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The Dark Web

So The Age surprised me this morning by pulling my latest feature forward because editorial staff were on strike and Management came in and just ran whatever they could find, adding any photos they could find.  Here she is:  The New Underbelly.

What makes me sad is that, judging by most of the comments beneath it, I haven’t done the greatest job of getting my point across, which is this:

– Tor and services like it exist for legitimate and important reasons – i.e. retaining privacy and circumventing censorship

– The third arm of Tor – the Hidden Services – contain sites that most would consider objectionable and very few legitimate sites.  I mentioned what some of them are.

– The government’s suggestions for filters and tracking traffic will have no effect on criminals who know how to use the web and are draconian measures that will only harm regular people.

This commentator got it:

THE scariest part of this whole article was the Governments plan to log our web histories! Australian politicians (both sides of the divide) have very little idea about the internet and how it works.

Targeting every day users is not targeting criminal activity. At the end of the day it will just lead to IP infringement law suits. This will also fool other people, with equally no idea as to how the internet operates, into thinking the government is doing a good job.

Commenter Tak  Location  Melbourne  Date and time  June 01, 2012, 8:35AM
I feel a bit let down by my own writing that this didn’t come across.  But I have to say, it’s amazing what a scary graphic and bold lead can do to sensationalise an article.  I just thought I was writing about something I found really interesting!
You may link to this post but you may not reproduce it without the permission of the author

33 Responses

  1. Great piece! Pity about the number of nitwits in the comments who just don’t get it, and don’t realise that they should be damned scared the Government wants to monitor us all. Other than TOR, how do we stop it and why are people so apathetic about it?

    At least the Sex Party and the Pirate Party are two political parties who are saying no to Conroy’s dangerous schemes. If only more would speak out.

  2. “- The third arm of Tor – the Hidden Services – contain sites that most would consider objectionable and very few legitimate sites. I mentioned what some of them are.”

    how would you know? the whole point of a hidden site is its hidden and you would not know about it unless someone told you. from what i can tell your vast knowledge of the “dark net” comes from visiting the hidden wiki a couple of times. you failed to mention in your story any of the main stream sites and search engines that run tor nodes and hidden sites not to mention for example the voip/im servers that help ppl in despotic countries communicate freely without being black bagged and or tortured. You mentioned the onion protocol was initially designed by the research arm of the u.s navy but you didnt mention that its used daily by diplomats and law enforcement as sometimes these ppl need to be anonymous in there day to day work.

    “I feel a bit let down by my own writing that this didn’t come across. But I have to say, it’s amazing what a scary graphic and bold lead can do to sensationalise an article. I just thought I was writing about something I found really interesting!”

    it didnt come across because you choose to focus on the bad and mention only in passing the good that tor and onion routing in general does daily i would argue the good it does far out ways the bad for everyone both the common citizen and government employees who work in hostile enviroments. this whole blog is focused on the slik road and “vice” if you took about 5 min to think about how the silk road works. it has a major major bug that law enforcement i would think already leverages.

    have a good day
    a tor node operator.

    1. Actually nobody – and darknets are completely different to the Dark Web, BTW, do your homework – my knowledge comes not just from hanging out in .onion world but from my numerous skype hookups with the Executive Director of Tor, who was fabulous in explaining things and answering all my questions.

      I also had someone set up an .onion crawler – which found 5 major wikis and a whole lot of other stuff. The fact is – and the ED of Tor agreed with me here – the .onion services are currently used more for evil than good. But the same can be said of many of the early internet innovations and once people become more familiar with them, this may well turn around.

      Interestingly, the other thing that is not prolific on Tor’s hidden services is terrorist activities. Apparently they setup and use far smaller and more private VPNs for their own hidden services.

      I also would argue the good Tor does far outweighs the bad – oh hang on, I did!

