The Financial Express

Dark Web: A cyber heaven of criminal activity

| Updated: March 20, 2020 20:37:54

Dark Web: A cyber heaven of criminal activity

The Internet refers to the global system of interconnected computer networks that use the Internet protocol suite (TCP/IP) to link devices worldwide. It has brought massive revolution in our communication system and made our life easier. In almost everything we do, we use the Internet ordering a T-shirt, buying a mobile phone, sharing a moment with a friend, sending a picture over instant messaging. Before the Internet, if we wanted to keep up with the news, we had to walk down to the newsstand when it opened in the morning. But today a single click is enough to read local paper and any news source from anywhere in the world, updated up to the minute. According to Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC), the total number of Internet subscribers has reached 165.615 million at the end of January, 2020 from 157.544 million at the end of January, 2019.

At a first glance, the internet may seem like a cyber haven for the common people but reality is entirely different. Actually, it works as a double-edged sword, where the opportunity cost of convenience is cascading threats of cyber crimes; around 2,044 cases were filed with different police stations and the cyber tribunal over last six years, according to Cyber Tribunal (Bangladesh) data but the number of cybercrime cases was only three in 2013. Therefore, it is a high time to thoroughly understand this cyber world, spotlighting the cautionary tales.

The internet has three main parts namely surface web, deep web, and dark web. The surface web makes up about 10% of the whole internet, and includes anything that anyone can find by entering terms in a search engine like Google or Yahoo. The deep web is simply where information is stored that is not easily accessible by anyone. This includes anything that is protected by a password such as personal email, online banking, or other such sites. This section actually makes up the majority of the web. The dark web, a subset of deep web, is anything that is not accessible by standard browsers like Google Chrome or Firefox. Any type of information can reside on the dark web, it's merely dark because of its more limited accessibility.

The dark web attracts users who seek anonymity when conducting business. Motives of such anonymity can be noble, such as with journalists seeking to interview citizens of repressive countries, where communications are monitored. Contrarily, the anonymity of the dark web attracts criminal actors like drug-dealers, hackers, and child pornography peddlers. There is also a growing service economy within the dark web in which hit-men and other illegal operatives advertise their services in ways they could not do over conventional channels. These aspects should be enough for law enforcement agencies in Bangladesh, especially Counter-terrorism and Transnational Crime unit, to seriously keep an eye out on what's happening on the Dark Web. Any negligence would be the serious blunder.

People who are unaware about the mysterious Dark Web may think that complicated coding procedure is required to enter the dark web. Getting to the dark web is actually a lot easier than we might think. It's simply done by downloading a special software named as TOR browser (The Onion Router) which is totally free of cost. The dark web site is different from other website in terms of top level domain suffix. For example, the normal web site address ends with .com or .org but dark web address ends with .onion. 'TOR" servers are undetectable from search engines and offer users complete anonymity while surfing the web. These more secured features of anonymity in dark web attract criminals to perform commit crimes frequently. The dark web has flourished by bitcoin, the crypto-currency that enables two parties to conduct a trusted transaction without knowing each other's identity.

Surprisingly, 23 October, 2019, the BBC launched an .onion version (bbcnewsv2vjtpsuy.onion) of its news website on the TOR anonymizing network aimed at readers based in countries that ban its services. In October 2014, Facebook announced that users could connect to the website through a TOR onion service using the privacy-protecting TOR browser and encrypted using HTTPS. Now anyone with a TOR-enabled internet browser can visit https://facebookcorewwwi.onion/ to get a secure connection to Facebook's servers that provides end-to-end encryption. Ideally, this means that TOR users, some of whom may be using the software to circumvent government restrictions of the internet in places such as China, Iran, will be able to get onto Facebook reliably and without worrying about leaking their identifying information. For instance, if you open a Facebook account from Bangladesh using "facebookcorewwwi.onion"- it can appear that you're in U.S.A. Thus, it will create a safe cyber heaven for hackers and crackers who can fulfill their evil interests.

In Bangladesh, everyday many teenagers are victimized by a group of hackers who use TOR server to hack Facebook account and start blackmailing in different ways. The victims don't get help from the law enforcement agencies because they can't identify hackers. Therefore, it is a right time to take initiatives by law enforcement agencies in Bangladesh to increase surveillance on what is happening on the dark web. Otherwise, militants, terrorists, fundamentalist groups and hackers come back strongly which will be out of control.

Md. Hafez is Assistant Professor, at the School of Business, Ahsanullah University of Science and Technology, Email: [email protected]

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