Warfare on the Dark Web

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Sparkling water droplets in a spider web

By Ashlee Pitts

A 21st Century Phenomenon

Social media is arguably the most useful tool we have at our disposal to bring communities together and unite as one interconnected and multidimensional society. We use it to send invitations for leisurely social events and spread awareness to various causes. We also use it as a way to turn awareness into action by building a coalition for a rally or demonstration. The web delivers a freefall of unlimited global information and intelligence, thus creating an illusion of a world where borders and distances among nations are inconsequential.

While technology has made cross-border interactions, information exchanges and venture-building efforts easier than ever before, there are those who seek to capitalize on this 21st century phenomenon in the most cynical ways. The freedom to browse the internet and engage in personal matters via social media is being compromised now with the threat of hackers and online predators. Mass internet surveillance programs create a falsehood of effective information security. In the years to come, leaders in government and technologies companies will need to weigh personal liberties to the threats of cyber security. The journey to balance the two will prove to be a tough task- if not an impractical one. The matter of national and international security in our interconnected world, with relation to internet privacy, cannot wait another decade or so to be resolved. Technology becomes more advanced every minute of every day and with this rapid expansion comes great urgency to maintain, preserve and aggressively protect the wellbeing of its users. The seemingly impenetrable dark-web, cyberwarfare and factions of worldwide hackers form a trio that exemplifies a new 21st century global security concern.

Predatory Networks

ISIS is known for many things and their propaganda machine and social media prowess are certainly among them. The group’s members are able to spread their hateful rhetoric around the world for free, and have done so successfully. Their on-camera beheadings of Western journalists and mass executions of men, women and children, ones the group so proudly publishes online, are even gorier than what we would see in any Quentin Tarantino film. But somehow, ISIS has proven to be capable of capturing the hearts and minds of vulnerable and aggrieved individuals. ISIS markets their campaign as being of incredible brotherhood, camaraderie, wealth, romance, success and strong religious conviction. Blood in and blood out.Their recruiters have become skillful at schmoozing their potential recruits and impregnating them with their radical ideologies. With a smartphone in hand, people are able to use utilize encryption application technologies in order to make their pitch to a recruit hoping that he or she will take the bite.

Businesses and firms are also vulnerable to predatory behavior, but the end goal typically is not to incite violence, but to illegally extract confidential and highly classified data. This development in cyberattacks has compelled corporations to acquire software programs to shield their business and client information from those who seek to exploit them.

Business-oriented espionage only makes up a fraction of the type of threats that cybersecurity presents. For many years predators have used chat rooms, spam and false identities to prey on unsuspecting victims – many of those victims are made up of youth and adolescents. With many teenagers around the world seemingly glued to their smartphones, it would fair to say that the likelihood of their interaction with an online predator would increase. Technology companies and government entities can work together to help protect citizens from hackers and predators but where is the line drawn and how can we avoid the slippery slope of absolute surveillance.

Cooperation between Government Entities and the Private Sector

To the dismay of many intelligence communities around the world, mass censorship projects, like those used under the United States’ National Security Agency (NSA), are limited in terms of somehow regulating the dark web and intercepting intelligence related to terrorism, espionage, child pornography, insider trading and other illicit online activity. The most plausible way for government entities to gain access and acquire some degree of intelligence is working with technology companies and the private sector. It would need to be done without force and with the utmost respect. Step 1 would be getting tech company executives to agree to meet in order to discuss this hypothetical arrangement. As it stands, however, many executives are far from that point.

The CEO of Apple, Tim Cook, unequivocally rejects the idea that personal freedom and privacy should be sacrificed in the interest of national security. He is in good company. Many other giant technology companies along with Silicon Valley have also pushed back against pressure to share consumer information with the United States government. In February of 2015, Stanford University held a cybersecurity and consumer privacy summit where Cook spoke about the danger of trading in individual security for national security. He told the summit’s crowd, “If those of us in positions of responsibility fail to do everything in our power to protect the right to privacy we risk something far more valuable than money – we risk our way of life. Fortunately, technology gives us the tools to avoid these risks.”

“Big Brother” is watching (sort of)

During the first Presidential Republican debate of 2016, former Governor of Florida Jeb Bush spoke out on the matter and suggested that the government needs to “keep asking” technology companies to cooperate. Companies that decide to reject the idea of participating in a mass surveillance project with the US government are by no means unpatriotic. Technology companies undoubtedly consider national and global security threats to be a serious matter. Their reasoning, though, for not handing over consumer information without a subpoena is in itself patriotic and morally justified. It is an attempt to preserve the rights and privacy of its consumers. But with so much illegal activity and security breaches occurring every day on the dark web, it is understandable that government entities grow tired and frustrated whilst trying to tighten their national security. Even with the USA Patriot Act of 2001, the US government remained blocked and blind from the many avenues throughout the internet’s information superhighway.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are notoriously slow when creating or revising laws that are applicable to technological advancements. The longtime repercussions to this fact could be devastating and utterly catastrophic. In the meantime, government entities will need to master one of the most important business-oriented strategies that tech giants like Apple, Hewlett-Packard Company, Samsung, IBM and Google have executed so successfully – innovate. Having the ability to adapt quickly and efficiently would also prove to be beneficial. Until the leadership in technology companies decide to concede in the face of government pressure, government entities will need to find other ways and work with the resources within their legal bounds and jurisdiction to keep their constituents safe.

 

The advancement of technology has undoubtedly changed the way we interact with one another. The distance between you and the stranger from halfway across the world has become a simple push on a smartphone. In our 21st century world, nearly all businesses, trade deals, banking and social interactions rely heavily on technology, making internet access one of the single greatest tools towards interlinking the international community. Over the years, social media outlets have given people from all corners of the earth access to significant historical events that would have otherwise gone unacknowledged, unknown or forgotten on a global scale. We are able to sympathize with one another and bond in solidarity as we bare witness to tragedies on the World Wide Web giving a brand new meaning to an international community.

Where there is light, there is also darkness. Though the internet has granted an extremely positive and unprecedented virtual melting pot of ideas, cultures, religions, languages, music and art, it has also made us vulnerable to those that seek the thrill of manipulation, fraud, theft, and predatory behavior and will do so completely undetected on the dark web. What may be the greatest tool towards international connectedness may also be the tool that is used to divide us and cause irrevocable damage.

Every country is vulnerable to security breaches, proving that no border is truly impenetrable. The threats associated with cyber-attacks are very real and this 21st century style of war could potentially have devastating effects on our global security . The tampering of large infrastructures and illegal extraction of confidential and classified documents pertaining to national security, military strategy, business interests, consumer data and vulnerable tech users could also lead to a string of both devastating and unintended consequences. So much of our world and communication with one another is digital therefore this aspect of ours lives should be well-considered when we examine how and why the international community should further discussions on cyber attacks and the dire threats posed by them. While hundreds of millions of people are enjoying their device’s touchscreen capabilities, Siri’s beatboxing skills, real-time video messaging with friends and the thousands of applications for smartphone users, technology also serves as platform for many of those who find purpose and pleasure in causing great great harm suffering to the masses; all within the shadows of the dark web.

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