      1. “and darknets are completely different to the Dark Web”
        actually there rather similar and both names can be used.. most darknets are based on onion routing although they dont have to be.

        im glad you spoke to andrew and considering hes the press contact for tor im not that shocked he is a good advocate. though had it been me i would of spoken to either roger nick or paul.. since they are are the original devs of the project or even had a chat to roger as he does a lot of work on hidden services the mailing lists where they all post to and discuss all sorts of issues from general stuff to dev stuff are also very helpful.
        but im sure your the expert in these matters now you had a skype chat with the press contact.
        i of course dont know what im talking about and have never had anything to do with tor or running multiple tor nods over the last 3 or 4 years..

        a tor node operator

        1. With all due respect, I think you’re getting Dark Web confused with the deep web. I took a helluva lot of advice on this exact point from experts after – and here’s some more ammo for you to throw at me as you seem so angry – after I misused the term ‘darknet’ in my Silk Road article.

          Astonishingly, some of us try to learn from our mistakes. 😉

          1. deep web is mostly used to describe parts of the internet not indexed by search engines so a darknet and or darkweb fall under the guise of the deep web but its not a term used to describe only a hiddenservice. hidenservices also dont have to be part of the darkweb they can be any service be it Im voip irc jabber or file sharing almost any networking protocol can be run over onion routing there are people working on dns and ntp at the minute over onion routing because of that i prefer the term darknet but again its not really here nor there (silkroad being a website could be classed as darkweb)

            im not denying there is some really nasty stuff on hiddenservices (some stuff i dont even wish to check) i do question the authenticity of many of of the sites you quoted in your story though you know the old joke it was on the internet it must be true etc etc

          2. There are sites that I know to be genuine, sites I’m positive are fake (as noted in the article) and others that may or may not be what they claim to be or do what they claim to do.

            Feel free to Watch This Blog for deeper discussions on my adventures into the Dark Web 😉

  3. Something you’ve probably missed on your research. It’s not those pesky pushers and paedos who create darknets and keep up the endless cat-and-mouse game. They just enjoy the ripe fruits of so-called “copyright enforcement” and “war on piracy” – and Tor is just one of its ilk. Freenet, Gnutella, Perfect Dark, Invisible Internet Project – there are quite a few options and alternatives out there. It’s the pressure governments and copyright industries puts on the net and the users that creates huge demand on anonymous network. Bright minds don’t build darknets to share CP or sell drugs – they build them to keep up their free speech and avoid ridiculous lawsuits from copyright trolls. And here we go again: the more so-called “law enforcement” (read: censorship and privacy breaches) pressure being put on the internet – the more darknets and other means of uncontrollable communication (think android wifi p2p network, already there – no providers involved) is out there. Governments lose – still no control over communications, regular people lose – no privacy on “normal” internet, criminals win – untraceable and uncontrollable environment, for free!

    1. I have reams of research that never made it to the article for reasons of space or editorial wishes. I’ll be blogging about them.

      Certainly the CP users/organised crime etc don’t create the darkenets, but like anything they find ways to exploit them.

      One thing I’ll be blogging in full about is Dr Glaser’s insights into child porn and its link (or lack thereof) with contact sex offenders.

      1. I have no interest reading anything related to child exploitation. Unfortunately, consumers of said production and other criminals grossly benefit from the mere existence of darknets. My point is, it wouldn’t be the case without a pressure from copyright industries. When people simply FTPed music or put download links on their personal web sites in late 90s, it was amazingly easy for law enforcement to go after individuals who abused the technology for criminal purposes. Here comes RIAA, MPAA and their ridiculous DMCA law. Posting a link to an .mp3 file became as much a criminal offence as running an online illicit drug store. Here come Napster, Kazaa/eMule, DC, LimeWire, and, of course BitTorrent. It became much more difficult to pursue abusers: imagine private torrent tracker at severely mangled URL like responding with “Apache Test Page, it works!” page, no “login” or “register” links, one has to go something like (yup, it is possible to serve normal web pages from URLs ending with “.pdf” or even “.exe”) to reach login page, it it quite hard to get invited and involved and there are strict rules not to allow any “modern” peer exchanging technologies so there are virtually no contacts with outer network. Sounds like cyberpunk, but I have no doubts there are still quite a few services like that over there on the net.
        Finally, after another 10 years RIAA ilk got their way towards (somewhat) effective measures in “combating piracy” by tracking BitTorrent users and suing them to death. Darknets, here we go! Good luck pursuing those pesky criminals on highly-encrypted anonymous onion-routed proxified networks.

        1. I have to admit, I didn’t look much into the whole copyright issue, partly because one thing Tor warns is that it is NOT a safe place for torrents. I readily admit to not understanding all of the technological aspects.

