they will manage to make heavy sales over the Dark Net.
Most of the sales and transactions that occur on the Dark Net are done with the usage of bit coin currency. Bit coin currency is a virtual currency that was created back in 2009. Not much is known about the creator of bit coin except an alias name and so the origin is unknown to the world. The power of bit coin and why it is so successful is the removal of a middleman when it comes to online transactions. No more do people have to go through banks and pay fees in order to make purchases online, instead a transfer of bit coin currency is enough to make a transaction valid. This is the same exact thing as transferring money from one bank account to another bank account, but using the same bank. In simple terms it is just a transfer of cash digitally and there are many applications out there that exist for smart phones that help or that are designed for the usage of bit coins. A big reason as to why bit coins are so popular in the Dark Net world is that there is an anonymity level involved with their usage. Bit coins transactions never record the names of the buyers and sellers. The only thing that gets recorded is a wallet id or a token tag. This tag and the transaction log are recorded for usage purposes and reference, but besides that nothing else can be traced back to the buyer and seller. That is why Dark Net users and surfers rely on bit coin as their means of currency.
On top of the sales of weapons and drugs, another huge area of concentration on the Dark Net is the sale of counterfeit documents and sensitive material. Sensitive material like credit card numbers gathered from skimmers is a big thing in the Dark Net. These skimmers are physically placed at ATMs all over the globe and what ends up happening is people do not realize they are not swiping on to the actual ATM, but instead on to a skimmer. Skimmers are really easy to place and they look identical to the real thing so it is quite difficult to even tell if one is on there. A suggestion that is given to people is that if you are ever up at an ATM machine or about to swipe your card on a credit card scanner at a register, mess with it and physically move it a little and see if any loose parts come about. If something moves or you get a bad vibe from it, you are more than likely dealing with a skimmer in place. In the case of these skimmers actually working a lot of credit card numbers are put up on the Dark Net for sale and this is when we get people complaining to their banks about unauthorized or unknown purchases on their credit cards and debit cards.
Identity theft is also a huge problem all over the world especially for people who are not careful when it comes to keeping their information safe. If someone manages to get a hold of your social security number or bank account numbers they can essentially create a new person out of that information just by opening up accounts in your name. This can mean the end of someone’s livelihood as a full identity theft has taken place. Sometimes people do not even realize their information has been compromised until it is too late, that is why it is always recommended for you to take precaution when it comes to putting sensitive information on the internet. Even though one might think that the information one is about to put up on the Internet is harmless, it can be a gold mine to someone else. The Dark Net is known for this type of crime especially when all that is needed is one photocopy of someone’s identification to basically begin to open up accounts in their name. One way that peoples information gets compromised is when hackers end up gaining access to databases like those of social media accounts. What these hackers end up doing is that they end up data mining all of the information and compressing it into one big file. Once the information is compressed they sell it to he highest bidder or if the hackers are just looking to expose people they will just release or data dump everything on to the Dark Net for the publics viewing. This specifically occurred with the hack of Ashley Madison, an Internet dating website meant for people looking to cheat on their spouses and commit adultery. Though the files were not sold to anyone, a huge data dump was done by the hackers and information on millions of people were put out to the public exposing people such as pastors and politicians.
Besides the data dumping that we see occurring in Dark Net based on sensitive material such as credit cards and information on peoples identity, another type of data dumping that we get is whistle blowing. Whistle blowing is the act of exposing any type of illegal activity that a company may be participating in or information in regards to illegal deals of any sort by an employee of a company or citizen under a government. The word citizen is mentioned in the definition because a whistle blower can also be a person that exposes the government that they currently live under. The best example of this is the Edward Snowden case in which he took classified information about the NSA and its methods of spying on American citizens and exposed it to the public. There was a huge outcry from everyone in regards to this leak, but some outcry was also towards Edward Snowden on what type of punishment should be given to him for basically committing espionage and leaking classified information regardless of what was on the files he exposed. Through this regarding Edward Snowden a program was created and placed in the Dark Net called SecureDrop. This SecureDrop is basically a hidden service or location that is directly connected to Wiki leaks that will allows you to anonymously data dump any type of information one may have on a government or company that they work under. Since there is always a big fear as to what will happen to you if you expose a private or public company this takes away the fear of being found out and in return gives you the ability to present your files to the world.
Though it may not seem like a big deal it is actually the human resources of the Internet. If you look at any job that one may have had in the past or currently have, they will always tell you that if you see something say something or if you have any complaints bring them to HR also known as human resources. Now what happens if you see a problem in the government or in the company you work for? If you tell your company that something is wrong with them and that the higher ups are doing something illegal chances of losing your job go up tremendously and in a world where living expenses are high, losing your job is not an option for most people. What about if you tell your government that something’s wrong or that you are witnessing something morally bad or illegal in them. Chances of something happening to you go through the roof especially if the magnitude of what you are viewing is at the level of Edward Snowden. That’s why one of the benefits that the Dark Net provides is that there is a publicly created human resources department and it is currently working at its full potential. Wiki leaks is a website that is known for constantly receiving information from anonymous senders that exposes illegal activity in governments and public and private companies. While some people may think this form of anonymous suggestions or anonymous whistle blowing is bad it does provide a sort of checks and balances with the government if you will.
