Read and watch the full transcript of software engineer Kyle Terry’s TEDx Talk: The Dark Side of the Web: Exploring Darknets at TEDxSalem conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: the-dark-side-of-the-web-exploring-darknets-by-kyle-terry-at-tedxsalem
The term darknet was coined in the ‘70s and it was meant as a way to describe networks isolated from ARPANET [The Advanced Research Projects Agency Network]. ARPANET eventually became the commercial Internet run by the private telecoms we all use today.
ARPA was created by the US Department of Defense and it was created to share data of other projects and research laboratories with the universities. And for those of you familiar with networking, it was the first packet switching network, which is the foundation to modern networking.
Now we’re not talking about the World Wide Web here. That didn’t show up until 1990 when Tim Berners-Lee set up the first web server at CERN. The Internet is a massive piece of hardware. It enables communication instantly on a global scale.
[He’s lying; it’s totally a series of tubes.]
[It’s absolutely massive]
And in fact, there are hundreds of cables spanning the ocean along with a ground to satellite communication and radio to radio communication, just to make this thing work. I’d like to tell people I sort of navigated the globe once and I start with that because it sounds a lot cooler than it actually is. What I did was set up a bunch of virtual servers around the world running Netcat and I clone the left computer’s hard drive to the right computer by streaming the data through the tunnel. And it’s so awesome that that works at all but I feel like people have ruined this for us. They’ve ruined it with spying and surveillance and there’s a constant need to watch everything we do.
So a lot of us are scared to read a certain page on the Internet or maybe download a publication that’s a little too leftist or rightist in content. And my hope is darknets help solve this problem. So I’m going to explore and share a couple with you here today.
When it comes to darknets, there are a couple different types. Historically they were meant to be private file sharing networks but these days they’re dynamic pages, rich with media content and pictures and videos. So they’re already familiar to us. With darknets, some are peer-to-peer, some are centralized but most are going for a decentralized model. And we’re looking for specific types of philosophy when we consider whether or not our network is a darknet. We’re looking for takedown resistance, that is the government or anyone else for that matter can’t just come in, unplug the thing and watch it disappear .We’re looking for anonymity, so nobody knows who’s reading uploading or creating content and content richness, because if there’s nothing to see or read or it all sucks, then really what’s the point of even having a darknet.
It turns out they’re pretty useful and they’ve been used for political safe haven, journalism, piracy, black markets but most importantly at least to me privacy. You’ve all heard of the Silk Road I’m sure.
Well, the Silk Road was running on a network known as Tor. Tor is a node-based decentralized anonymity network. It was initially researched by the US Naval Research Laboratory and has been since handed over to a 501c3 known as the Tor project. Around 80% of their budget still comes from the US government and the rest of it from private donors and even other governments.
Tor made its way into the public hands because that’s the only way it could work. It would be completely pointless if every request the Navy wanted to make anonymously came from a Navy control network.
So I like to think that they created Kansas City shuffle where they just dropped this thing into the public’s hands and everybody went buck wild with it. So while everybody is looking left the headlines about The Silk Road and drugs and guns and all the bad stuff, the Navy is going right and blowing shit up. Tor works by having relay and exit nodes. A node is just a computer running Tor software and a relay node takes a request, peels off a layer of encryption and hands it off to the next node and the route still encrypted, an exit node takes a now unencrypted request when it reaches through the end of the route and makes the call to google.com or whatever you’re trying to access. And the response comes back and everything happens in reverse until the content is displayed in the Tor browser.
Tor is cool because it lets you browse the normal Internet along with these things called hidden services. Unlike other darknet like software where you pretty much just have what the network provides to people, what people can upload and whatnot. Hidden services are like normal websites, they’re dynamic in nature but you access them with a .onion address and the .onion address is like a normal domain but less memorable, because it’s a bunch of random characters followed by .onion. So you don’t really just say, ‘hey I’m going to go to XYZ409.onion you’re just going to use a search service and find it. So that could be a hurdle to some people.
These sites are really the darknet side to Tor and are often referred to as the Deep Web. So we’re going to explore Tor and here is the first screen you get when you launch the Tor browser. The Tor browser comes in the Tor browser bundle and it’s a nice neat package and I love that they did this because nobody is going to use this stuff if it’s hard. This is something familiar. This is Firefox but kind of configured in a way to use Tor.
This is the first screen you get. It’s green; it says we’re connected to the Tor network. And if it was red, you should stop right there because you’re not anonymous, you’re going to do something stupid. Trust me, you’re going to do something stupid.
This is an example of me using a service called DuckDuckGo. A lot of you’ve probably started to hear about this, because it’s an alternative to Google, that’s kind of gaining popularity. And I’m searching for Tails. And Tails is a incognito live system, so it runs Tor and it’s very relevant here. I’m getting to the Download page and I’m going to download Tails on Tor, so nobody knows I’m downloading Tails.
Here is an example of The Washington Post SecureDrop. SecureDrops are these things that news organizations are starting to add to their websites, that allow people to connect to Tor, go to an onion address and deliver some papers, maybe some intel to journalists.
Here is an example of a .onion search service. You search for a term and you get some results back. So here I searched for ‘black market’ and I’ve clicked on a link. I put this in here because this is a good example of things not being taken down on Tor. Yes, The Silk Road got taken down but it’s very rare and it was their own fault.
So here you can spend Bitcoin on assault weapons. And here’s some of the ways that they can seal it.
Here is a social network. It’s a really boring social network, don’t get excited. But I put this in here because the registration page is really interesting. It specifically says no child porn, no porn, no hate speech and no commercial activities. And this is a great example of the community that you get on Tor. They want privacy and there’s a lot of trying to keep the thing clean and safe for people to use.