dive into the net of darkness, between crimes and the space of freedom

07.00 on 4 October 2022

It is a “new Far West” characterized by anonymity, volatile content and an almost total absence of regulation. The darknet, the mysterious twin of the clearnet – the internet we use every day – in turn arouses imagination and disinterest, often driven by a great ignorance of the subject. However, it would be wrong to turn away from it on the grounds that we do not think we are concerned, assure the police chief Pierre Penalba and the teacher Abigaelle Penalba, authors of Darknet – The Terrifying Journey*.

“You can be in the dark web without knowing it, through stolen data or images”, warns the coach. Facing her familiar husband, head of the cybercrime group of the Nice judicial police – retired three months ago – she played, for the educational needs of the book, the role of neophyte launched to discover this universe, parallel paved with surprises and dangers. This results in a “travel diary, a few snapshots” captured during thirty days (or nights) of immersion, according to the often illegal, sometimes absurd, poetic content that the enigmatic Tor browser deigned to reveal to them.

Resale of bank data

“Avarice, greed, recklessness and ignorance on the one hand; growing professionalism and boundless ingenuity in the other”: here is the explosive cocktail that ensures darknet fraudsters prosperity that is rarely disturbed. Loads of bank card numbers are available for sale on the network after being identified in the real world or during phishing operations – a fraud technique that consists of pretending to be an organization or a relative in order to obtain private data from someone. “You have to remember that this is the main weapon of criminals on the Internet notes Pierre Penalba. 90% of data theft takes place this way, and it affects absolutely everyone regardless of knowledge level. »Cybercop regularly provides advice to limit risks and knows how to respond in the event of a problem.

Read also – How the police fight cybercrime

Aside from victims unaware that their personal information is gravitating to the dark side of the Internet, willing visitors themselves can fall for a scam at any time. You can be forgiven for your sins, no matter how serious, a website promises – with a certain amount of bitcoins, the most widely used cryptocurrency. Even Internet users who have landed there for nefarious reasons can be taken in by more manipulators than them: if there are lots of ads from hitmen, a good number of them turn out to be fake.

Child pornography, terrorist propaganda, videos of torture or execution, websites offering female slaves for rent, neo-Nazi blogs: appalling content is just a click away from any child or teenager who is even remotely computer literate. . As well as all kinds of finds in this huge supermarket of illegal goods: drugs, weapons, steroids for bodybuilding… “We wanted to warn about the risks young people can run”explains Abigaelle Penalba, marked for life by certain images crossed with “the depths of the human soul”.

A piece of light

When we arrive at this stage of exploration, the temptation is great to wish for the eradication of this part of the web. But the great strength of the book lies in the exploration of the part of the light that we find there, less obvious. “It is a space of freedom for criminals, but also for all those who lack it remember the teacher an opportunity for populations living under censorship to have access to free information. »More and more media are creating mirror pages, identical to their clearnet pages, for countries where they are banned. The darknet also serves as a place of exchange and organization for human rights defenders or whistleblowers. Or simply to people who are neither in danger nor in search of illegality, but against the tracking and surveillance that is increasingly being installed on the traditional Internet.

It is a space of freedom for criminals, but also for all those who lack it

Despite a lifetime spent tracking down the perpetrators of some of the dirtiest crimes, Commander Penalba is adamant: not only is it not possible to shut down the dark web, but it is not desirable. But there is the issue of regulation. If criminals or criminal groups fall regularly, the very structure of the network makes satisfactory monitoring extremely difficult, not to mention the inevitably limited resources of the police.

The environment is also trying to self-regulate, with the proliferation of white knights of the dark web, citizen “hacktivists” launched to attack illegal operations. “This is one avenue to explore that would be really helpful”, admits Pierre Penalba. But not anyway. “These groups start from a very good feeling, but must be monitored. Going after pedophiles can result in him deleting his data, or sometimes lead to the involvement of innocent people. Hacktivists must be trained to build a case, which justice can properly follow up. »

* Albin Michel, 320 pages, 20.90 euros.

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