Darknet- the Darkside of the Internet

5 things marketers should know about the Darknet...

7 Feb 2019 5915 Views

Written by Gracja Kantorska

The internet technologies gathers all possible data about our online behaviour, which we allow by agreeing to all terms and conditions without any hesitation. However, more and more individuals desire to control the data collected by other parties. Due to the the increased awareness of the fact that every move online is tracked, analyzed and transformed into different advertising techniques to invade our privacy, people have begun to seek for anonymity online. The demand for internet-anonymity, for different purposes, evoked the rise of the Darknet.

Darth Vader, Star Wars, the Clone Army. Clone Army standing behind Darth Vader
“You don't know the power of the dark side.” as the Darth Vader said in Star Wars.

 

It is used for trades, conversations and information sharing, allowing the users to remain anonymous and keep their online activity private. Websites on Darknet are clear examples of crowd-based power (Labrecque et al., 2013), since they are based on community sharing (Wikileaks), and creation of marketplace (Silk Road) sharing economy (sites with ebook sharing). 

Text. Content on the dark net, quote darknet

 

Undiscovered part of the online universe gained its popularity in 2013 after closing Silk Road, the underground marketplace for trade of illegal substances (Gibbs, 2013). The internet store was functioning as eBay, with Bitcoin prices and vendors determining themselves if the seller was trustworthy or not. Silk Road was based on network society (Dijk, 2012) hosted within the Darknet and accessible only through TOR (The Onion Router) browser. TOR is a browser, that allows the PC’s IP address to be untraceable.  Darknet usually refers to TOR, as it main tool, but there are other less popular tools such as: I2P- the Invisible Internet Project. TOR  allows anonymous access to internet in countries with strong governmental surveillance, but also creates a playground for criminal activity (Bradbury,2014).  The Dark Web is full of  the “heroes and horrors of unregulated expression without the limitations or decency of the law”(Mindsight, 2018).

Deep Web vs. DarkNet

The majority of internet users have adopted Google and Bing as their go-to search engine (Statista, 2018). It allows them to surf the indexed Surface Web, which is approximately equivalent to 4-16 percent of all internet  ( Sui, Caverlee and Rudesil, 2015). The rest of unindexed internet is referred to as the Deep Web. Deep Web sites contains protected information, that are hidden from search engines, for example online banking. Authors of the report: Deep Web and the Darknet: a look inside the Internet’s Massive Black Box, states that it is impossible to measure the size of the Deep Web and that it is 400-500 bigger than the Surface Web. Darknet is a network hidden within  the Deep Web.

Darknet. Deep web, surface web, Figure of internet, fundamentals of internet, description of the darknet

The terms Deep Web and Dark Web/ DarkNet are usually used interchangeably, even though these are two different things. Therefore, it is important to get rid of ambiguities.

  • Surface web is the World Wide Web, indexed sites that can be easily found on the search engine thanks to tags, keywords, URLs and other contents on the site.
  • Deep Web is non-indexed pages, hidden from the search engines, due to the fact that they contain protected information, for example: online banking, secure data basses, healthcare journals, facebook login etc.
  • Darknet is a part of Deep Web, that has been intentionally hidden. Viewing this sites requires special browsers, such as TOR ( The onion router) and activity is totally anonymous.

Is Darknet so dark?

Despite the dark characteristics of the Dark Net, it is commonly used by human rights advocates, political dissidents, journalists and whistleblowers. They use hidden services to exchange anonymously information and publish critical information in a way that makes it impossible to be traced back to them (Kiss, 2013). The debatable aspect of classifying Darknet sites to legal or illegal is dependable on legal jurisdictions in different countries (Sui, Caverlee and Rudesil, 2015). Sites on the Darknet may be classified in following categories:

  • Chat: web-based chats.
  • Mail: Darknet email or messaging services; Mail2Tor .
  • Books: services offering copyrighted materials for free.
  • Gambling: sites where bitcoin gambling is most frequent.
  • Blog: specified professional blogs, often about hacktivism
  • Hacking: websites that contain instructional information on illegal computer hacking.
  • Counterfeit: websites offering fake currency, fake passports/ identification documents.
  • Market: a marketplace connecting buyers and sellers of different items such as drugs, guns.
  • Forum: where people freely discuss a huge variety of topics, for example generalist forum.

Why Darknet can be useful for marketers?

The existing Dark Web scares some marketers, because of its bad reputation.  Marketers work with crafting insights from data and transforming it to successful communication strategies, that will attract consumers and therefore make them loyal consumers of the brand. Many marketing professionals abstain from using the Dark Web, because they do not understand how it works and because of its obscure characteristic that is usually associated with organized crime and fraud.

Despite the gloomy reputation of DarkNet, the analysis of the DarkNet’s content seems intriguing from the sociological point of view. The network contains so much diversified data that it could be considered an ocean of insights for marketers. 

What marketers should know about the Darknet?

1.DIFFERENT BROWSER

The Onion Router was created by US military and it is a browser just like Google Chrome or Internet Explorer and can be easily downloaded from torproject.org.  It is an open-source tool that provides privacy and anonymity to internet users. It hinders the sites from identifying the visitors and it prevent someone who is observing the user from viewing the sites they are visiting ( Owen and Savage, 2015).

Picture4. TOR, The Onion Router, screenshot, anonymity online

Source: own screenshot of torproject.org

How does the TOR works?

TOR encrypts the transmitted data multiple times, in nested layers and sends to multiple onion relays in the TOR network, before processing the data out of the network to the desired site. Onion relays works as proxy servers, passing along the message to the next server route. It decrypts only a small fragment of encrypted layers in the onion. Single onion relay do not know what they are passing along, because it only decrypts the location of the previous and the next incoming server ( Owen and Savage, 2015).

