Surprise! Not all websites can be found through Google. The internet houses many different places only accessible to certain particular ways, we call this network the Deep Web or Dark Web. Governments are the primary users of the parallel internet but also the secrecy of the Deep Web is favored by criminals to sell, buy or broadcast content that is illegal with a total impunity. Drugs, weapons, pedo-pornography or even hitmen contracts can be found outside of the Google world very easily. Terrorist activities and propaganda have recently brought to light the vast implementation of the Deep Web.
The most popular access to the Deep Web is through the TOR browser, a free software that hides your IP address.
The protocol used to access the TOR websites, as well as transactions conducted are almost untraceable and totally anonymous, which poses an obvious problem for the police trying to monitor criminal activities on the Deep Web.1
A parliamentary question was raised to the European parliament 2, asking about the point of view of the commission about the cyber-war and crime 3. The commission answered by saying that “ EU promotes the development of norms of behavior and the application of existing international law to cyberspace to reduce risks and maintain peace and stability globally.”
Also Europol, the organism regrouping police from all UE to act in cooperation with other countries had been invited to regroup every European cybercrime unit into a “cybercrime alert platform”, the “European Cybercrime Centre”.4
Europol then lead a joint action with 16 countries in order to shut down the activities on the deep web, however only 17 vendors were arrested and the websites that were shutdown reopened few days later.5
The police seemed to be overwhelmed by this new kind of criminality which defies the established order.
How did the Deep web manage to cause so many problems to the authorities?
What enables the deep web to be a cornerstone of international crime is the anonymity that it provides. Indeed, every action you do on the “normal” web can be tracked down to your address IP if you’re not using any proxies. On Tor, the deep web navigator, your connection is bounce back to different places around the world and it is impossible to track you down.
The authorities are then restrained in their court of action, most of the arrest are made thanks to negligence or errors made by the users. However most of the dealers on the deep web are getting more and more paranoid, barricading themselves behind multiple proxies and making sure that no direct contact is established with their client.
Payments are made using bitcoins, a cryptocurrency that is growing at an exponential rate. They were created in 2008 and were valued at one dollar per Bitcoin. Today the value of a single bitcoin is over 900 dollars.6
The amazing advantage of this new kind of money is that it is untraceable. Using a confidential system similar to some Swiss banks, the bitcoins are desolidarised from the real bank account that bought them. The authorities are then unable to trace back the buyers when they arrest and perquisite a seller.
Surprisingly enough, most of the merchandise in question transit through the classic post system, even internationally. Drugs are packed in a void, weapons are hidden in high-tech products and then sent all over the world7 with an impressive ease that almost mocks the customs controls.
The products are often not delivered directly at the address of the client, which could compromise their identity, but in what the users call “droppoints”, abandoned mailboxes that can be opened with a simple postal key.
One of the main issues with the Deep Web is that anyone can access it. Anybody with an internet connection can go online and buy drugs, weapons and other illegal inquiries. It’s really far from the “usual” way of buying these, you don’t have to know anyone or to go to creepy places anymore.
Anyone can just install TOR, buy some bitcoin legally and have a go on one of the biggest market place. There is no such thing as a “basic deep web user”, it goes from the international drug trafficker to the teenager looking for weed. It makes it really difficult for the police to stop drug cartels as they do not operate openly in the street anymore.
I manage to contact a individual that actually “works” on the deep web and asked him how he was feeling about the potential risks of his activities. He answered me that “The major asset of TOR is its confidentiality. Nobody is aware of who you are, where you’re from etc. Unofficial breakdown of users state 50% of scammers, 20% of cops, 20% of random dudes and 10% of real users are operating on the network. As everybody is anonymous, you know the police is there but you don’t know who or when. I must have been in contact with some police officers but I’ll never know when. So no I don’t fear anything while using TOR as you never give any information on who you are.”
Small users seems to risk almost nothing when it comes to deep web activities, the reprehensive aspect of the law doesn’t even apply anymore. However authorities are focused on shutting down the big marketplace to stop the flow of illegal merchandise. Silkroad was closed during 2014 by the FBI8 and his owner arrested9, but none of the customers of the website was actually arrested.
As we have seen before, the UE is trying to regulate this new type of black market with mitigated success. The shadow of terrorism is forcing the European countries to regulate internet, in France for example the “Loi antiterroriste” of 2004 soon to be follow by the “loi sur le renseignement” are aiming to reinforce the surveillance of the internet, notably through algorithms scanning all the websites.
However those measures will have a very low, if not inexistent impact on the current activities of the deep web. There is no actual legislation specific to it for now and the police seem to be unable to prevent the different ongoing illegal activities.
To fight this threat, governments must go in the direction of Europol’s and the FBI’s actions10 and unite with their peers to create a common police force and the juridical means to be able to fight this new kind of organized crime.
Université de Montpellier
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