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Deepnet:isthedarkwebgoodorevil?

MikeGillespieisDirectorofcyberresearchandstrategy
atTheSecurityInstitute,ManagingDirectorofAdventIM
ConsultancyandamemberoftheCSCSSGlobalSelect
CommitteeonCyberSecurity
Theworldwidewebwasntreallydesigned,assuchit
grew out of itself and so privacy was never really a
massive consideration. In part as a result, it exists on
differentlevels.Thereistheindexedandthereforesearchableregularinternetwithwhichwe
areallfamiliar,thereistheregularinternetaccessedviaananonymisingbrowserorsites
builtspecificallyforanonymisedbrowsers(suchas.onionsites),andthentherestheDarknet
orDeepnetavirtualprivateworldofconnectedsitesthatarehardtoaccessbyaccident.
Thelasttwoareobviouslymuchmoreopaqueandhardertotrack,monitor,measureor
marketto.SomepeoplerefertothewholeareaofnonstandardbrowsingasDarknetandthis
isthewayithasbeenpresentedinmainstreammediatoo.
Teachers,whistleblowers,activists,children,policeandsecuritypersonnelandjournaliststo
namebutafewofthelegitimateandnoncriminalordeviantgroupsofuserswhoalsomake
useoftheanonymityprovidedbyserviceslikeTor.
ToralsoknownasTheOnionRouterisoneofthebrowserswerefertowhenwetalk
aboutanonymisedbrowsing.Originallyconceived(andpaidfor)fortheUSNavy,itwas
designedforsecuremilitarycommunicationsandwhenitsbroaderadoptionhappeneditwas
abrowserofchoicefornetuserswhowantedtobeprotectedfromcorporateinvasionoftheir
privacy.Itworksasaseriesofserversaroundtheglobethatbouncetheuseraround,making
themmuchhardertotrackormonitor.
ItdoesmakestreamingimpossibleasitisveryslowasaresultofalltherelaysandYouTube
isprettymuchanogoareaatthemoment.ItsworthnotingthoughthatYouTubehaveplans
totryandintroduceaTorfriendlyversionallegedly.Ifthisistrueitwillbeinterestingfroma
commercialperspectiveasgiventhenatureofthefreeserviceinexchangefortargetedads
that YouTube uses, this would appear to be in direct opposition to the requirements for
privacyofmostTorusersIsupposewewillhavetowatchthatspace!
Sobasically,Torisoneofseveralsystemsortacticsthatmakeusersmuch,muchharderto
detectormonitor.AlthoughthemediahasledustobelievethatTorisinfactallofthe
Deepnet,clearlythereismuchmoregoingon.Itisinarguablehowever,thatwhetheritisTor
orTortypebrowsersorthespecificDeepnet,itisverydifficulttotrackusersandtheir
behaviourinthisareaandthiscreatesproblemsforlawenforcementandsecurityagencies.
Deepnethasthereputationforbeingahavenforperpetratorsofseriouscrime.Childabuse
imagesandtheprocurementofcontractkillersorClassAdrugshaveallbeendiscoveredin

