CHILD pornography, illegal drugs, fake passports, human organs for sale, prostitution, human trafficking and even contract killers for hire. These are among the nefarious activities that can be found in the dark web.
There are three layers of the Internet. The first is the surface web where one operates a portion of the World Wide Web (www) and searchable with standard or usual search engines such as Google to read email, blogs or watch YouTube.
Second, is the deep web — which requires special software to access. The final layer is the dark web which forms a small part of the deep web. Like the deep web, standard search engines do not lead to the dark web. Both protect the users’ privacy.
But interestingly, the surface web contains only four per cent of the Internet; the remaining 96 per cent is hidden in the deep and dark web.
Both can only be accessed by a special software, such as the Onion Router browser (TOR), which can easily be downloaded free from the Internet.
TOR was originally developed by the US Naval Research Laboratory to protect US Intelligence communications online. However, TOR is now a non-profit operated server which allows anyone to use its services to protect privacy and security on the Internet. TOR is layered with heavy-duty encryption, which means your data is layered with privacy. TOR hides all users’ IP addresses, identity, location and data transfers on the dark web.
Even though TOR is normally associated with criminal and illegitimate activities, the browser is also used for legitimate purposes by governments, law enforcement agencies, politicians, activists, whistleblowers, organisations, journalists and reporters seeking a more accessible and secure Internet experience and to protect themselves.
Studies have shown that over half of the sites on the dark web offer illegal products or services. It is a secret platform accessed by criminals for trading and is virtually impossible to trace and track any of these criminals or their illegal financial transactions.
Cybercriminals, the mafia and terrorists use the dark web as their marketplace for purchasing illegal goods such as drugs, human organs, child pornography, counterfeit money, fake passports and others.
According to the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre of the University of New South Wales, Australian drug dealers are the most prevalent users of the dark web per capita than any other nationalities.
In the book, The Anatomy of Cyber-Jihad: Cyberspace is the New Great Equalizer, James Scott revealed that there are a series of forums and communication channels in the dark web where the Islamic State and other extremist groups can get advice on how to contribute to the movement.
Some cybercriminals build software to attack or hack businesses or government departments. Last January, a cybercriminal claimed to have the complete set of records and personal details of 1,164,540 Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) students and alumni who were registered in UiTM between 2000 and 2018.
Prior to this, Richard Huckle was sentenced to life in prison for sexually abusing scores of children. Huckle posed as a freelance photographer and an English teacher to get access to impoverished communities in Kuala Lumpur.
He was arrested in London in 2014, after an Australian detective unit discovered his activities in the dark web, where members exchanged child sex abuse images and tips. The case shocked Malaysians who raised questions on social media about the effectiveness of child protection laws and their expertise in enforcement.
On May 17, the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested several suspects in Israel, Germany, France and Netherlands for their involvement in running a dark web that facilitated the purchase of weapons, drugs and other contraband.
The Generation Z (born in 1995) and Alpha (2013) are a new breed of people, highly sensitive to global issues and savvy with technology, who may use the dark web for nefarious purposes such as underground economy, corrupt practices and political financing.
There are hundreds and thousands of websites in the deep and dark web which provide useful information and are a form of big data. Big data are able to detect, prevent criminal activities, including white collar crimes and corruption.
Foreign law enforcement agencies often use the dark web when searching for important and sensitive information. All they need is to use the TOR browser to surf the dark web. But the danger is if big data collection falls into the wrong hands, it could prove devastating. Combating criminal activities operating in the dark web requires more proactive efforts by law enforcement agencies compared with traditional security.
It requires the expertise of cybersecurity experts and technical resources combined with an innovative approach. They have to be two steps ahead of cybercrime criminals. The European, Brazilian police and Chinese law enforcement agencies have managed to successfully take down hundreds of members of a dark web child porn ring.
The National Crime Agency and the Government Communications Headquarters in the United Kingdom have created a special task force to target the serious crime syndicates operating in the dark web, starting with the abuse of children online.
In Malaysia there is a need to raise the knowledge and capability across all members of the police force, intelligence agencies and Cybersecurity Malaysia. The government must introduce a dedicated cybercrime unit to tackle the problem.
In the short term, law enforcement agencies and regulators should form a task force with Cybersecurity Malaysia and acquire capabilities pertaining to deep web analysis. This is to enable the task force to conduct investigations on serious criminal activities operating in the dark web, including child sex or even terrorists groups.
The writer is president, Malaysia
Association of Certified Fraud
Examiner, and Director at Institute
of Crime & Criminology, HELP University