Is your child on the Dark Web?
Drugs, weapons and hacking. These are all illegal activities which students could be participating in, without a trace. In the past, school children might have cheated on tests by secretly passing each other the answers. Today, students are secretly using hidden websites to change their grades. The services available extend far beyond this. Students can use the darknet to attack or hack their school servers. The information and tools to achieve this are widespread, meaning it’s not difficult for one school kid to cause massive damage.
The tip of the iceberg
Most of us understand the Internet to be what we access through search engines, like Google. But there is a much bigger part of the World Wide Web that traditional search engines cannot access. It’s invisible. It’s known as the Deep Web and accounts for as much as 95% of the information that’s online. We can compare the Deep Web to an Iceberg. The tip of the iceberg above the water is everything you can access. Facebook, YouTube, or your favourite restaurant’s website are all here. The vast majority of the ice, however, is under the water – away from prying eyes. Here you will find company intranets, government records or university networks. But there is a much more sinister part of it also.
Known as the Dark Web, this is a part of the Web that can only be accessed with specific software, configurations or authorisation. It exists on darknets, which are overlay networks that use the Internet but, unlike traditional websites, need particular tools to see them. If you search for something on Google, for example, the results are generated from the “Surface Web”. To access darknet sites, you would need software such as Tor. Short for “The Onion Routing”, the Tor browser has been specifically designed to access the Dark Web. Other common software that is used is called I2P or “Invisible Internet Project”. Tor-accessible sites are widely used among darknet users and can be identified by the domain “.onion”. While Tor focuses on providing anonymous access to the Internet, I2P specialises in allowing anonymous hosting of websites.
These hidden aspects of the Dark Web are what make it so attractive to users, especially criminals. Users of the darknet can hide their identities and locations. The darknet’s layered encryption system means that law enforcement cannot track them. By routing a user’s data through many intermediate servers, the darknet keeps them anonymous and out of reach. To monitor or decrypt any information sent over the darknet, you would need a subsequent node in the scheme – leading to the exit node. It’s a complicated system. The complexity makes it nearly impossible to decrypt any information by duplicating a node path. The advanced level of encryption also means websites cannot pinpoint the location or the IP address of its users, nor the users of the host. The result? People on the darknet can talk, blog, transact and share files entirely anonymously.
US military researchers in the mid-1990s created the Dark Web. Its primary purpose was to allow intelligence officials to exchange information anonymously. However, after being made available to the public, it quickly becomes a sinister playground for criminals who use it for illegal activity. It has become a dimension on the Web where child pornography, illegal drug trades, identity theft and a black market for guns and human organs thrive.
Watch this video to learn more about the Dark Web.
How does this relate to students?
Just like before, today’s students want to find ways around the system. The only difference is they’re putting their safety at risk by using the Dark Web. Because of Tor’s “virtual tunnels” provided by its encryption tools, students can stay anonymous. They can also keep their location secret, as well as hide all the websites they visit and their posts or messages. It’s these highly encrypted and anonymous aspects of the darknet and Tor that appeals to school children. The appeal could even be as simple as wanting to bypass school internet filters so that they can access blocked websites. They could also want to hide their web traffic from others, such as their school or parents. But it often goes much further than that.
Students use software such as Tor to buy “smart drugs” in a bid to boost their academic performance. The problem is even fuelling growth in online companies marketing their pills to students as a means of “enhancing their brains”. This would be to give them the edge in their end of year exams. According to research presented at the Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association Conference in 2017, Australia is one of the top countries in the darknet drugs trade. Students are also increasingly turning to modafinil, a prescription pill usually given to treat narcolepsy. It is part of the family of drugs called “nootropics”, which includes Ritalin and Adderall, and are believed to improve concentration. But there are much more dangerous drugs available. Australian dealers account for more than a quarter of the world’s darknet methamphetamine trade.
For some frustrated students, a perfect solution to unleash vengeance on a school is with a DDoS attack. Also known as a Distributed Denial of Service attack, its purpose is to shut down a school’s website or network. It sounds like something only an expert hacker can do. The reality is that a student doesn’t have to be a pro hacker to harm a school network. There are hackers for hire easily found on the Dark Web. Websites such as Vim’s DDoS Service on the Dark Web offers to attack a school network for a fee. Students can also access the Dark Web to hire a hacker to change their grades or attendance records. All they have to do is pay bitcoins to websites like PirateCrackers, and they’ll hack the school website for them, alter their academic scores, increase their attendance etc.
Despite giving children access to illegal drugs and activities, the Dark Web also exposes children to numerous threats. Cyberbullies, hackers, fraudsters, child predators, and criminals take advantage of the Dark Web’s ability to hide their identity. We cannot be confident who we are talking to on the Dark Web. And, since criminal activity can’t be traced, children might see unbelievably heinous material that could potentially scar them for life. A report by UNICEF found that children on the Dark Web are in danger of becoming victims to sexual exploitation, cyberbullying and being used as currency.
What can you do?
After seeing a glimpse of the dark, hidden world of the Deep Web – you’re probably sure that you want to limit your children or those in your care accessing it.
Here’s what you can do:
- Find out if they’re using the Tor browser. If they have a computer, you can search for the word ‘Tor’. If the software is present on their computer, the search results should point it out. If you find the Tor browser, delete it from their computer and ask them what they were doing with it.
- Check their internet browsing history; look for unusually long URL’s. Websites on the Dark Web often have long website addresses. If you don’t recognise a URL, Google it. You could also ask someone such as a friend/expert to help you identify suspicious URLs. Search forums are also helpful.
- Look through all mail and parcels delivered to your house. Insist that children open any packages addressed to them in your presence. Often, kids who buy/sell drugs or other illicit items through Tor, rent a PO Box. Ask your local post office if your child has a PO Box with them.
- Regularly check your children’s internet activity. Use a firewall application to detect Tor usage. Educate students about the dangers of the Dark Web and explain that there are no safe ways to use it.
- Start an open discussion about Dark Web dangers with your children. Ask what they already know about it and if they have friends who use the Dark Web. It doesn’t matter what age your children are. You should always keep an eye on their online activity and who they are contacting.
The Dark Web is a dangerous hub of illegal activity. It is also the perfect environment for cyberbullies to thrive or criminals to take advantage of children. It is dangerous for anyone, especially children. That’s why, if you suspect that your child might be accessing the Dark Web, you need to take action. This includes limiting their access to it. The Deep Web is becoming more popular, especially with the youth. This may drive more children to look up ways to explore it. It’s essential that we set boundaries. Technology is not scary in itself, but we should respect the fact that it can be disastrous in the wrong hands.