A journey into the Dark Net

There's good and bad in the electronic phenomenon known as “dark webs”. Andrew Fordred explains why.

27 January 2019 | Technology

“Not everything in this 'invisible network' is necessarily illegal.” Andrew Fordred, hacker

Frank Steffen - The Namibian Scientific Society recently hosted a talk by the private investigator and self-proclaimed hacker, Andrew Fordred, where he tackled a sensitive issue that has become increasingly risky for many people and corporations.

The so-called Dark Web which is hidden deep in the electronic data world, definitely requires more of an explanation and a deeper understanding.

“Not everything that has to do with the Dark Web is necessarily wrong or criminal, but unfortunately it is precisely the protective nature of this part of the internet, that plays into the hands of the criminal element – something that we're not protected against in Namibia,” Fordred said.

The term “Dark Net” refers to a collection of web pages among several encrypted networks on the worldwide web that builds on many overlayed networks and the so-called Dark Net.

Like a fingerprint

Dark Net participants manually establish their internet connections by creating so-called peer-to-peer overlay networks, unlike conventional peer-to-peer networks, which automatically and arbitrarily link their connections to the “clients” initiated by strangers, Fordred says.

“The Dark Net offers improved privacy because not everyone has access to a specific network,” he says. In the absence of an invitation or registration, no one can gain access to it.

He likened the process to an onion, of which every ring forms yet another net. It was thanks to this analogy that the US military developed what is known as The Onion Router (or TOR). Today there are many such networks.

Any electronic means of communication today has a so-called IP address, which is like a fingerprint for each user. “Whether mobile phone, PC, laptop, car or modern TVs that are connected to a data line, each one is recognised.

“Usually no one can get hold of your data, but there are internet pages – typically porn sites or questionable internet addresses – that open small back doors to the system. As a hacker, once I am inside, you 'belong' to me,” Fordred said.

Dark Web danger

For this reason, the Dark Web is especially dangerous for unsuspecting users, because the visible – or surface – web is usually secured by the necessary software, which is not the case for the so-called Deep Web

or the even more encrypted Dark Web.

The surface web, with its estimated 320 million domains, uses only around 4% of internet capacity. On the other hand, the Dark Web consists of only 72 000 internet sites, but occupies 96% of the capacity.

As an investigator attached to the South African Police (SAP), Fordred was one of the first members of the Unit against Organized Crime and completed his studies in forensics focusing on drug trafficking.

“I am a hacker and generally there's nothing wrong with hackers, because we are mainly driven by curiosity – in my case also by my profession. What's bad is that there are hackers out there that abuse the internet, especially the Dark Net where they usually go about unnoticed,” he said.

“So, while citizens of a brutal repressive regime can maintain press freedom through the Dark Net and drive opposition views, in the same vein it also allows for the sale of weapons, children, slaves, drugs and other illegal services and products.”

The former police officer used a few examples to illustrate how various websites of the “invisible network” can easily lead to sites where personal data and passwords of internet users worldwide along with drugs and weapons are offered for sale.

“And it's almost invisible to the police,” Fordred said, advising parents to talk to their children about the issue, engaging with them about “this forbidden fruit” as part of a home-grown understanding of law and ethics.

• Fordred continues sharing his journey with his talk, The Journey of a Hacker – Browsers, email, username and passwords, at the Scientific Society on Tuesday 26 February.

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