In the month of July, Central Crime Branch (CCB) nabbed four drug peddlers, including an MBA student, and seized drugs of which market price was more than 1.3 crores at Bengaluru. This whole supply chain from international drug mafia and distribution by local peddlers was operational through ‘Dark Web’. In December 2019, a 28-year-old man was also arrested for procuring drugs from international market through ‘Dark Web’.
In August 2020, 4th session of the BRICS anti-drug working group conducted under chairmanship of Russia where Indian side was represented by Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) Director General Rakesh Asthana. Here India raised and discussed the issue of the misuse of the dark web for drug trafficking and sought cooperation from member countries to cope up with this impending menace.
But what is Dark Web? How it is different from the common web which we utilise in daily life? What makes it different from another subset of the web called Deep web? Why this platform is so popular among people who tend to carry out illicit transboundary/global activities? And why law enforcement agencies find it difficult to keep vigilance over this platform?
Since many people in India knows very little about Dark web and Deep web, in this article I am trying to explain it in general terms.
Internet consisting millions of devices and servers can be divided into three categories.
- The Surface Web
- The Deep Web
- The Dark Web, or the Darknet
The Surface Web comprises common web pages which we access through our web browser and search engines. But surprisingly, this portion of web contribute to only about 4% of total internet! 96% remaining part of internet still remain unexplored by most of the people. Internet is much bigger than what is contemplated by many people.
The Deep Web is another subcategory which consist of web pages which are not indexed on conventional search engines like Google, Bing or Yahoo. Deep web sometimes accessed through apps along with specific username and password. Deep web is sometimes considered to be last bastion of internet privacy owing to provision of authenticity and restricted access. This is the reason why app-based services are safer than web-based services. In simple terms Gmail app is more secure than Gmail website because Gmail app is a part of Deep web which more efficiently preserves privacy of individual.
Deep web is generally used for legit purposes which require anonymity and restricted access. It is used by software companies, government agencies and whistle-blowers.
The Dark Web, the less accessible set of the deep web, used as a black market for illegal activities like drugs dealing, killing humans, child pornography trade, cryptocurrency and data stolen in illegal breaches. Deep Web relies on connections made between trusted peers and requires specialized software like Tor and I2P to access.
Dark web activity steadily growing due to its capability to hide user identity through masking IP address and end to end encryption. Encrypted servers like Tor facilitate easy and protective access to Dark web websites. Any transaction, interaction, service, product, the content available on the darknet cannot be regulated or traced.
The websites of the dark web are untraceable due to their URLs. The URLs of darknet’s sites are randomly created and they are susceptible to change. For example, auutwvprh6odm2qt.onion.link which has a combination of random letters and numbers. Such complicated URLs help to keep the darknet content anonymous and confidential. Sites ending with ‘.onion’ are not usually indexed by dark web search engines
Although the contribution of the dark web in shaping world remained unnoticed for years, it has positive as well as a negative impact on the world community. It became a space for free distribution of copyrighted books and a means to spread of information in countries which are ruled by autocratic regimes. Between 2010 and 2013, when flames of revolution fanned across north African countries, Dark web became an information-sharing hub for revolutionaries by virtue of being free from any government scrutiny.
On contrary to this, Dark web also utilised by anti-social elements for achieving vexatious ends. By 2015, ISIS began using Dark web as an organisational tool to connect terrorists all across the globe. In 2013, roughly 3 billion Yahoo accounts are compromised in a breach, with credentials shared on the dark web.
In another horrific incident, Benjamin Faulkner who was the owner of ‘Child’s Play’, a dark-net child pornography website that at its peak had over 1 million profiles were arrested in USA. His website showcased more than 100 producers of child pornography who raped, brutalised and video graphed such videos for commercial purposes. This incident shook the conscience of the world.
Unregulated nature of the internet is responsible to some extent for the popularity of dark web activities among fraudsters and criminals. Several domestic laws have vigilance over cyberspace activities but they are encountered with numerous limitations due to dynamic changes in methodologies incorporated by criminals with nefarious intent. The speed of change in technology is sometimes difficult to catch by enforcement agencies.
Presently, the dark web is essentially an evil because its vexatious use outweighs utilisation for good purposes. The sad part of this story is that we are still unable to curb this unethical use because of the inherent limitations of cyberspace. Censorship beyond certain limits would be counterproductive to freedom of accessing information. Education and awareness are the only pills to cure this moral turpitude in the long run because criminals usually target the most vulnerable people. More awareness will substantially bring down vulnerable populace and thus will help in mitigating the number of criminal acts in society.