Welcome to the darknet – Josh Rotchelle explains how the anonymous strings below the World Wide Web get pulled.
This last fortnight, the long cyber-limb of the law has been closing in on the enigmatic “darknet”, also known by some as the “deepweb”. Tell this to a room of a hundred students, and seventy-five will have blank looks on their faces, twenty will nod with quiet “hmm” noises and look at each other knowledgeably, and five will look rather annoyed.If you have no idea what the darknet is (i.e. you’re one of those first seventy-five) then fret not, because most of those twenty don’t actually know either.
A crash course: darknet’s like the internet, but it’s designed to make everybody who uses it anonymous. Regardless, the darknet is still frequently used by some to order [insert illicit good here]. Seriously, you name it, the darknet has it, from guns to gore-porn. The most famous of the sites on the darknet is the “Silk Road” (now in its 2.0 incarnation due to a previous bust), which really is like Amazon for drugs. Narcotics do make up the majority of darknet commerce. Using anonymous currencies such as the (in)famous bitcoin, people can and do get drugs delivered direct-to-door. It sounds like something out of a crime/sci-fi film, but it’s true: you place an order, pay the money, and a few days later you’ve got a package full of sticky brown on your doorstep.
With this in mind, it’s no surprise that most of those twenty folks who know what the darknet is (welcome to the club, by the way) will agree that it’s no bad thing that a bunch of sites are being hunted down and taken out by the recently-founded National Crime Agency, or NCA, and their friends. However, this is where our annoyed five come into play from earlier. Two of these five know the darknet pretty well, and they know that it’s not all drugs and guns. They know that in fact, a lot of it is anonymous networks and forums for whistle-blowers, undercover journalists, and other things that make Big Brother sweat.
“Ah,” say some of the twenty, “but we needn’t worry! Our good NCA would only take out the bad guys and druggies!” Would they really now? That list of who’s getting busted hasn’t been released, and what do you think the odds are that it will be? Then there’s the other three guys. These folks order their pick-me-ups from the darknet. Two are annoyed, because their supply might get a little tight for a while, and one is a long-term darknet shopper, because he’s an addict; but here’s the thing. These three aren’t that annoyed, because they know the online drugs market will surge back to life very soon, and they know those who run it haven’t been arrested, even if the sites are down for now. This is the problem with targeting the ‘net’: it’s like declaring war on the sea. Nobody’s going to be wiping either out anytime soon.
But there’s something we can get rid of: this last guy’s addiction. So why are taxpayer’s pounds going into the NCA‘s futile operation instead? We should be tackling the issues we can actually deal with.
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