A standard browser connected to the Internet gives us access to a wealth of information whilst search engines make it easy to find what we seek.
According to researchers, only 4 percents of the internet content is indexed and, as such, can be accessed via search engines like Google whilst the rest is hidden in the Deep Web, the subset of the World Wide Web, where contents are not indexed by standard search engines which is invisible to most Internet users.
However, this is not to say the Deep Web is necessarily malicious. What is disconcerting about the Deep Web is a part of it called the Dark Web, which is also internationally hidden and not accessible through traditional search engine or standard web browsers. To access this level, you need to have a special browser.
The Dark Web is dangerous because it consists of both legal and illegal content used to control access and maintain privacy because it deals not only with confidential but also illegal activities.
It is known to be associated with criminal activity of various degrees, using the underworld part of the Internet.
The web-based gangs, organised criminals, gangsters, fraudsters, mafia and terrorists misuse this Web as marketplace to purchase illegal goods such as drugs, human organs, child abuse and paedophile material, counterfeit money, fake passport, firearms, ammunition, and explosive.
The Dark Web also amongst other contains software exploits (malware), selling credit card number and CVV2 code money laundering, human trafficking, prostitutions, sale of child pornography as well as exploitation, child grooming and bounty hunters.
The market for cyber criminals’ services thriving on the dark web.
Gareth Owen, a University of Portsmouth computer science researcher stated that the Dark Web paints an ugly portrait of that Internet underground where drug forums and contraband markets are the largest single category of discussed.
More than four out of five hidden services site visits were to online destinations with paedophilia materials.
The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of New South Wales said Australian drug dealers used the Dark Web more than those elsewhere.
The Dark Web has also involves in cyber-espionage and the military operations. In the report titled The Anatomy of Cyber-Jihad: Cyberspace is the New Great Equalizer, James Scott stated there are series of forums and communications channels where Daesh and extremists can get advice on how they contribute to the movement in the Dark Web.
Cybercriminals, who build software to attack or hack businesses or government departments, thrive in the Dark Web.
Political activists are also known to take advantage of the network, as it makes them virtually untraceable.
This allows them to operate beyond the supervision of law enforcement agencies. The Dark Web can accessible with specialised software known as TOR (the Onion Router). It is a web browser heavily encrypted, designed for anonymous web surfing and protection against traffic analysis.
TOR was developed by the United States Naval Research Laboratory to protect US intelligence communications online but however TOR now is a non-profit operated server which allows anyone to have use of its services to protect privacy and security on the internet.
Even though TOR is normally associated with the criminal and illegitimate activities, it is also being used for legitimate purposes by governments, law enforcement agencies, politicians, activists, organisations and reporters seeking a more accessible and secure internet experience and to protect themselves.
The Dark Web and TOR are even used by journalists and whistle-blowers to exchange sensitive information or insider knowledge on a person or organisation engaged in illicit activities.
The Scotland Yard, UK’s National Crime Agency, the Federal Bureau Investigation (FBI) and the Australian Federal Police have launched a dedicated cybercrime unit to tackle the Dark Web services and users.
The FBI in particular has prosecuted hundreds of criminals in a TOR hidden service known as “Playpen” hosting child pornography, which the agency called “the largest remaining known child pornography hidden service in the world’.
Lately, the European, Brazilian Police and Chinese law enforcement agencies managed to successfully taking down hundreds of members of Dark Web child porn ring. Combating criminal activities operating in the Dark Web environment requires being more proactive as compared to traditional security.
Cybersecurity experts, technical resources and innovative approaches are all needed to combat criminal activities in the Dark Web.
In order to effectively investigate the sites in the Dark Web, it involves time, resources, effective software and a large amount of money.
Worst of all, the anonymity of Dark Web has caused significant problem and hinder the law enforcement agencies to conduct investigations because identity and location of users are hidden which makes the job of enforcement agencies difficult to trace.
In Malaysia there is a need to raise the knowledge and capability across all members of Malaysian Police Force and the Cybersecurity Malaysia.
The government must introduce a dedicated cybercrime unit to tackle the problem.
In short term, law enforcement agencies and regulators should form a task force with Cybersecurity Malaysia and acquire capabilities pertaining to Deep Web analysis.
This is to enable the task force effectively conduct investigations on serious criminal activities operating in the Dark Web.
As for the long term planning, the government should seriously consider of forming a Federal Crime Agency with a wide range of specialist capabilities to fight serious organised crime.
The agency can response to a wide range of threats in the country especially cybercrime, stealing data, corruption, prostitutions, sale of child pornography, human, drug, and weapon trafficking.
A stronger and closer cooperation with the international law enforcement agencies in area of exchanging of information and intelligence should be enhanced as this cooperation is important requirement to fight the Dark Web.
Since this is a global problem, it needs global solution based on universal values.
Tracking and attacking cybercriminals are not easy and is a big challenge. Besides combating cybercrime, prevention and mitigation are very vital aspects in fighting against cybercriminals in the Dark Web.
* Datuk Seri Akhbar Satar is a President of Transparency International Malaysia
** The views expressed here are strictly of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect Astro AWANI’s.