These websites cannot be accessed on the World Wide Web

A peek into the Dark Web Home to drug dealers paedophiles and arms sellersImage: Screen grab from website
Flix Internet's underbelly Wednesday, October 28, 2015 - 18:09

There is the World Wide Web, the Internet that you and I usually browse. Here, things are mostly transparent, anonymity is low and websites usually find it easy to identify you by your IP Address. It’s a bit like walking across a crowded street. Someone may recognise you.

And then there is the Darknet, or Dark Web, hidden web…call it what you may. Here, anonymity rules. No one recognises each other. In fact, it is like walking on a street where no one can see each other. Imagine walking across a much less-crowded street wearing an invisibility cloak. You might just be alone. But you aren’t. There are drug dealing portals, ammunition suppliers, child pornography websites and counterfeiters lurking in these scary corners.

These websites cannot be accessed on the World Wide Web. This whole world has been concealed surreptitiously. 

How does one access it?

The onion router (Tor) is one of the easier ways to access Darknet. It is free to download, and upon installation, asks if the user wishes to be a part of their internal network. This is a bit like entering the less crowded street, and the browser itself acts as the invisibility cloak. The ‘www’ websites can be accessed as well.

Now how does this work? Basically, as opposed to making a direct connection, Tor would run you through a series of ‘virtual tunnels’. Much like an onion with its many layers, each of these random indirect tunnels adds to your anonymity. Your IP address is somewhere there, but only at the end of a topsy-turvy route that will certainly throw any snoopy eye off-course. Your footsteps are neatly erased periodically and each time you transact data, it’s coming from a different source. After all, you cannot be at multiple places at the same time.

Now why does such a service need to exist? The official website (www.torproject.org) cites various reasons – allowing individuals to securely exchange data and information over chat relays, preventing whistleblowers and important individuals from being subject to internet surveillance, intelligence gathering, exchanging sensitive information (back account details/passwords), and all sort of humanitarian benefits.

But this is just one side of the coin. Drugs, ammunition and child pornography are rampant across the Darkweb spectrum. According to an extensive study on the onion router by Dr. Gareth Owen, a professor at University of Portsmouth, 15% of all hidden services in the Dark Web are drug portals – selling illegal drugs over international markets. At least 9% of the services are fraud-attempts. About 6% are bitcoin-exchanges and 1.4% of the services are ammunition sellers. Whistle-blowing and information services too figure in the list.

We entered the Dark Web, and accessed two drug portals on Tor, found on a list available at thehiddenwiki.org.  Their address, of course, is not even remotely normal. It contains a random scramble of letters followed by (dot)onion. There is no ‘http’ and no ‘www’.

East India Company selling various quantities of Traditional Opium/Malana Cream. Note the presence of exchange rates of bitcoins on the left.

 

The first, named East India Company (named so since the drugs are shipped only to the European Union) lists numerous drugs that claim Indian origin. Malana Charas (Hash), a quite popular processed cannabis variety grown in Himachal Pradesh, is sold by one particular seller. On the other website, called MonkeyMeds, the homepage clearly mentions India as not only a supplier but also a place where the drugs are shipped. Many drugs not authorized by the US FDA such as Etizolam and prescription only-drugs such as Temazepam are sold here. All of these drugs can only be purchased using bitcoins. This, however, is only the tip of the iceberg. Anyone who downloads the browser can freely access these websites. They do not even conceal their existence – only their IP Address and location.

MonkeyMeds has some drugs that necessarily require prescriptions and some not allowed by the FDA.

The Dark Web acts as a safe haven for such illegal transactions to take place. The NSA, or Nation Security Agency, has been constantly tracking Tor users by utilising various techniques that bypass all anonymity obstacles. Drug dealers and individuals circulating child pornography are often tracked down.

Tor can be used for positive purposes, but the community has manifested itself into a dark, dark place. Indian suppliers and buyers are most certainly a part of it too, obvious from what we saw on these websites. Indian cyber law enforcement needs to stretch its arms in the right places, and focus on online drug trade and child pornography in the Dark Web than just online pornography.

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