          1. It actually said it was not well suited for BitTorrent protocol which would create excessive load on the network. Still pretty safe to host and access trackers while routing BitTorrent traffic over “normal” internet (with few restrictions, obviously).

          2. Sorry, I forgot to mention and it is not possible to edit the comment. Feel free to merge it with the previous one.

            I must admit, while referring to the whole filesharing issue, I was not thinking Tor. You see, Tor is just one of the onion routers available on the network. There are quite a few more similar (sometimes quite different) technologies out there – say, PerfectDark, I2P and FreeNet are the ones worth mentioning.

  4. Your article did not focus on the impending ‘surveillance state’ that is briefly mentioned in your article, rather, it focused on how theres so much bad stuff on the net. You are getting upset because people aren’t focusing on how much good TOR is doing? Perhaps that reflects on your writing style?

    The commenter who says:
    “THE scariest part of this whole article was the Governments plan to log our web histories! Australian politicians (both sides of the divide) have very little idea about the internet and how it works.”
    Clearly doesn’t think that that this article was about government surveillance . Rather, that’s the only part in a relatively long piece that actually mentioned anything worthwhile

    To myself, and anyone technically minded that is familiar with TOR etc, this article read like sensationalist journalism reminiscent of ‘A current affairs’. ‘Scary news/Pedos on the internet/police unable to stop them/anonymity is bad’.
    It doesn’t MATTER what your INTENDED point is if it doesn’t come across clearly.

      1. But… if you take out all the stuff that’s not mine – the pictures, the lead, the intro and the rehetorical question “The question being asked by law enforcement agencies is: how should they be regulated? Can they be regulated?” – inserted by an editor – it is a little less salacious. 🙂

        1. Just as a side note. That picture at the top of the page… What the hell was that? Looked like an LSD trip gone wrong. -_-

          I don’t understand the motivation behind publishing something that you’re disappointed in. If its a personal blog that’s one thing, if its a piece in a newspaper that millions will read and assume is to a high standard, that’s a different story.

          Your editor ought to cop some flak from this as well and i hope they read the comments online and understand peoples fustrations.

          Good luck in future.

          1. I’m not disappointed in the piece. Honestly, I think a lot of people only read the first few paragraphs.

            Overall, I found it fascinating to research and write.

          1. So this research is out of your own interest or is it an assignment?

            Have you looked into the following tech?
            (private) Darknets
            ‘The Scene’ (its mostly for warez and is a series of private FTP’s and IRC servers)

            If your doing this for your own benefit, I’d be happy to help with any research or information I can. Let me know if you would.

          2. Oh wow, I was thinking, clearly you haven’t read my article because I mentioned by name most of those in your list…

            Then I just re-read the article as it appeared in final and realised Fairfax edited them all out 😀 No idea of their motivation for that

  5. Your article has made the SR forums..and your previous articles exposing SR has created a lot of angst for a lot of Aussie SR users.

    Hope you are proud.

    1. Hi Johanssen,

      I think you’ll find the influx of noobs to SR came from The Project, not from The Age. And I think you’ll find Gawker ‘exposed’ SR to the masses, not me.

      DPR wrote to thank and congratulate me on the article, although he did then post that somewhat self-serving bit about not wanting the decriminalisation that my article championed 🙂

  6. That’s not the point, the point is you exposed SR to mainstream Australia and before the 7pm project did. Not very advisable considering.

    Australia is already a frustrating place to live in with it’s ultra conservative ideals and govts interested in controlling a population and then this.

    You have given people like Conroy a bigger excuse to think they can control the web. Well done.

    1. Wrong. Australia had been ‘exposed’ to SR many times – including in all the mainstream papers last year.

      If Conroy reads my articles he’ll realise how pointless and stupid his idea is.

  7. So now the project are going to do another expose on TOR and the darknet due to your article!

    Bad move.

  8. I loved your article, it was the first I had heard of the dark net or dark web or whathaveyou. I was well aware of child porn (I think we all are) but I did not know drugs could be bought online (although it makes sense) and other such things or how it all worked. I love the idea of having a peek around those dark corners of the web but I think I will keep out of trouble. The Silk Road disappearing drug money sounds like an excellent scam.

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