Computer novices could get on the dark web in less than 10 minutes and the authorities are almost powerless to close it down.
That’s the view of leading academic Dr Simon Parkinson, a senior lecturer in Computer Science with a speciality in cyber security at the University of Huddersfield.
Last week notorious paedophile Matthew Falder, 29, was jailed for 32 years for blackmailing victims and sharing abuse tips and images on the dark web. At Birmingham Crown Court, Judge Philip Parker QC labelled Falder an “internet highwayman” with a “lust to control”.
Dr Parkinson explained that what appeals to users of the dark web is virtual anonymity, but said the media’s reporting meant there were now no legitimate grounds for anyone to use it.
“I think the dark web is always going to be driven by malicious use, “ Dr. Parkinson told BusinessCloud. “If people want secure communication they can have that with normal tools. They don’t need to start venturing on to the dark web.”
Dr. Parkinson explained that reporting of the dark web and the illegal activity which happens have made legitimate uses for the technology hard to justify.
“The danger now is that the media publishes its negative uses. If someone wanted to use it legitimately they’d be quite nervous about going on it.
“People who want to use the internet probably don’t want to use [the browser] Tor because it adds another layer or burden – you’ve got to set up your PC and configure it.
“Because of some of the real malicious stuff that goes on there, like sharing child pornography, the last thing you want to do is associate yourself with it or accidentally stumble across it. That’s the reality.”
He said users could get on to the dark web within 10 minutes by installing basic software and following a few simple settings.
He explained: “It’s pretty straightforward to configure your PC or your phone to connect to it. The dark web is exactly the same as the normal internet, it’s just encrypted. It’s harder to find out who’s viewing what.”
The dark web was introduced by the US military to ensure secure communications. In an effort to further cloak their messages they released the software to the public, making it harder for hackers to tell what was military and what was civilian.
“It has its uses in civilisation for selling drugs and things like that. That’s the driving force,” the lecturer said. “It will probably stay like that.”
Whilst the cyber security expert seemed sure that there was no lawful reason to keep the dark web online, he admitted that shutting it down would be effectively impossible without also shutting down the internet we all use regularly.
“It would be extremely challenging to shut it down,” he said. “It uses the standard internet infrastructure. It’s built on top of that. It’d take a hell of a lot of effort.”
The expert also explained that there is no way for your ISP to block usage of the dark web either. “For your internet service provider, the traffic going through looks normal,” he said. “it’s just the same way that your WhatsApp message is encrypted. You can’t tell them apart.”
The lecturer has recently a developed new piece of software which is designed to protect businesses against a cybersecurity threat called ‘permissions creep’.