Jamie Bartlett: The Dark Net – the market economy we can’t control

How pervasive is the Dark Net? it's used more than you think, it's better quality than you think - and we can't shut it down.

Jamie Bartlett is the writer of The Dark Net and Radicals.

WARNING: Live-blogging. Prone to error, inaccuracy and howling crimes against grammar and syntax. Post will be updated over the next few days.

The TOR browser was developed to let US naval intelligence investigate the web, without flagging up they were doing it. It works by multiply encrypting your IP address on the way to the server that’s about to serve you pages. The site owner has no idea where you are coming from. The problem was that only they were using it – and so everyone knew it was them. So they open sourced it! And now everyone could have some degree of internet privacy = and also defeat some censorship.

It’s used by 3m to 4m people daily. It protects you – but it’s also your way into the dark net – 30,000 sites that can ONLY be accessed via the browser. From 2010/11, the Dark Net became a very natural place for people with something to hide to go – including legal stuff. The New Yorker has a Dark Net dropbox for anonymous sources. You can pirate Jamie’s books there. You could buy things from the silk road. You can hire hackers to hack computers for you.

The Daily Stormer – an alt-right site shut down in the States – remerged on the Dark Web.

User-friendly drugs marketing

In the UK 1 in 4 people get their illegal drugs from the Dark Net. It’s a surprisingly Amazon-like experience. Admittedly, most people pay with Bitcoin, and have them delivered to a “drop” address rather than their home address, but it’s quite usable.

The normal laws of economics of the market apply – quality has gone up and prices have gone down. Cocaine bought through the Silk Road is much better quality than street drugs in the UK. They’re the politest and most helpful drug dealers ever. There are review sites, mystery shoppers – and even organic, fair trade cocaine. And 20% of profits are invented in education in Guatemala.

The real genius is not the encryption – it’s the competition. The Silk Road traded over $1bn in the 18 months it was trading. There are now about 30 sites doing the same thing. And the biggest selling item? Fake £20 Tesco vouchers.

They learn – when they’re shut down they figure out how they were caught and relaunch set up to stop that. They’ve figure out a multi-level escrow scheme.

New safeties bring new dangers

On one hand, it’s safer – more pure drugs, no street corner risks. But, that means more people are taking drugs. It’s creating new types of drug dealers, who buy their stock via the internet and sell it on the street. And other things are being sold: guns, passports, counterfeit money. And we may well not being able to shut them down.

And the biggest new trade is stolen data. Every time you hear about the hack of a major company, it ends up on the Dark Net for sale. Data from O2 – a mobile phone network – is for sale there. O2 didn’t think they’d had a breach. What had happened? A gaming stews hacked six months earlier, and 500,000 details were stolen. And those details were tried everywhere they could – and many thousands of matches were found. If you reuse your passwords, the weakest site you use it for can compromise your entire online life.

You can police these sites – you can infiltrate and set up your own sites. Good old fashioned policing can get you some of the way there.

The goods for sale are proliferating though. You can buy ransomware out there. You can buy access to a botnet, and launch a distributed denial of service attack to bring down a company. The Internet of Things is particularly important to this, because they are easily hacked and infected.

We can’t shut this down. So it’s time to prepare for its consequences.