Having the SecureDrop is a great perk to have as it benefits all in need of exposing, but one thing in the United States that does not benefit all in need is the health care system. A lot of people living in the United States currently do not have health care because health care is not free. Many people argue that healthcare should be universal like the way Canada and Australia have it, but others, usually the people that profit from it, say otherwise. That is why a huge section in the Dark Net is associated and linked to the sale and distribution of prescription drugs and medical marijuana. If one does not have medical coverage then prescription drugs cost thousands of dollars and maybe even more. If they are expensive to buy with insurance imagine without insurance and buying it a wholesale price. Certain medicine if bought outside of your insurance company goes up to thousands of dollars for one pill. That is why people use the Dark Net to buy certain medication that they personally cannot acquire anywhere else. Things like oxycodone and Xanax are high in usage for addicts, but for the people who actually need them it could be of great help. Sometimes doctors ask patients to see if they can acquire medicinal marijuana because it might help them. Like mentioned earlier, what would happen if you live in a state in which marijuana is still illegal? Does that mean your chances of getting healthier or at least improving your current living standard is out of reach? This is a benefit to using the Dark Net as it gives people an option instead of losing all faith in their circumstance. This is not to say that people do not take advantage of the situation, but there are many families out there where no medical insurance is in the household and medication is needed in order to move on with life. That’s why I think that this is a great benefit to why having the Dark Net around is important. It is a means of acquiring the certain things through a loophole in society in order to survive and while that may sounds like a short cut in life it may very well be someone else’s miracle.
Another benefit that one can see to having the Dark Net around is the watchful eye one can have over terrorist organization over the world. If one can manage to infiltrate the groups and data recipients of terrorist organizations then preventing attacks or having intel on what their plans might be is vital to getting to the bottom of who runs the organization to begin with and maybe even saving lives. The Dark Net is known for its anonymity and that is why terrorist groups from all over the world use it to communicate, but it is with little tricks and perks that one can actually determine who is sending certain things. The United States government at one point was looked at for using the Dark Net because it seems they used denial of service attacks also known as DOS attacks in order to “flood Tor relays with junk data to force target sites to use Tor relays they controlled, thus tracing their IP addresses.” Hacker Lexicon: What Is the Dark Web? (2014) What this means is that the government reversed attacked the relays that were being used by certain IP addresses in order to see where exactly the information was coming from. By seeing which relays got shut down in reverse order they were able to basically retrace the steps of the files being sent and go back to the original senders location. This is just one method that they used in order to find certain senders. Though I am sure that good old fashion detective work and social engineering were also used in order to track and perform reconnaissance on some of these terrorist organizations.
The Dark Nets original intention is also still a benefit to why keeping it around is useful. The ability communicate with field agents in the military is extremely crucial to a successful mission. The military is responsible for sending out operatives that will do undercover work for them and it is always in the best interest to keep communication down between both parties in order to avoid a possible exposure of an undercover operative. That is why the usage of the Dark Net still benefits military’s around the world even if it is riddled with criminal activity. One can still use it in a proper manner as long as one does not participate in the illegal forums; there really is no bad side to the Dark Net itself.
Though the Dark Net has many negative aspects we can still gain knowledge or take positive feedback from the bad side, almost as if we are reading a history book. A lot of times one may never know what type of cyber attack will come next until it already occurs. That is the usual defense when it comes to cyber warfare or cyber attacks. Public and private companies have no idea how to defend themselves from it or even know certain attacks exist. That is why the Dark Net is essentially a database for prior attacks that have occurred. One can look in the Dark Net and see what types of data dumps or files are on there and determine what is the best course of action. If one sees that a certain company that works in a similar fashion as the one yours does got hit with an intrusion attack then one can prepare for those types of attacks because you know it might hit you at one point. It goes for all types of breaches that occur, one must first see that it can happen and then one will adjust. If companies or countries managed to work together then it would be ideal because people would know how the breach occurred and what to upgrade or what to defend in their network. A lot of the times what ends up happening are that companies and more specifically countries do not work together because they seem unaffected by certain attacks, especially when things happen far from home. That is why international laws on cyber crime are enforced or not even looked at for that matter because of the influx in money going towards certain areas. Certain countries like the United States tend to be the victims of a lot of attacks and the money that gets generated ends up leaving the United States and travels to the eastern hemisphere. So when other countries see that they gain money and no one gets hurt from their own location then there really is no need to enforce the laws. Instead they just turn a blind eye to the matter because money is coming their way. It is with this constant battle about either losing or gaining money that keeps criminals working and using the Dark Net. So it is not until everyone comes together to from a unison law and that it is enforced that we will not see a drop in usage for the Dark Net. Instead we might see an increase in usage because criminals will see this as a possible way of earning a living
Benefits of the Dark Net come in many different forms and from the ones we saw about prescription medicine all the way to anonymous whistle blowing we can see that there is much more to the Dark Net then just criminal activity. We must look at the Dark Net as the image of what the creators of the Internet envisioned the Internet to be. That is this no holds bar network that connects everyone regardless of their location with no rules, but even with the absence of rules an unwritten moral code would exist when it came to how we interact with one another. That is why if it came down to an ultimate decision of whether or not the Dark Net should stick around or be decimated, I would think that the positive benefits outweigh the negatives and having the Dark Net around would be helpful to those who use it safely and properly.
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