Full transcript of journalist and author Alan Pearce’s TEDx Talk on The Dark Web at TEDxBrighton conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio: The dark web by Alan Pearce @ TEDxBrighton
Alan Pearce – Journalist and author
Hello. All right, deep web.
What is the deep web?
Actually, it is the hidden part of the Internet. I could go into more detail, no time, but let’s just say – but actually is as dull as dishwater, most of it – the hidden part of the Internet is the kind of place where if you want to be anonymous, you most certainly can, but, in many ways, we are looking at a parallel universe.
We are looking at an alternative Internet, a place where people communicate secretly and securely away from the prying eyes of governments.
At this level of the deep web, we are looking at a mirror image of the regular Internet, the surface web. You have got websites and bulletin boards, you’ve got clones of Twitter and Facebook, and all the rest of the things that you would normally expect from the Internet.
So, who is using this stuff?
Well, actually, all sorts of people: journalists and activists, aid workers and dissidents, whistle-blowers and free-speech advocates, criminals and spies, all sorts of people use deep web tools to be anonymous on the Internet.
How do they do that?
I will show you some of the things that they do, but I would like to propose that we all start to think about learning some of the secrets of the deep web, the black arts, if you will, to try and solve some of the problems of the Internet today.
And the way I see it, the Internet is facing three main threats.
Threat number one, you might call it ‘the NSA phantom.’ We have all seen and read the Edward Snowden’s revelations. We all know we’ve been monitored all of the time. This, ultimately, is going to have a terrible effect on the Internet, and it might get to the point where people are frightened to speak openly, rather like North Korea or the old East Germany, where the phones were tapped, or people were followed in the street, or their mail was intercepted.
Here is a fun thing you can try at home: next time you send an e-mail to your mom, say, include the words ‘bomb,’ ‘kill,’ ‘Obama,’ ‘Thursday,’ and let’s see how long it takes them to come and get you and your mom.
You can find my e-mail address, please get in touch because I’d like to know what happens. Did the SWAT team come and kick your door down? Did you find yourself on an airline no-fly list? Or did nothing happen? Or so you think.
Because I actually think by monitoring us, the public at large, they are missing the point, they are barking up the wrong tree, they are looking in the wrong place. Because no terrorist worth their salt is going to give anything away in an e-mail or on the phone.
Osama Bin Laden did not have a Facebook page and he never tweeted his friends. So, you have to ask, why they are monitoring us all? I think they do it simply because they can.
Every government would want to know what its people are saying and thinking. After all, information is power. So, bear that in mind next time there is a terrorist event, like the appalling murder in Woolwich, South London, last year of Fusilier Lee Rigby.
As quick as a flash, the government used that as an opportunity to say: “We need to monitor the public at large.” “We need more monitoring.”
But, correct me if I’m wrong, I don’t think there was any evidence to suggest that the perpetrators of this appalling crime actually discussed their intentions on e-mail, or Facebook, or Twitter. And when it comes down to it, the bad guys have a wealth of possibilities when they want to communicate secretly.
One thing a lot of people do, they communicate inside their fantasy worlds: places like ‘World of Warcraft’ and ‘Second life’ which in a sense makes them deep web.
Now, it’s very easy to have a private conversation with someone like in ‘Second life.’ All you have to do is slide up to somebody on a park bench there and have a nice, quiet conversation.
How does anybody know you are doing this? Probably they don’t. And for all anybody knows, the Islamic State or ISIS may be lurking down in ‘My little pony’ world.
“Hi, Applejack, what are you up to today?”
“Hiya! I’m really busy. I’m going to kill the President with a big bomb at four o’clock at the Convention Center.”
Snowden does tell us they can see inside these things, inside these secret fantasy worlds, but are they really monitoring the conversations of 7-year-old girls? And even if they are, so what? You can talk in code, you don’t have to say ‘President,’ you could say ‘big cheese’ or whatever.
How would they know? Because they don’t. So I say that by monitoring us all, they are wasting their time.
And what are we actually achieving by doing all this?
We are destroying the freedom that the Internet originally promised. So that’s threat number one.
Threat number two: rampant commercialization. If we are not careful, we are heading towards a two-tiered Internet, a nice, superfast Internet for those who can pay, and a kind of rubbishy one for those who can’t, and it is called “the end of net neutrality.”
Once upon a time, there were hundreds of small oil companies drilling for oil, and then, in time, they all got taken over by the big boys. And now, the oil business is in the hands of a few ultrapowerful corporations.
And if we are not careful, this is the way the Internet’s going. Instead of an information superhighway we are going to be looking at an expensive toll road, we are going to be looking at the pay-TV model.
