THE DARK NET IN AUSTRALIA
THE WEB – “NOT AN UNGOVERNED SPACE” – NONSENSE!
The Elephant in the Room
On Monday, 8 October, the Hon. Mitch Fifield, Minister for Communication, addressed the Sydney Institute on Government policy around safety and security of the Internet. The audience was assured the Internet was not an ungoverned space. Incredulous, my grandson, aged eighteen, hissed at me “What about the the Dark Web and the import of drugs, munitions and pornography which can be purchased anonymously using untraceable bit-coin?”
On Wednesday, 10 October, the Hon. Peter Dutton, Minister for Home Affairs, addressed the Canberra Press Club on national and cyber security. The success of Border Force operations and the role of cyber crime was mentioned but there was no reference to the disastrous activities on the Dark Net with respect to drugs and child exploitation (hard candy).
Both Ministers dwelt on progress by their Departments but both avoided mentioning the ‘elephant in the room’ – the Dark Net. This dark cyber space is more dangerous than the visible Internet and is capable of great damage to the Australian people but it is invisible and essentially uncontrollable.
The Dark Net
The Dark Net is a hidden unregulated encrypted network. The Global Internet comprises a vast cyber space where only 4% is available to the public; the remaining 96% consists of the Deep Net. The Dark Net is only a sub-set of the Deep Net.
The Dark Net is a space where total anonymity can be maintained using dozens of software layers, operating through hundreds of servers, transmitting encrypted messages managed by thousands of operators. The Dark Net is not visible to normal search engines but is entered using the TOR (The Onion Router) software developed by the US Navy to protect government information. Entry to the Dark Net is facilitated using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) which provides the user with a fake address and anonymity. A Dark Web address can be identified by the suffix ‘.onion’, not ‘.com’, ‘.co’ or ‘.net’.
The Dark Net is now the freeway for global organised crime. Recent investigations by Kings College, London, on nearly 3000 Dark Net sites found that about half were contacts for credit cards, drugs, guns, counterfeit money, malware and child exploitation. With the introduction of bit-coin, all transactions can be effected with complete anonymity. Not everything found was illegal, there were contacts for specialised clubs and and social networks!
(State of Cyber Security, 19 June 2018)
The Dark Net cannot be closed down because TOR software is available on the open market and encryption is universally generated and transmitted by the internet providers. This total situation is facilitated by the complexity of layers of protective software and illegal sites are also, in part, supported by banking assistance from legal entities. (Quora, 9 February 2017)
A recent study has shown Australia hosts the second highest concentration of Dark Net drug dealers per capita after Netherlands. Despite Border Force interceptions, the majority of drug deals via the Dark Net are undetected and delivered by Australia Post. There is also a prolific traffic in child pornography. (The World today, June 2018, The Australian Institute of Criminality, Swinburne University)
Not an Ungoverned Space?
For public consumption Government Ministers utter soothing comment on 4% of the Internet. Serious crime and exploitation are emanating from a significant part of the invisible 96%. The Dark Net cannot be shut down. Australians have little protection except their common sense to protect themselves from criminals operating in the Dark Web. The TOR software is the legal gateway for the savvy and the gullible/ignorant to enter a dark space.
Among the many material benefits created by Homo sapiens, it has created a rogue elephant, the Dark Net. This currently, cannot be destroyed or subdued because encryption and VPNs are not illegal. Government Ministers claim to be curtailing evil activities on the Internet but realistically this is about 4% of the Internet or World Wide Web.
Ministers should warn that most of the Internet is, indeed, “Ungoverned Space” and we enter it at our peril.