Early last week, the Australian government attempted to extradite an alleged moderator of a website named Silk Road, which allows users to buy class-A drugs such as cocaine and heroin via the digital currency bitcoin.
Most of us wonder how forums like Silk Road can operate when there is such high security in the cyber world. The majority of YouTube videos deemed unsuitable are taken down in a matter of minutes. Facebook blocks accounts for pornography uploads just as quickly. Even Internet searches born out of morbid curiosity are blocked by the search engine, and certain cookie enablers alert the authorities to your IP address.
So how do drug trades and sex trafficking rings conduct so successfully online and never get caught? The answer is Deepnet. Deepnet is the darker side of the world wide web, something the vast majority of the world hasn’t been exposed to as we are all given a certain number of results for every Internet search.
Typing the word ‘porn’ into Google gives 417,000,000 results in 0.18 of a second. This does not mean there are only 417,000,000 sites online that contain the word ‘porn’, neither does it mean that if you search far enough that you will find every instance of ‘child porn’ or ‘beastiality porn’ that exists. Deepnet, in layman’s terms, is the results subtracted from the results we are exposed to when we search online.
Our IP addresses can be tracked 24 hours a day, and any site we enter is permanently associated with that IP address. With certain software, particularly professional hacking software, this IP address will change every second, bouncing the search history from one address to another all over the world so the search is virtually untraceable. With this technique, the web user is as hidden from the public eye as the sites they visit.
The sites themselves use a similar system, where the URLs of the illegal material are encoded or jumbled every few minutes to obstruct detection. Some are simply hidden while others are publicly available once the user knows where to look. For example, search engines such as DeepPeep and Deepnetexplorer.net allow easy navigation without any spyware and pride themselves on their anti-phishing browsing feature.
Illegal phishing is when a page presents itself as a trustworthy site such as AIB.ie but instead contains a URL slightly different from its original, and the HTML information is a direct copy of the information from the official page. The difference is the moderator of this ‘fake’ page can access any of the information you type, such as credit card details, contact details and passwords. AOL was a corporation highly affected by phishing fraud in the early 1990s, when the internet was only becoming publicly available, so the hacking techniques that are still used today are nothing new and still highly effective.
The untraceable user, in unison with the elusive nature of Deepnet to elude authorities, makes it the perfect breeding ground for criminal activity. It is a world of highly dangerous people, illegal websites and a small, deeply secret community with the knowledge of how to operate Deepnet. The level of illegal activity ranges from tech-savvy teens trying to acquire how they can access a suspected cheating partner’s Facebook, to adverts for hitmen, child pornography and terrorism operations.
In recent years, the line between the internet we know and the internet kept secret has become blurred. Accidental searches and unwanted pop-ups have made us all susceptible to links to criminal pages, so much so that groups such as InternetSafety.ie and Webwise.ie are obliged to make annual visits to secondary schools and instruct young people on the dangers of search terms and how to avoid these links. Due to the increasingly high numbers of children with access to smartphones and laptops with internet connection, there is public concern for such groups to visit primary schools in conjunction with older pupils. Australia already has a group named CyberQuoll.au, with its main aims set at teaching children how to safely surf the web.
The vast majority of newcomers to Deepnet are usually trying to hack Facebook passwords so they can lurk their crush, however, they usually come across forums and sites they wish they had not seen.
For anyone now deeply fascinated by the contents of Deepnet, remember you will not find anything you want to see, and that botched attempts at protecting your IP address could lead to viruses and, in some instances, investigations from your network provider.
Image credit: Creative Commons