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Surfing the dark net for drugs

Surfing the dark net for drugs
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Illegal activities are drawing attention to an area of the www that is free of law enforcement agencies and regulation

Instead of risking venturing outside, dodging police as well as shady dealers in search of his quick fix, Anuj (name changed) gets prohibited narcotics delivered right on the doorstep.

While marijuana was the gateway drug for the engineering student, the ease of access eventually led him to try psychedelics such as Acid (LSD - lysergic acid diethylamide) and DMT (dimethyltryptamine).

With just a few clicks on his computer, Anuj is in the “dark net”, free of law enforcement agencies and regulation. “What everyone believes to be the Internet is just a superficial, miniscule fraction called the surface Internet. Dark net is the vast portion of the iceberg that fails to be seen. All sorts of illegal activities take place, and that’s where I order my drugs from,” he says.

He isn’t alone to be exploiting this space. Atul (name changed), an engineer student, has also used the dark net to order drugs. “I prefer this to contacting a dealer since there’s no fear of getting caught. We can remain nearly untraceable in this,” he says.

The rapidly growing IT hub in the country is seeing forays into the seedy depths of the dark net. Globally, there have been documented cases of illegal pornography and narcotics rings thriving in stealth. This has triggered a debate on banning encryption software – which allows users to surf without giving away the identifying IP address – and even persecution of a few who run websites within the dark space.

However, this hasn’t dented the illegal market. Usage of TOR Browser – originally developed to subvert government surveillance – as well as the proliferation of bitcoin – a virtual currency – allows for easier, anonymous access to contraband.

With authorities here struggling to catch up with “surface web” issues of piracy or fraud, the insidious nature of dark net remains completely out of the scanner. “Only a few are actually aware of this. There are no laws in the dark net. The levels of anonymity cannot be regulated. It is hard to even collect incriminating electronic evidence. It is unfortunate that we have not even begun thinking in this direction yet,” says Pavan Duggal, a Mumbai-based cyber law expert.

Admitting that their ability to monitor “surface web” is limited in itself, Abhishek Goel, Deputy Commissioner of Police and in-charge of the IT cell of the Bengaluru police, says, “My knowledge on the dark net is incomplete. There are unverified claims regarding the activities carried out in the dark net. However, we haven’t come across any such cases yet.”

What is dark net?

It is an encrypted part of the Internet that can only be accessed by specific software. While this can be used to provide privacy against mass surveillance or bypass government censorship, it is also increasingly being used to peddle paedophilia, illegal pornography, drugs and other contraband.

Players in the dark net

TOR (The Onion Router) browser delivers untraceable access to the Internet by linking all the computers onto a network. By routing connections through a chain of users, the IP address of the user is kept hidden. India is estimated to have between 500,000 to 1 million daily users of this browser (Oxford Internet Institute)

Bitcoin 

This cryptocurrency has no centralised authority. Encryption makes online transactions between two parties anonymous. Creation and sale of bitcoins has become a big market. One bitcoin is worth around $265 (around Rs. 16,000).

A global epidemic

In a crackdown on a narcotic dark net marketplace in 2013, the U.S. authorities found that the website had “several thousand drug dealers” across the world with annual sales amounting to more than $1 billion (around Rs. 6,500 crore)

Drug delivery: modus operandi

The narcotics trade seems to have dealt with the tricky process of delivery. The Hindu’s learnt the modus operandi after interviews with clients. Delivery is made through international courier designed to bypass airport and Customs checks.

Odourless drugs like LSD are merely tucked in between pages of a book; drugs like DMT that can be detected by sniffer dogs is vacuum-sealed and camouflaged as “branded” plant soil or herbal powders. These brands are even “legitimised” by company details and faux websites.

Cocaine or heroin ordered over the web is often delivered personally. Drop offs are made and the GPS coordinates of the location is anonymously sent to the customer.

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Printable version | Apr 22, 2018 8:53:36 PM | http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/bangalore/surfing-the-dark-net-for-drugs/article7414381.ece