Varun Kapoor, IPS
Additional Director General of Police, Narcotics and PRTS, Indore
The internet is growing at an exponential rate, the world over. Today it is estimated that over 240 Crore people use the internet. That is a staggering number. The total world population is 700 Crore and that means that almost 35% of the world population is connected by one worldwide network. This is a huge power. It is a massive power for good and change for the better for humanity in general. But unfortunately it is also a huge force for bad and evil. Thus it is incumbent upon all the citizens to use this power for good and keep themselves safe from the bad and corrupting influences.
It is this bad or corrupting part of the internet which is often referred to as the Dark Net. This is the region where criminals lurk. A part of the web that cannot be easily accessed by everyone. You cannot reach the dark net by using search engines like Google or Bing. A special kind of browser is to be used to access its dark recesses. Traditionally the TOR browser is used for getting into the dark net arena. TOR stands for The Onion Router. This was initially a worldwide network of services developed by the US Navy. This allowed people to anonymously browse the internet. Now it is an open source project that hides the users identity on the web by encrypting a computer’s unique IP address and bouncing it across several volunteer servers, known as “nodes”, around the world so that it’s virtually impossible to trace the user.
The dark net is characteristically used for ordering drugs, illegal arms, wildlife parts and child pornography. A study in the USA revealed that 80% of all traffic to dark net was to websites hosting child pornography material. The general public came to know of this menace in the year 2013 when the FBI in USA carried out a combined operation with the Europol and cracked the dark net major website Silk Road. This site specialized in the sale of recreational drugs and had an annual turnover of US$ 8 Million. They shut down this site and arrested its owner – Ross William Ulbricht aka Dread Pirate Roberts and sentenced him to life imprisonment. But like all things on the net the challenge continues.
With the shutting down of Silk Road a number of more powerful and pervasive Dark Net sites opened shop. Even most advanced security agencies of the world are finding it extremely difficult to trace and crack the operations of these shadowy operators. Thus they continue to proliferate and grow – finding new, ingenious and advanced means to hoodwink law enforcement and operate on a worldwide scale.
Today common people have also started using the Dark Net in a big way and it is now not limited to criminal and shadowy charecters only. Today there are an estimated 200,000 – 400,000 sites operating in the dark Net. They are easily recognizable by the (.onion) suffix. Onion comes from the Onion Router browser. Like many peels of an Onion, the Dark Net too has many peels and if you uncover one peel then it is followed by another – so that it becomes extremely difficult to get to the original location from which a particular Dark Net website is being hosted.
But all of the Dark Net is not bad. It has some good features too. During the Arab Spring when one country after another in North Africa was convulsed with internal strife and revolution – the dark Net was used effectively by international media persons and local revolutionaries. They communicated with each other and the outside world using the services of the Dark Net so that the authorities could not monitor them and hence avoid all detection.
In India monitoring, controlling and regulating the Dark Net is in a very nascent stage. The security forces know very little to nothing about this menace let alone the measures to be taken to control its spread and its ill effects. The laws are also not geared to neutralize this threat effectively. As a result it is a threat to public safety and order. A young man recently interviewed by a leading newspaper accepted that he has used the Dark Net to order illegal drugs. This Kolkata professional said that while he was a student in Karnataka he did use the Dark Net websites of Silk Route and Evolution, a marketplace for contraband to order illegal drugs. He said he got some Bitcoins (virtual currency) from his Australian friend by transferring money to him. He then proceeded to purchase first LSD (blots of acid) and the next time Ecstasy. He further added that the LSD was home delivered in the form of stamps dipped in the drug and hidden in a stamp album. The Ecstasy was again home delivered in a Lipstick!
Thus the danger is real and the security establishment in India is soon coming to grips with this challenge. More and more such Dark Net sites like Aghora are being blocked and the citizens are being protected from this ever increasing menace. But this cat and mouse game between criminal elements and the police is one that is increasingly becoming difficult and challenging for the security apparatus not only in India but the entire world.