In the News: Spotlight is on the Darknet.
Ever since the first electronic communication between two computers was facilitated in 1969, the makings for a hidden part of the Internet have been alive and well. Recent news events, such as the seizure of the Silk Road, have greatly bolstered the public’s initial knowledge of an online world much deeper than the one they have always known. To put it bluntly, the spotlight is on the Darknet.
For many of us, even daily Internet users, the concept of a hidden part of the Internet was like something out of a thriller movie. Yet, the Darknet has been around since the earliest embodiment of the Internet we all know and love, the child of the 1960s ARPANET. In the 1980s, when standardization of the Internet began, there was a movement to find a way to store sensitive, and in some cases, illegal documents somewhere in the online world. If you have ever seen a movie where a character has to hide money in an offshore account until the coast is clear, these files were moved to the data equivalent of foreign bank accounts. Compared to today, there were very few people utilizing the Internet as thoroughly as it is used today. Even so, the quiet shifting of data was in its infancy. Interestingly enough, the U.S. Naval Laboratory developed a rough pre-cursor to the TOR of today’s Darknet in mid-2000. Now let’s be clear, this was not for nefarious purposes, but rather as an aid to foreign operatives working for the U.S. government. This network blocked locations as well IP addresses in an effort to protect not only American operatives and interests, but also American supporters in country with repressive Internet and communications standards. This general idea was later used in developing TOR- the onion router- named for its onion-like layering of connecting to various servers in an effort to conceal the IP address of the user. In re-developing something that was essentially a security tool, the Darknet gained its first batch of notoriety, a notoriety that has grown tenfold in the following thirteen years. In 2005, with the onset of massive amounts of online pirating of everything from movies to Office, those that did know about the Darknet, started to assume the worst about its general purpose.
Known as a haven for privacy, that is exactly what has led some less than savory characters and enterprises to flourish, marring all other activity in the process. For the most part, the Darknet is a place where the belief of our right to privacy is full fledged and hearty. Most users want to know that their activity, no matter how hum-drum, is kept from the prying eyes of the surveillance that encompasses the activity of the Internet. In fact, it is on the Darknet that survivors of violent crimes, illness, and war are able to guarantee their privacy while reaching out to others who are healing from similar wounds. There is no fear of a profile on a survivor’s page being hacked, or worse yet, made public knowledge. Whistleblowers from all corners of the world are free to communicate with people who can protect them, reporters who want to tell the world their story, and the people they are trying to help. People are free to connect in privacy.
Of course, there are others who would exploit the anonymity the Darknet offers, conducting downright criminal activity, which is what most news readers/listeners become informed of. It is said that “anything and everything is for sale” on the Darknet and sadly, too many people are all too willing to partake in that game. It is said that various terror organizations communicate in these alleys of the Internet, contacting foreign cells and hatching plans. This has led the government to start intervening on a more regular basis through any breaches in Darknet servers, allowing them to locate IP addresses and locations. Though some Darknet users feel they must now worry for their privacy, it seems the government is only interested in taking down the worst kinds of criminals to be found in this underground Internet, leaving most to continue with their usual activity.
The Darknet can be used for a variety of enterprises, with the average user simply wanting to maintain their general privacy. Maybe what the real issue should come down to is not whether the Darknet is a well intended idea, or a downright villainous one. Perhaps it is whether what you are doing while on it is well intended or villainous.