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By : Aftab Shaikh
Buying illegal items has never been easier. With a click of a mouse, one can purchase almost any illegal commodity and get it delivered to any location worldwide. Be it an automatic pistol, or drugs from western countries, the mysterious world of Dark Web has it all.
One can browse through the dark web marketplaces like People’s Drugs Store, Cannabis UK, Wacky Weeds, AlphaBay, etc and avail any illegal commodity from these e-shopping portals available on the dark web.
“We deliver Heroin, Cocaine, Cannabies and Ecstasy. We ship to all the countries worldwide with best quality products at competitive prices,” assures ‘People’s Drug Store’. Another dealer called ‘SmokeAbles’, which has listed India among its convenient shipping locations, claims that, “We are one of the few online dealers having access to original and organic Kush Cannabis.”
Not just drugs, but other highly illegal things like child pornography, firearms, and even assassins are available for hire on the dark web.
Dark web or dark net is a term that refers specifically to a collection of websites that exist on an encrypted network. It cannot be accessed by a normal internet user, as sites available on the dark net are not indexed by normal web browsers like Chrome or search engines like Yahoo or Bing. The dark web is hidden on the darkest corner of the internet which can be accessed with special browsers like ‘The Onion Router’ or TOR browser.
“Dark web uses a technique called onion routing where IP address of a person is difficult to track. It uses certain software to conceal true location and identity of a person. Due to its anonymity, it is often used by criminals to do illegal trade of drugs or selling of porn,” said Karnika Seth, a cyber crime expert and Supreme Court advocate.
Once an order is placed on the dark web portal, the payment is allowed only in bitcoins. Bitcoin payment does not adhere to ‘Know Your Customer’ (KYC) norms, which hides the identity of the customer and the service provider. International transaction through bitcoins in India is illegal as it violates the banking norm. Regular e-commerce websites follow KYC norms for executing cross-border payments.
After the arrest of the Sahu brothers in Telangana in 2015, law enforcement agencies across India realised how the dark web was thriving as an unregulated channel. The duo purchased LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide) paper from the dark web and sold it locally across India. After the case was busted, it was observed that metropolitan cities like Delhi, Bangalore and Hyderabad are the hotspots for online drugs trade in India.
“We are completely aware about the dark web, but we cannot shut it down or stop users from accessing it. Instead, we monitor the activities on the dark web through TOR browser and find out if there are Delhi related activities going on,” said a senior officer from Delhi Police’s cyber crime cell. “Besides the cyber crime cell, other law enforcement agencies are also working on dark web,” he further added.
While TOR browser – which gives access to dark web – assures anonymity, senior officer revealed that Delhi police have technology which intercepts and back traces the users on the dark web. “Users on dark web are not completely anonymous. Activities on dark web can be back traced with specialised software which is available with Delhi police. The software traces the data transferred by intercepting the wavelength and has the ability to back trace it,” he explained.
In India, accessing dark web is not illegal. “If done with a criminal intent, it becomes an offence to conceal one’s identity. But if done with bona fide intention, it will not be illegal,” Karnika Seth said. The Information Technology Act has specific provisions to deal with cyber crimes in India. “If one engages in child pornography, Section 67B of IT Act prescribes punishment of upto 5 years for the accused,” Seth added.
While dark web has turned out to be a tool for criminal activities due to complete anonymity, it is also a platform for scientists, government officials, professors and others who are just looking for privacy.
“Privacy has become greatest concern in today’s world Internet. Many people are looking to browse the web without anyone keeping an eye on them,” said Castor Godinho, a Tor user. He lamented that Tor browser was developed for good purpose but now it used as a tool to enter into dark web.
(Aftab Shaikh is a freelance journalist currently pursuing Masters degree in Journalism from AJK MCRC, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.)