Sample Research Paper On The Dark Web: Balancing Real World Security And Privacy In A Virtual World
Originally, the term “Dark Web” used to define portions of the internet that were “outdated, broken, abandoned, or inaccessible using standard web browsing techniques” (Lievrouw, 70). However, as the internet has developed and become an important part of everyday life, the term “dark web” has evolved. More recently, it has been used to describe parts of the world wide web that are purposely anonymous, and often used for illegal and black market activity (Greenburg, n.d.). Many of these networks and systems that are “used to help achieve the sinister objectives of terrorists and extremists” (Chen, 2011, p. 11).
A recent BBC documentary, Inside the Dark Web (2014), examined the hidden and often malicious segments of the internet and concluded that the internet is entering a new phase of its existence and issues of surveillance, security, privacy and freedom are all intertwined in a controversial debate on the future of cyber-security. The balance between internet freedom and computer security is a major theme in Dark Web research. Many are afraid that governments and corporations tracks everyone’s activity, violates privacy rights and are creating an Orwellian Big Brother society. Some are even more concerned that terrorists, hackers and other malignant groups are plotting cyber attacks and threatening the stability of the internet and society in general (Denning, 2000).
There is a growing body of research investigating the methods governments and corporations can use to legally monitor internet activity and prevent malicious hacking and terrorist attacks. Uncovering the Dark Web: A Case Study of Jihad (2008), examines the use the of the Dark Web by terrorists and other hate groups to “promote their ideology, to facilitate internal communications, to attack their enemies, and to conduct criminal activities” (Chen, Chung, Qin, Reid, Sageman & Weimann, 2008, p. 1348). The article details troubling evidence that terrorists are targeting critical infrastructure such as financial institutions and governmental networks. Other researchers have pointed out that the anonymity of the internet and privacy protections inherent to American society leave institutions vulnerable to cyber attacks. (Gellman, 2002). Insurgents in Iraq have
posted Web messages asking for munitions, financial support, and volunteers (Craglia and Blakemore, 2004). Some technology researchers have predicted disastrous and even deadly consequences of internet hacking and other Dark Web activity. Denning (2000) asserted that terrorists or enemy government could use cyber-attacks to kill by causing explosions, plane crashes, train collisions, nucluer reactor meltdowns or water poisoning (p. 144-146).
At the heart of the Dark Web are onion routing networks like Tor, an open source project that was created in 2002 to increase privacy and provide anonymous internet access (McCoy, n.d.). By routing traffic through multiple serves, personal information such as IP address and physical location can be hidden. The anonymity and security of Tor created a network for new marketplaces, like Silk Road, which was an online black market, that was used to sell a variety of services and products, including stolen credit card accounts, prostitution and illegal drugs. Immersed in the Dark Web, internet users could anonymously and securely without being tracked. The FBI shut down the Silk Road in 2013 and arrested the sites founder, Ross William Ulbricht. New versions of Silk Road have been created, but quickly shut down by the FBI (Sherman and Price, 2001). Tor has also been associated with online pirating through bit torrent downloading (McCoy, n.d.).
Despite these concerns, Tor is still legal and seems to be gaining legitimacy in the mainstream tech sector. Recently Facebook added an onion address, a secure routing process for users of free anonymizing software like Tor to access the social network website without being mistaken for hacked accounts (Lee, n.d.). Users can now access the site "without losing the cryptographic protections" of Tor (Lee, n.d.). This may prove useful for users in parts of the world where Facebook is blocked, such as China, Iran, Cuba and North Korea. In this way, Dark Web activity can be seen as a positive tool to prevent oppressive governmental censorship (“Inside the Dark Web”, 2014).
However, the majority of research and media coverage on the Dark Web focuses on the malicious intent of the people who use the internet anonymously (O’Brian, 2014).
A controversial study by University of Portsmouth computer science researcher
Gareth Owen concluded that almost eighty percent of Dark Web searches were
related to child pornography. (Greenburg, n.d.) The methodology of the study has been
attacked by other computer scientists, however, the consensus is that many users of
anonymous networks like Tor are not just interested in privacy, they are engaging
in “misuse” of the internet, ranging from illegal gambling, downloading movies
and music to more malicious activity like harvesting and selling credit card
information (Greenburg, n.d). Despite the positive aspects of anonymous and secure
internet browsing, the discourse on the Dark Web is overwhelmingly negative,
portraying it as a wild, corrupt and ugly underworld. Only time will tell if the Dark Web
becomes more mainstream, continues to survive on the fringes, or is completely squashed
throughout the world. Many want the internet to remain “free”, largely independent of
governmental regulation (Craglia and Blakemore, 2004, p. 88). There was a recent
outcry against NSA spying. However, there is also growing concerns that North Korea, hackers and other assorted terrorists are using the internet to attack the U.S. and other countries. The Sony hack may have been only the beginning of the use of the anonymous power of the Dark Web to aggressively pursue conflict and agendas. The Dark Web is currently legal, and if not misused is perfectly ethical for users who want more internet privacy. However, the FBI shutdown of Silk Road and congressional interest in internet regulation may be signs that a new era of a more restricted internet will soon emerge.
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