In the past few years, the Dark Net has become one of the most discussed topics in the cyber security spheres. What is most prominent is that the current academic studies and the media reports tend to highlight how the anonymous nature of the darknet is utilized in all possible ways to facilitate the criminal activities. The Dark Net is characterized by several technological structures like the anonymity, privacy, and the use of Cryptocurrencies. The characteristics also provide a broad range of the opportunities for good as well as for evil.
The term Dark Net was initially coined in the 1970s but it has only been the recent situation that the public has become aware of it. Talking about the simple logic of Dark Net or dark web is that it is the one and only network on the Internet where all the networks of the traffic are hidden. This ensures that anyone can carry out any activity without leaving traces that could be tracked by the commonplace technical tools – a place where perfect anonymity might be possible. As Rudesill et al. 2015 describes the Dark Net or the Dark Web is a subset of the Deep Web that is approximately 400-500 times larger than the Surface Web. The websites that reside on the Surface Web (one that is indexed) are stored on the servers that wait retrieval. All of these websites are basically HTML files with fixed content available in the same format to anyone who makes requests. On the contrast, the connections in the deep web are only made between the trusted peers that require being a part of the hidden network. Referring Moore and Rid 2016, these websites are dynamic and mostly in a continuous change of servers, meaning that one link might lead to something at a particular time, and at another time it might lead to something else or nothing. The hidden websites that reside on these private networks can only be accessed by specific software, configurations, or authorizations, such as Freenet, I2P, and last but not the least, Tor.
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The Dark Net is widely used for social activities that ranges from being clearly criminal based to clearly and morally acceptable as well considered as illicit by some people. All of these activities can be grouped into three main categories viz., (i) activism, journalism, and whistle-blowing; (ii) criminal activities in virtual markets; and (iii) cyber security threats including botnets, malware, and ransomware.
There is the fact that continuous debates have been persistent with the Dark Net or dark web over the key characteristics of cybercrime and cybercriminals, while the study of the Dark Net needs to be challenging resulting in merit recognition. The earlier research tends to be technical in nature where the researchers primarily used technical skills that included traffic analysis and web crawling in order to understand the hidden websites. In the research of the sociological dimensions of the Dark Net, two questions come up that are mentioned below:
- Does Dark Net provide a natural environment promoting criminal activity?
- If so, does Dark Net bear the term “Criminogenic”?
The main findings have been discussed below:
- The Dark Net is not Underground – While conducting the research, the participants were asked if they knew about Dark Net or dark web. Some of them have informed that they have learned about dark web through conventional open sources such as schools, news media, and other Surface Web discussion forums. Talking about the perception, most of the people concentrate basically on the dark side of the dark web or the dark side of the internet.
- Freedom of Expression Guaranteed – When questioned about their reason behind participating in the dark web or what feature has played the greatest role in pushing them into the world of Dark Net, they said that while searching for the dark web, certain negative words are reflected with the terms such ‘illicit’, ‘shady’, ‘disruptive’, ‘creepiest’, or ‘infamous’. Although Google has openly denied the accusations, and claimed that if many searched for negative things about one subject then the search index would automatically favor those results. Online anonymity and privacy is what they have craved and thus landed in the dark web zone.
- The Dark Net isn’t a Society on its Own – Some believed that the Darknet is gradually becoming a society of its own based on diverse ideologies, such as freedom, anonymity, and lack of regulations and central authorities and thus it might just threaten social norms and conventions of our off-line societies. The consensus from our participants is that the Darknet is not a society on its own. Moreover, even if it becomes one, it would not threaten the fundamental values of our off-line societies, partly because it lacks a solid infrastructure. Most of the participants have indicated that communities on the Dark Net are detached from various real-world societies. Some of our participants have even explained that this detachment is because the Dark Net communities are mainly sustained by technological structures and not by human bonds.
- Intrinsically the Dark Net does not breed criminal activities – Some media outlets, academic papers, and law enforcement agencies appear to depict the primary purpose of the Dark Net as being a place for criminals to conduct their businesses under the shade of anonymity. The Dark Net has indeed offered new opportunities for criminal activities to flourish to a greater extent which otherwise would not have been that possible. However, it is not fundamentally different from any other means of technologies and tools whatsoever.
In a nutshell, the Dark Net can be viewed by some as the dark side of the Internet for valid reasons, which include its anonymous nature, virtual markets, and Cryptocurrencies. However, most of the participants learned about it from conventional open sources. Darknet‘s freedom of expression and anonymity plays a key role in attracting a huge lot of public. Even though many criminal activities take place on this network, the Darknet is not Criminogenic. We cannot, of course, deny that the Darknet presents a serious security risk. All in all dark web is a tool and will remain to serve as a tool whether perceived with positivity or negativity.
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