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Improving Technical Security 15 July 2015

What’s Your Answer? The Dark Web

Olaf Kolkman
By Olaf KolkmanPrincipal - Internet Technology, Policy, and Advocacy
SubramanianGuest Author

Last week I visited Nairobi and the United States International University (USIU) to give a lecture kindly organized by our colleagues at KENET. Shortly after the lecture, a student stopped me and asked: What is your opinion about the Dark Web?

I tried to approach the question from my own definition of the Dark Net, namely the fairly technical notion of an overlay network where special care is taken to guarantee confidentiality and anonymity. While writing this blog I quickly looked up the Wikipedia article (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_Web) and it seems that my mindset is not unreasonable. The young gentleman who asked me the question told me that he was a hacker and that he found himself on the dark net quite often.

I felt a little old and patronizing, but I answered the following:

The beauty of the Internet is that it allows for being able to innovate without having to ask permission. The people who build dark webs use that property of the Internet to satisfy sometimes bona fide needs. I also told him that hacking is fun, particularly the type of hacking that results in a deeper understanding of technology. If his hacking is about trying to identify vulnerabilities, then good for him. However, if he were ever to find vulnerabilities, he should responsibly disclose them. Shortly before we said goodbye I advised that the grey area between curiosity and criminality is one that he should try to observe carefully.

In hindsight, what wasn’t part of my answer is that I do not think that the Internet should be a lawless place, and I believe that theft is theft, whether it happens in meat-space or the Internet. I realize that confidentiality and anonymity technology makes law enforcement significantly more difficult, but that should not be a reason to ban those mechanisms, or, in effect, the dark web.

I wonder what you would answer to such question. Please use the Internet Society’s Connect platform (a sort of Dark Web by itself?) to share your approach.

About this Series: Public speaking sometimes results in spontaneous questions that are more or less related to the topic at hand. Often the wisdom is in the question, not in the answer, and when talking about the Open Internet the questions can touch all aspects of the (Internet) Society. I hope to use some of these spontaneous questions as springboards for conversations on our Internet Society member discussion portal, Connect.

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Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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