And even if you think something’s free, it invariably isn’t. And it’s true when they say: “If you are not paying, you are the product.” A quick example would be you got a Gmail account a nice, free e-mail account – thank you very much – but the thing is they are combing for everything you send and receive, looking for keywords so they can bombard you with advertising.
Sometimes, this is very helpful, I guess. You may e-mail a friend and say: “I’ll meet you in Venice,” and the next thing you know, you’ve been bombarded with ads for cheap flights to Venice, and hotels, and all the rest of it.
Or maybe, just once, just once, mind you, you look up the symptoms of hemorrhoids and then, for the rest of life, they never let you forget it.
So we have to say: do we really want these ultrapowerful corporations know every tiny, little thing about us and store it all in databases, so they can better harvest this for cash? Because that’s the way the Internet’s going.
Threat number three: criminals and sickos.
The streets are safe today because so many criminals have migrated to digital where they can carry out their crimes in the comfort of their own living rooms. Con artists, confidence tricksters, they are online too, they talk about heart strings on dating sites, they offer us amazing bargains and they are even capable of pretending to be us in a crisis and getting our friends to send money thinking we are in trouble.
This happened to a friend of mine last week. This is really scary, and it has happened to everybody one way or another. People are getting these sorts of e-mails. You could also say that the other major threats are the stalkers and the trolls.
Today, stalkers don’t have to hide in the bushes. Now, they can sip a latte at Caffè Nero and monitor multiple victims in real time on the free WiFi. This is the rather aptly named “Cree py” surveillance tool. You can download it for free.
And it allows you to keep closed tabs on any active Twitter and Facebook user. This is my daughter Rebecca’s recent trip to Rome. I can see everywhere she has been, pretty much what she has been up to. Mostly, she has taken photographs of food.
You can move it up a notch because most stalkers today have a wealth of possibilities, for 30 pounds – 50 dollars – you can get a phone tracking package allowing the stalker to follow their victim’s GPS signal, to listen to all their conversations, and even to turn on a camera or a microphone.
You really don’t want to make any enemies in the digital world, not when reputation destruction is all too easy and suicides are all too common. Say hello to Rent-A-Hacker. You can find him down on the Tor hidden network. For 50 euros, he would just screw with somebody for you. For 200 euros, he’d get the passwords.
For 400 euros, he can bankrupt somebody. Destroying a life cost a little bit more. For 500 euros, Rent-A-Hacker will stuff a target’s computer full of images of child sexual abuse and then tip off to the police.
So, believe me when I say: the Internet’s a very dangerous place. But we can move from the deep web. We can all learn to be anonymous when we choose to be.
If they don’t know who we are or where we are, they can’t spy on us, they can’t bombard us with ads, and they can’t stalk us and do us harm.
So, what we could do, as a beginning, is to wean ourselves off products like Gmail. I would talk more about the things that are available; so many new products today.
This is a free e-mail service from Iceland. It’s really cool, very secure, no one is going to comb for it for ads or the rest of it. If you don’t like to be – If you don’t like being followed online, by whoever, the state, criminals, corporations, all the rest of it, you can just put a free add-on to your browser, it’s a doddle. Better yet, you see, Tor Firefox browser. You can download this for free, it allows you to travel directly Internet, incognito, and to visit the dark side too.
All you need to do is to type ‘Tor Firefox’ into a search engine, follow your on-screen instructions, and hit press there. You can seriously be anonymous online.
Back in the ’70s, people worried that TV was bad for you. They said, “TV is rotting people’s brains.” Some people got so upset they made this film ‘Network,’ starring Peter Finch as a crusty, old news anchor who sees the light. It doesn’t have any answers, it just wants people to wake up and get mad.
Sadly, I’m not allowed to play a clip from the film for copyright reasons due to the Internet. So, I want you to imagine Peter Finch really, really angry shouting: “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.” “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.” We should all be doing this.
We should all be saying: “I’m as mad as hell at all the spying, at the commercial takeover, and all the criminals and sickos around to get us.”
In the film, they’re just worried that TV is rotting people’s brains; that’s nothing. This is far more serious. We are looking at the end of the Internet as we know it, because the Internet is being taken over by all the wrong people.
But we can do something about it, we can all go deep web. It is not a place, it is a state of mind, a way of being.
Simply by masking our activities, we can prevent people monitoring us, following us, doing us harm. I say, it’s time we woke up to the threats towards the Internet, it’s time we stood up and do something about it, it’s time we stood up and took back the Internet, and it’s time we said: “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.”
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you.