An example of an illicit website which offers, among others, guns and murder contracts. The site does not take dollars or Euros but bitcoins.
“The dark web is what lurks out of sight and beyond the reach of common Internet users.” Eric Chan

The Internet is not all it seems to be and there is a menace lurking deep within, writes Hanna Sheikh Mokhtar

THE Internet is one of the greatest technological inventions in the history of mankind. Using the Internet protocol suite (TCP/IP), it links virtually everything and everyone together via a global system of interconnected computer networks.

With the advent of the Internet, the world doesn’t seem so big anymore. This network of networks carries an extensive range of information resources and services, such as the inter-linked hypertext documents (html) and applications of the World Wide Web (WWW), electronic mail (email), voice over IP telephony (voLTE), and peer-to-peer netwroks for file sharing.

Due to its ability to provide an exhaustive store of information and resources, the Internet has come to be an integral part of our lives. We use it either knowingly or unknowingly to get through day-to-day operations as well as for social gratification.

But recently, the people were rudely jolted by the revelation of shocking crimes committed worldwide, hidden within the shadows of the “deep and dark web”.

In July 2016, a teenager went on rampage in Munich, killing nine people and injuring 21 before he shot himself. Investigations revealed that he had bought a handgun and other weapons on the dark web. The boy had used the Internet to carry out research into mass shootings and made use of illicit Internet sites that are mostly used by terrorists and violent criminals.

Apparently, it isn’t really difficult to access the dark web if you know where you are going. Information on how to access the dark web is readily available to all. Guns are not the only things sold via the dark web. One can also get drugs, stolen credit card data, other identity theft data and child pornography.

This brings us closer to home where Malaysians were outraged to learn of the heinous crimes committed by British paedophile Richard Huckle. He admitted to 71 counts of molesting Malaysian children from 2006 to 2014, and was believed to have abused up to 200 children during his stint in the country as a freelance photographer and English teacher. Investigators found more than 20,000 indecent images on his computer, including pictures of himself abusing girls and boys.

In his computer, they found an encrypted manual that Huckle wrote called Paedophiles And Poverty: Child Lover Guide, as well as notes that he took of his exploits. The manual was ready for publication on the dark web. The series of events that led to Huckle’s arrest began in Australia, where police arrested the webmaster of a dark-web paedophile site called Love Zone.

Lately, there had been reports of terrorists allegedly using the dark web for their operations.

THE ONION ROUTER

Many experts believe that only approximately 30 per cent of the Internet is indexed by search engines such as Google and Firefox, or even Reddit and Digg, while the remaining 70 per cent are not searchable. This part of the Internet is most commonly referred to as “the deep web”. It includes Internet web sites, chat channels, forums, and FTP sites accessible only through a series of high-level passwords and secret codes, known mostly to the underworld of cyber criminals.

The dark web forms a small part of the deep web which includes small, friend-to-friend and peer-to-peer networks, as well as large, popular networks like TOR, Freenet, and I2P, operated by public organisations as well as individuals.

WHAT EXACTLY IS THE DARK WEB?

It is a technology created by US military researchers in the mid-1990s that allowed their intelligence operatives to exchange information completely anonymously. They called it TOR, which stands for The Onion Router.

LAYERS AND LAYERS

TOR refers to both the software installed on one’s computer, and the network of computers that manages the connections. TOR enables one to navigate web traffic through several other computers in the network, so the party on the other end of the connection cannot trace where it originated from. As its name implies, TOR creates a number of layers that conceal your identity from the rest of the world.

The way it works makes it possible for TOR users to hide their locations while offering various kinds of services. By using TOR “rendezvous points”, other TOR users can connect to these hidden services, each without knowing the other’s network identity.

Eric Chan, consulting director for Fortinet Solution, Southeast Asia & Hong Kong, explains that within the deep web are layers of abstraction that are differentiated by content, secrecy and difficulty in assessing them.

He said: “The dark web is what lurks out of sight and beyond the reach of common Internet users. When we log onto the Internet, we would invariably leave a trace as each device has a unique IP (Internet Protocol) address. It is like an online fingerprint which ultimately can be traced either by law-enforcement authorities, or worse, cyber criminals.”

THE IMPACT

Like any technology, from computers to mobile phones, anonymity can be used for both good and bad. Users who fear economic or political retribution for their actions turn to the dark web for asylum.

But there are also those who take advantage of this online anonymity to use the dark web for illegal activities and this is what we need to be especially aware of when we blithely allow our persona data to be retrieved online.

It may be through sheer ignorance or at the other end of the spectrum, the need to show off, but Internet users need to be more discernible to threats, visible or otherwise. Although surface web, which people use routinely, seem safe enough, we need to be aware of the side of the web that is dark and dangerous, and how it impacts on lives.

Unlike Lisbeth Salander, the fictional character in Stieg Larsson’s award-winning Millennium series (most notably The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) who, as a world class computer hacker uses her intelligence and hacking skills to help make the world a better place by fighting criminals, cyber-criminals have no qualms about attacking anyone and everyone they can online.

SECURITY TIPS

ERIC Chan, consulting director for Fortinet Solution, Southeast Asia and Hong Kong, said: “As users, we have no control over the way a website secures our login data. Therefore, it is important that we secure our personal information.”

Fortinet suggests five simple security tips to help Internet users minimise the risk of personal data compromise.

1. UPDATE WEB BROWSER

Cyber attackers usually target flaws and vulnerabilities in outdated browsers and plug-ins. It is always a good idea to have your web browser updated automatically by enabling the feature on the browser.

2. CHANGE PASSWORDS REGULARLY

The password is the first line of defence against cyber criminals’ unauthorised access. For important websites such as banking, social accounts and email, never recycle the password. Change these passwords as frequently as possible.

A good and strong password is about complexity. The more intricate it is, the better. Lengthening and combining numbers, symbols and letters in both uppercase and lowercase are good practices.

3. DATA ENCRYPTION

Securing sensitive data must be a top priority. Consider encrypting your data with advanced encryption tools which will help prevent unauthorised individuals from reading confidential files or messages.

4. BE WARY OF PUBLIC WIFI

The nature of a public WiFi network is open and thus, the network could be full of compromised devices or the hotspot itself could be malicious. If you are planning to get connected to a public WiFi, avoid doing anything that involves sensitive information such as online banking even when the sites are encrypted with HTTPS.

5. FILTER WHAT YOU SHARE ON SOCIAL NETWORKING SITES

The Internet offers numerous platforms for people to interact and share information with one another. Undeniably, it is relatively easy to get caught up with the social aspects of sharing too much information on social media.