Security agencies in Mumbai are gearing up to face a new threat from the underworld of the internet —the Dark Web.
The Dark Web works on anonymity — the websites do not come up during a search and the IP addresses are hidden so that the hosts cannot be tracked. One needs to know the specific URLs of the websites, which are password protected or encrypted through TOR (the onion router).
TOR allows people to browse the web and access online services without revealing their identities.
With the anonymity is provides, the Dark Web is a safe haven for drug dealers and terrorists, the police said.
The police suspect that Dark Web is being used by drug peddlers and their clientele on Mumbai’s party circuit.
The Mumbai police stumbled on the threat while investigating the narcotics trade.
They realised that deals were being made and drugs were being dispatched online, but there were no footprints to follow.
“During some recent seizures, we found drugs such as meth and mephedrone being dispatched to western countries via South-east Asia by air cargo. As trade of such contraband in the west will invite severe punishment, we had to know why such large quantities were being couriered from here and how they were to be distributed by the recipient?” said a source with an intelligence agency. “We suspect that the consignment is split into smaller quantities after arriving at its destination.”
Apart from that, the seizure of drugs such as cocaine started began to decline. “This led us to suspect that the cartels had changed their modus operandi,” the source added.
A thorough analysis of the trends and information collated from western enforcement agencies helped in getting clues about the Dark Web.
Initially puzzled about how money transactions were handled, the agencies found the trade was largely in digital currency — Bitcoins.
“It is going to be an extremely complex and exhaustive task to get the better of these invisible operators,” sources admitted.
“We are equipping ourselves to face the new challenge posed by the Dark Web,” said Atulchandra Kulkarni, joint commissioner, crime. “We are exploring the things that can be traded or shared over the secret web.”
Sources in the Mumbai police and the anti-terrorism squad (ATS) told HT there was a move to set up a team of experts from the public and private sectors to monitor the Dark Web.
The team will include computer professionals from IIT Mumbai and the government’s own information technology department.
Kulkarni admitted that the police were only just starting to explore the possibilities of the web. “Our findings are at a very nascent stage. We have got some amount of success in the surveillance, particularly on drug peddling. But there is need for more,” he said.
When asked about the planned project for Dark Web surveillance, Kulkarni said, “We are equipping ourselves for the emerging trends. We are undertaking a massive expansion project soon. We will take all necessary help from the government and private sector to update ourselves.”
Need virtual undercover agents to monitor Dark Web, says cyber expert Vijay Mukhi
What is the Dark Web?
The Dark Web is invisible to search engines. You can’t use search engines to locate or find or access the Dark Web unless you know the IP address or the website URL.
How does it work?
If I want to access the Google search engine, I write www.google.co.in and the URL gets converted to a number or IP address. The police authorities in India know that I am visiting Google and they can also access the words I am searching for.
Now, I visit Google in an indirect manner. I first visit a site in Pakistan and that site takes me to Ethiopia then to China and finally to Google. But the Indian police know that I am visiting a site in Pakistan and no more.
Furthermore, I encrypt or make what I write in gibberish, which can only be broken by using very sophisticated techniques. Nobody knows what I am searching for and which computer I visited.
Also assume that the search engine only gives me permission if I have a user ID and password. No outsider knows about the content on the computer, which is also encrypted. This is how search engines have no idea what the site’s contents are as they have no ID and password to enter the website.
What is the purpose of hosting such sites?
The idea of the Dark Web is very simple. If no one knows who I am and where I am going and what I am doing, nobody can stop me.
What are the dangers its poses?
As there is no law and order, I can’t be caught by the police and I am free to do whatever I want. I can buy drugs, carry out terrorism, do anything I want.
What are the chances of locating web pages hosted through the Dark Web?
If the people hosting these sites are technically proficient then it is very difficult to catch them. What you need are virtual undercover agents who pose as bad guys and buy and sell on the Dark Web.
What are the problems we are facing?
The problem in India is that we do not spend enough money in figuring out how to crack encryption and monitor the web. The USA spends billions of dollars every year on upgrading technology and doing research.