Walk on the dark side

So how big is the Internet?

One of my earlier articles described it as an oil tanker laden with bytes of information. There are no answers that provide certainty but we do know for one thing that Google by 2013 has indexed more then 38 trillion individual Internet web pages. But guess what? This figure is estimated to be one fifth of the hidden or dark web.

And you may well ask what that might be?

This dark side of the web is deemed to be invisible and the haunt of criminals, paedophiles, money launderers, stolen credit cards, drug dealers and suppliers of weapons just to list a few. I am prompted to deal with this subject because both Google and Apple have announced that their smart phones will now have their data encrypted as part of their operating system to the degree that even the providers of this hardware will not be able to break into their new phones.

Just as an aside, money laundering is extremely simple these days if you use bitcoins.

Using bitcoins to pay and get paid is easy and accessible to everyone is the assurance offered by Just visit their web site to learn more. Just change your money to this digital currency and then transfer that to another trader any where on earth and you have managed to launder your cash in a fraction of some seconds. No need for messy and meddlesome schemes. All easily achieved as this currency market is unregulated and exchanges prolific. There are literally dozens for Australia alone as are the electronic wallets to store them in. These, too, are apps that we are so used to these days. The last time I checked one dollar Australian equated to 493 bitcoins.

So how do you find this darker side of the web? All you have to do is start with TOR. That is an acronym for The Onion Router. Software developed by the US navy and expanded by a number of legitimate US government funding sources. TOR has been praised for providing privacy and anonymity to vulnerable Internet users such as political activists fearing surveillance and arrest, ordinary web users seeking to circumvent censorship and women who have been threatened with violence or abuse by stalkers It has been called the king of high-secure, low-latency Internet anonymity, also as perhaps the most effective means of defeating the online surveillance efforts of intelligence agencies around the world or the sophisticated privacy tool which is easy to use and so secure that even the world’s most sophisticated electronic spies haven’t figured out how to crack it.

In March 2011, The TOR project was awarded the Free Software Foundation’s 2010 Award for Projects of Social Benefit on the following grounds: “Using free software, TOR has enabled roughly 36 million people around the world to experience freedom of access and expression on the Internet while keeping them in control of their privacy and anonymity. Its network has proved pivotal in dissident movements in both Iran and more recently Egypt.” Indeed it was this method and network that allowed Edward Snowden to send information to the Washington Post and The Guardian and thereby attain such notoriety.

Simpler still, it is the software of choice for those in our society who choose to bypass copyright laws and download pirated music, movies and software. All one needs is the BitTorrent browser. There the system is handled by BitTorrent and its allied software. The system is no mystery. It simply consists of stepping stones where each is a different server and the data is sent along that particular chain. It becomes invisible because web tools can only read the address of the entry point and exit point of this stepping stone network. Consequently when one reads the address of the received data all one can find is the address of the last stepping stone; thereafter everything becomes “invisible”.

A TOR browser automatically starts TOR processes and routes traffic through the TOR network. Upon termination of a session the browser deletes privacy-sensitive data such as cookies and browsing history. Very much like the careful robber wiping off his finger prints.

The real point of this tale is however the frantic desire to force, by legislation, storage of all our transmitted data as discussed in a more recent article. Not much point in this if indeed Google and Apple enable encryption of all their smartphone data straight out of the box without any intervention by the user.

If you are curious about the dark side of the web you will have to find quaintly named domains ending in dot onion. Why this peculiar system? The answer is very simple. The network can be visualised like an onion with many layers which can be peeled back. This also produces the TOR portion of the name, The Onion Routers.

Simple and obvious once you know.

With the more recent events in a plethora of security breaches the various “spook” organisations of the world have made huge efforts to track these routers and have them taken down. Indeed some four hundred odd have been successfully shut down but it is apparently a fairly simple matter for the network to rejuvenate itself. The one which may be familiar to you is Silk Road which gained a fair amount of publicity in the recent press because of its notoriety for drug trading.

Many of these have recognised names amongst which Pirate Bay is probably the best known one for its huge source of pirated material. It too was shut down some years ago and the administrators jailed. However, it is back again using the similar name of The Pirate Bay. A good example of strong branding. It trades quite openly as a dot com domain.

With this background in mind it is understandable why law enforcement agencies are attempting to prevent Google and Apple form using full encryption of their phones. There was a time when operating systems were provided with a secret “back door” entry should authorised access to these devices be needed but encryption would make that approach impossible.

We do indeed weave a complicated web.

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