Dark Web – A Myth or a Dangerous Opportunity for Cybercrime?

Directeur /trice Professor Marcel A. Niggli
Co-directeur(s) /trice(s)
Résumé de la thèse

Dark Web has become a very familiar term. After the conviction of Ross Ulbricht, the owner of the drug marketplace Silk Road, and numerous articles claiming that the Islamic State is using secret websites to plan attacks, this obscure sector of the Internet has been receiving increasing attention.

The journalist Joseph Cox, a specialist in the coverage of the intersection of technology, crime and politics, however, assures us that stories sold in the media about the Dark Web are “a myth”. Cox proposes that the tale of a gigantic space underneath the traditional network, analogous to an iceberg, where illegal merchandises are traded among sordid individuals, completely beyond the grasp of the authorities, does not correspond to what the Dark Web is.


Any article about the Dark Web indicates that it is synonymous with secrecy, low-down dirty content, obscure realms, a home to nefarious things, such as stolen data, terrorist sites, and child porn. Although all this content may be available in hidden areas of the Internet, this content is also easily accessible to anyone, at any time, without the use of fancy or complicated

encryption software.


Private Data, such as social security numbers, date of birth, full name, address, phone number and even credit card details, have long been available for instant purchase on the internet. Terrorist forums hide in full view in the regular cyber space. Extremist supporters and jihadis post brutal propaganda videos at the ‘surface’ Internet. Before being shut down, Al Qaeda’s

first forum was hosted at an easily accessible site, giving rise to other violent Islamic extremist

links, heavily used today. While some reports claim that extremists are flocking to the Dark Web, evidence of that fact

are still scarce. According to Mr. Cox, an allegedly fund-raising site highlighted by the Washington Post managed to garner exactly 0 bitcoins at the time when their article was written, and the only Islamic extremist dark Web site to actually generate any revenue

mustered only $ 1,200 in 2,015. This site did not even explicitly mention the Islamic State.


Concerning child porn, the amount of child porn material is considerably higher in easily accessible sites than in the hidden sites. According to the Internet Watch Foundation, 31,266 URLs where found containing child porn image, 51 of which (0,2%) were hosted on the Dark Web. A technological space called the Dark Web indeed exists. Although this term may be stigmatized, one cannot ignore that it is possible to find a cyber space where website servers are hidden behind a veil of cryptography, and users enjoy strong anonymity protections. Is the Dark Web really impenetrable? Is it true that law enforcement cannot reach this virtual area?


Anyone who is familiar with the topic has already heard that the most important vehicle to access the Dark Web is TOR, a browser developed by TOR Project, a non-profit incorporation that gathers people with a common belief: internet users should have private access and uncensored web. Worrying about privacy is reasonable and understandable, especially when an increasing

number of countries are developing privacy regulations, concerned about personal data protection and fighting cybercrime. However, how far privacy and anonymity can be extended?


Freedom of speech is not synonymous with a right to slander and defame. In a world where most of us deliberately expose personal information on the internet, can we still claim for anonymity? And if so, what is the right balance between law enforcement and privacy? What can we expect from the fight against cybercrime, and how can we make it work? These questions must be answered in order to prepare society for changes coming in the near future.


Contextualization and Relevance

Despite the current pandemic crisis and its consequences for the World economy in the near future, the liberal narrative and logic of capitalism still is that the engine that makes this world work is economic growth. According to Dr. Yuval Noah Harari, a Ph.D in History by Oxford, economic growth presupposes the invention of more and more disruptive technologies. By the end of 20th century mankind enjoyed unprecedent better education, improved health services, and higher income than the previous generations. In the next decades, however, according to Dr. Harari, a combination of technological disruption and ecological collapse, will hinder future

generations to keep up with these standards. This type of fear is not new. Since the Industrial Revolution, mankind has been confronted with a possible social convulsion. The fear that automation would lead to massive unemployment never materialized: for each position lost to a machine, at least a new one was created.


However, there are reasons to believe that now we are faced with a different scenario. Humans possess two kinds of abilities – physical and cognitive. In the past, competition with machines involved mainly physical skills. When machines replaced human manual work in

agriculture and industry, new positions requiring exclusively human cognitive skills, such as the ability to learn, to analyse, to communicate and to understand human emotions, became available in the service sector. Artificial Intelligence, however, is currently beginning to match those skills, including recognition and understanding of human emotions. Examples of that are

given by Nicholas Ernest in flight conditions and aerial combat; by Kurt Vanlehn in intelligent tutoring and education systems; by Giuseppe Nuti in algorithmic trading; by Arash Baharammirzaee in artificial intelligence applied to financial management; by Marjorie Glass Zauderer in complex data analysis in medical systems, in diagnosis and treatment; by Jean-S bastien Vayre in communication mediated through natural language generation in Big Data environments; by Florian Schroff, Dmitry Kalenichenko and James Philbin in facial recognition; by Cristiano Premebida in vehicle driving.


All these developments result from research in neuroscience and in behavioural economics. “Human intuition” is, in fact, the ability to recognize patterns. From now to 2050, an increasing number of activities will be taken from humans and transferred to machines and to artificial intelligence. Cyber criminals will enjoy increasing opportunities for attack. For all the above reasons, it is adamant that all aspects of the cyberspace should be well understood in order to create and to maintain safe environments for everyone.

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Délai administratif de soutenance de thèse 2023/2024
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