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.
Kyle Terry – Software engineer
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.