thedeeprecessesofthisnetwork.Torhasbeenusedasameanstohideserverscontaining
illegalmaterialandwillcontinuetobeusedthatwayinthesamewaydrugdealersuse
anonymousunregisteredpayasyougophones;veryhardtotrace.ThearrestofSilkRoad
mastermindRossUlbrichtisprobablyoneofthemosthighprofileandmediafriendlystories
tocomeoutofthis.SilkRoadwasamarketplacefavouredbycriminals,particularlyfordrug
trafficking.
Itplaceshugedifficultiesoninvestigationofseriouscrimelikedrugselling,identitytheft,
child abuse and money laundering problems we face in real life too. The dawning
realisationthatitistheveryopenandexploitablenatureofourfamiliarityofthecurrent
regularwebthatleadsustoquestionthemoralstandingofdarkorDeepnetuse.Itisa
discussionthatissuretorageformanyyears.Butifpeoplearehappytotradeofftheir
privacyforfreewebandwebtoolsthenthosewhoarentwillcontinuetobeviewedwith
doubtandsuspicion.
Ifwehadneverhadtheinternetandthewwwworld,isnttheDeepwebpreciselywhatwe
wouldbuildnowtoallowustoshop,learnandinteractprivately?
Imagineanetwheretailoredadsdonotleapoutatyoufromwebsitesthesecondyouland
andyourbrowsingactivitywasnotporedoverbythoseseekingtoprofitfromitinany
numberofways.Really,ifweweregoingtobuildsomethingthatprotecteditsusersin
entirelylegitimateandacceptableways,insteadoftryingtolayeronsecurityafterwards,
whatwewouldbuildmightlookalotmorelikeDeepnetorattheveryleast,Tor.Giventhat
theoriginalconceptionofthenetwastofacilitatemilitarycommunications,thenitsevolution
couldpotentiallyhavetakenthemoreprivateroute,butitsverycommercialityhastakenitin
averydifferentdirection.
Perceptionchangeseverythingofcourse.Iwasrecentlyatasecurityandpolicingeventrun
byTheHomeOfficeandattendedsomeinterestingseminarswhichtouchedonthedifficulty
ininvestigatingcrimeovertheDarkorDeepweb.Itsperfectlyclearofcoursethatmuch
crimeisstillfacilitatedbytheregularwebandoneoftheotherthingsthatemergedwas
criminalstendingtonowdetech;movingawayfromthingslikesmartphonesandotherIP
devicesinordertocommunicateandshareinnondigitalwayswaystheyknowwontbe
interceptedbydigitaldetectives.Forinstanceweknowthatsomedrugdealersnowshun
smartphonesorothermoderndigitalcommunicationinfavourofusingoldschoolphones
likeNokia8210s.Apartfromtheirreputationforbeingvirtuallyindestructible,theyarenot
connectedtoanythingandthereforeofferprivacyandsecuritythatacriminalwouldhappily
takeovertheconvenienceofhavingemailandTwitter.Socriminalsarestartingtoperceive
theweb,includingDeepnet,asbeingaplacethatitmaynotbeassafeastheythought.We
knewthatmanycriminalsfavouredunregisteredpayasyougophonesthatcanbecheaply
boughtandeasilydisposedofandthepredictionisthatcertaincriminalgroupswillcontinue
down the detech route. For others of course, this will not be an option. Complex and

digitallyreliantgroupssuchaspaedophileringsaremakingsignificantuseoftheDeepnet
andunfortunatelythisisdrivingpublicperceptionofwhatitisallabout.
Technologieshavebeenusedforgoodandevileversincewehavehadtechnology.Deepweb
isanothertechnology,justlikemobilephones,thatisbeingusedbycriminalstostayofflaw
enforcementradarsandenablethemtocarryouttheirillegalactivitieswithlessriskthanon
theregularweb.ButasmentionedearliermanypeopleuseDeepwebtools.Sometimesthisis
inlifeanddeathsituationsandunderterribleconflictsituations,likethoseinSyria.The
anonymityofferedbyTorenablesactivistsandcampaignerstogettheirmessagesoutof
totalitarianregimesthatthreatentheirliveseverydayandwherethefearofarrestandtorture
areveryreal.ItwouldhavebeenhardforthesocalledArabSpringtohavegainedthe
incrediblemomentumitdid,withouttheuseofDeepwebtechnology.Forthoseinnocent
people,Deepwebisablessingandalifeline.
However,thechallengesareclearforlawenforcementandsecurityservicesandtheyareset
togrow.WecantaccuratelymeasureDeepwebanditisveryhardtopinafiguretherefore
onthesizeofthecriminalactivitythatisgoingthroughit.Aslawenforcementtechniques
growandevolvetomeettheDeepwebchallengetheadditionalchallengewillbemaintainthe
righttoprivacyofordinary,privateusers.