Is the Darknet a glimpse into the Net of the future?
What will the net of the future look like? And what purpose is it used for?
From augmented reality, which expects the information you will want just by taking a look at an item, to smart services which use artificial intelligence to help us manage our workloads, the look, feel and usefulness of the net of 2040 is a large open field.
Already advances in virtual reality technology – Facebook especially purchased the virtual reality startup Oculus VR for $2bn this year – are starting to change the way we handle everything from medical science, into military training, to learning issues.
To what extent, however, we will have control over our own data is one of the future’s great unanswered questions.
For many the future of the world wide web is hereand it looks a lot like it did in 1990s.
Known as the Darknet, this anonymised section of the internet allows everyone from copyright pirates, to drug dealers, to dissidents to communicate and do business without fear of leaving their electronic fingerprints.
Amie Bartlett, whose book”The Dark Web” investigates the electronic underworld, told CNN this opaque and subversive world is inaccessible through normal browsers and requires special software.
“A special browser named Tor allows a user to surf the net with no IP address being given away,” Bartlett said. “It uses a smart encryption system which means nobody can see what computer a user is on.”
This identical encryption system also affords anonymity into the sites which inhabit this corner of the net, meaning that governments and law enforcers don’t have any idea where the website is being hosted.
That does not imply that the people running these operations can permanently stay concealed, as the catch of the founder of”Silk Road”, a famed illegal online market, by the FBI in 2013 demonstrates.
However, the resources to make life hard for law enforcement appear to be there: “Anyone can set up these sites that are nearly impossible to shut down and down,” he said. “As a result, it is a little Wild West — more or less anything goes.
“You have got illegal porn there, these medications markets there, assassination markets and hitmen for hire. All kinds of terrible stuff but also all kinds of great stuff too.
“Democratic revolutionaries, whistleblowers, human rights activists that are also worried about giving away their place also need somewhere where they could post stuff anonymously and digitally.”
Bartlett said the browser has been originally designed by the U.S. military as a method of traversing the world wide web covertly, but since then had become an open-source project. He indicates the military released the encrypted browser as a method of providing cover for their operations.
Since the Tor browser uses a non-standard protocol, people observing network traffic can identify it easily even if they can not see what the consumer is looking at.
“They realised that this isn’t a great idea if the only people using it would be the US army — it is going to be obvious who they are. Because of this, they turned it into an open-source project”
Nowadays, the Darknet is moving from fringe to mainstream, bringing anyone who desires anonymity — be they hired killers or humble bloggers.
Back to the future
For Bartlett, the Darknet is a return to the labyrinthine recesses of their very first times of the worldwide web. He said the future of the internet is very likely to be an increased proliferation of those non-standard protocols which provide ever deeper levels of anonymity.
“It actually feels like the early days of the net… (everything) is hosted on those rudimentary networks. It is like the web of the early 90s when things were not indexed the way they’re now.
“Everything is hyperlinked together and Google can find everything, but back in the day the entire net was dark — you did not understand what you were doing or where you’re going.
“You used to write down addresses on pieces of paper and move them to each other.”
Just what could be seen on the Darknet is frequently the topic of wild conjecture, but a recent job started by the! Mediengruppe Bitnik art collective — called”The Darknet — From Memes into Onionland” – reveals exactly what’s available on the Internet’s underbelly.
The Random Darknet Shopper art project
Arming an automatic online bot with US$100 in bitcoins (the crypto-currency accepted as legal tender on a lot of illicit marketplaces) that the”Random Darknet Shopper” trawls its murky corners and each week buys one thing at random.
Thus far, the bot has bought a”stash may” of Sprite that doubles as a hiding place for drugs or money, a platinum Visa card for $35, 10 Ecstasy Pills from Germany for US$48, 10 packets of Chesterfield cigarettes from Moldova, and several other items like jeans,”designer” bags, and publications.
Among the most fascinating pieces for the exhibitors in the Kunst Halle St. Gallen gallery at St. Gallen, Switzerland — where all of the parcels arrive — has been a fireman’s set of skeleton keys in the UK.
“Our first question was what do you do with this? What does it open?” Carmen Weisskopf, the co-founder of the art collective, told CNN. On the Darknet, the keys are promoted as useful for unlocking toolboxes or”gaining access to communal gates and storage areas.”
‘Thrilling and scary’
She said getting the parcels in the gallery was once”thrilling and frightening.”
“The inspiration for the art really came from the light of this Snowden revelations – for net artists it meant we needed to reevaluate the networks we work in. We became very interested in looking at these encrypted and anonymous networks from an artistic viewpoint.”
She stated the starting point for them was the way to build trust in an anonymous network.
The job has already dented the levels of trust in the art collective who early in the project called in the help of a lawyer to shore up their legal position should the bot turn up anything that puts them outside the law. Luckily, Weisskopf said, firearm sales are restricted to clients within America.
“That is why we got the concept of moving into marketplaces because hope is something that you will need to build in markets.”
The artists have gained notoriety by sending a parcel to fugitive whistleblower Julian Assange. The package was equipped with a camera that recorded its travel through the postal service to the Ecuadorian Embassy in London where Assange is now holed up.