2. THINK ABOUT SECURITY

DarkNet is a dangerous territory. It is designed to protect the anonymity of users, but it may involve security risks. All kinds of hackers and malwares lurk on the mysterious links in the Dark web. Therefore, individuals desiring explorations of the Dark web should conduct research about the security matters to protect their network (Mindsight, 2018).

3. DARKNET IS NOT ONLY ABOUT THE ILLEGAL ACTIVITIES

Thanks to its anonymity it is also used by pro-democracy campaigners, whistleblowers and journalists operating under regimes. However, the anonymity of TOR has also attracted the criminals , who are taking advantage of its features.

The increased security provided by the  TOR network in Darknet allows journalists to anonymously share files using SecureDrop and GlobalLeaks. Public account point out that Edward Snowden, Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning used the TOR network to share the classified U.S. government documents before they published them in the surface web ( Sui, Caverlee and Rudesil, 2015). Political blogs and forums are growing in power especially in countries with repressive regimes, with no fear of penalty. TOR is also valued because it make it hard for the government to censor content on certain websites ( Owen and Savage, 2015).

4. THINK AS YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE

People dare to express themselves more freely knowing that they are anonymous on forums and blogs. Go where they go, think and act as your target audience.

More and more online platforms realize the need of anonymity for its consumers and creates its own onion addresses. In 2014 Facebook exposed its own onion address and following their action The New York Times and ProPublica also created more secure address for its readers. 

5. INNOVATION BREAKTHROUGHS

DarkNet was the first place, where the popular Bitcoin cryptocurrency was launched and became mainstream. Therefore, there is a huge possibility that many other potential technological innovations will make their debut on Dark Web. Taking that into consideration, it would be useful for marketers to track the Dark Web related innovations and services, to gain an competitive advantage.

TO SUM IT ALL UP…

For marketers Darknet can become a powerful market research tool.  By exploring the content on the Dark Web they would be able to gain insights about the preferences and needs of customers, thus designing more understandable content. They can also reap juicy fruits from the Darknet in correlation with breaking technologies and innovations that makes its appearance there.

Note: this article is only a guide to the hidden part of the internet to raise awareness about its existence. Commonly used search engines only slip on the surface of the web, leaving the  Deep Web resources, and above all Darknet hidden from the eyes of a typical internet user. Under no circumstances this article support or encourage any actions that are illegal.

 

 

References:

Bradbury, D. (2014). Unveiling the dark web. Network Security, 2014(4), pp.14-17.

Dijk, J. (2012). The Network Society. 3rd ed. London: Sage Publications Ltd.

Facebook.com. (2018). Making Connections to Facebook more Secure. [online] Available at: https://www.facebook.com/notes/protect-the-graph/making-connections-to-facebook-more-secure/1526085754298237/ [Accessed 15 Nov. 2018].

Gibbs, S. (2018). Silk Road underground market closed – but others will replace it. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/oct/03/silk-road-underground-market-closed-bitcoin [Accessed 15 Nov. 2018].

Kiss, J. (2013). Tor ‘deep web’ servers go offline as Irish man held over child abuse images. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/aug/05/tor-deep-web-servers-offline-freedom-hosting [Accessed 15 Nov. 2018].

Labrecque, L., vor dem Esche, J., Mathwick, C., Novak, T. and Hofacker, C. (2013). Consumer Power: Evolution in the Digital Age. Journal of Interactive Marketing, 27(4), pp.257-269.

Mindsight. (2018). How IT Works: the DarkNet | Mindsight. [online] Available at: https://www.gomindsight.com/blog/how-it-works-the-darknet/ [Accessed 8 Nov. 2018].

Owen, G., Savage N. (2015). The Tor Dark Net. London: The centre for International Governance Innovation and The Royal Institute of International Affairs. Available at: https://www.cigionline.org/publications/tor-dark-net [Accessed 19 Nov. 2018].

Rudesill, D., Caverlee, J. and Sui, D. (2015). The Deep Web and the Darknet: A Look Inside the Internet’s Massive Black Box. Ohio State Public Law Working Paper No. 314. [online] Ohio: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, STIP 03. Available at: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2676615 [Accessed 19 Nov. 2018].

Sandvik, R. (2017). The New York Times is Now Available as a Tor Onion Service. [online] Times Open. Available at: https://open.nytimes.com/https-open-nytimes-com-the-new-york-times-as-a-tor-onion-service-e0d0b67b7482 [Accessed 15 Nov. 2018].

spacequotations.com. (2018). TOP 20 Darth Vader Quotes from the Star Wars Movie. [online] Available at: https://spacequotations.com/top-darth-vader-quotes/ [Accessed 12 Nov. 2018].

Statista. (2018). Sweden: most popular search engines 2017 | Statistic. [online] Available at: https://www.statista.com/statistics/621418/most-popular-search-engines-in-sweden/ [Accessed 20 Nov. 2018].

Tigas, M. (2016). A More Secure and Anonymous ProPublica Using Tor Hidden Services — ProPublica. [online] ProPublica. Available at: https://www.propublica.org/nerds/a-more-secure-and-anonymous-propublica-using-tor-hidden-services [Accessed 11 Nov. 2018].

Woolf, N. (2015). Silk Road sentencing: why governments can’t win the war on darknet drugs. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/may/31/silk-road-sentencing-darknet-drugs [Accessed 12 Nov. 2018]. 

Picture References:

Picture 1. Source: https://i1.wp.com/richtopia.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Darth-Vader-Leadership.jpg?fit=555%2C325&ssl=1

Picture 2. Source: My own.

Picture 3. Source: http://stuffboxnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/DeepWeb.png

Picture 4. Source: My own screenshot of torproject.org.

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Students from the International Marketing and Brand Management program at Lund University are the contributing authors for the BrandBase blog.