An expert meeting in Paris explores new societal, technological and ethical challenges of DarkNet

2017-09-18

Challenges of cyber threats and ways to improve national strategies through innovative solutions were discussed at an expert meeting in Paris on 14 September 2017. Organized by UNESCO’s Information for All Programme (IFAP), the meeting gathered representatives of Permanent Delegations to UNESCO as well as external participants.

Not all content available in cyberspace can be accessed using standard search engines. In reality, there is an entire online parallel world – commonly called the DarkNet, which can be accessed anonymously and is frequently used for the purpose of illegal activities, including exchanges of sensitive data, pornography, drug hubs, weapons trafficking etc. It is also more and more used by terrorist and extremist groups promoting racism, hatred and violent extremism.

The expert presentation meeting was moderated by Mr Boyan Radoykov, from the Knowledge Societies Division of UNESCO. In his welcoming remarks he underlined the constitutional mandate of the Organization to stimulate intellectual debates and innovation, to act as an observatory of challenging developments and major societal issues, to serve as a beacon illuminating obscurantism and extremism of all kinds in order to better combat them.

“Today’s meeting reflects UNESCO and IFAP active engagement in the field of fighting radicalization leading to violence of youth in cyberspace. Multicultural communities are indeed enriching but they require being able to use their potentials for building inclusive knowledge societies. Since its creation, IFAP has been playing a leading role in the international policy landscape. Bringing communities together instead of dividing them stimulates development and builds bridges between people and cultures. It also leaves less room for extremists to maneuver,” said Chafica Haddad, Chairperson of IFAP.

Accessing the DarkNet requires specific software, configurations or authorizations. Identities as well as locations of DarkNet users stay anonymous and cannot be tracked due to the layered encryption system. The DarkNet is, therefore, a complex phenomenon that is constantly evolving, thus implying a number of privacy and security issues and needs to be tackled by a holistic and contextualized approach.

“Technology is not good or bad in nature, it has not invented crime but can facilitate it. This is why it is necessary to develop technical knowledge specific to the defense of strategic interests, whether you are a state, a company or a group of activists,” said Nicolas Arpagian, lecturer at the French Ecole Nationale Supérieure de la Police (ENSP).

Tony Day, Senior Software Developer at CENTRIC, highlighted that technological solutions may help us to detect, monitor and understand content within DarkNet. They are here to stay whether we like it or not, and pushing back will only force them deeper underground. Therefore, a combination of solutions is needed across all fields.

"Like any other ‘business’, the dark side of the DarkNet can only thrive on a business model. Remove cash based crypto currencies and we will negate that business model. Stronger and faster collection and sharing of international e-evidence needs to be available to law enforcement," said Dan Shefet, President of the Association for Accountability and Internet Democracy (AAID).

The anonymity provided by the DarkNet also gives cover for people in repressive regimes that need the protection of technology in order to surf the web, access censored content and exercise their genuine right to free expression. In non-democratic countries, the presence of anonymity is the only way that people can voice contrary points of view. Thus, the alarming infiltration of Internet-savvy terrorists to the “virtual caves“ of the DarkNet should trigger an international search for a solution to combat illegal and nefarious activities, but one that should not shutter anonymity networks as it will be costly to those people that genuinely benefit from these encrypted systems.

According to Nacira Guerroudji-Salvan, Doctor in Computer Science and founder of the Circle of Women in Cyber Security, DarkNet is the only true place of freedom of expression, however its misuse for cybercrime is a real danger. Especially since access to these networks does not require large means, and can therefore be accessible to any Internet user, especially young, and even very young people. “The fight against this ever-increasing and unlimited cyber criminality must begin with education and prevention from an early age. Hence, It must be integrated into the curriculum as well as road safety,” she said.

INTERPOL highlighted the challenges facing investigations into online child abuse, and especially forums on the DarkNet where child abuse material is exchanged.

The very nature of online child sexual abuse means international cooperation is essential in identifying the victims and bringing offenders to justice. Whilst some countries have strong legal frameworks in place, many do not have the infrastructure or training to conduct these investigations.

To date, INTERPOL's International Child Sexual Exploitation (ICSE) database, which connects 51 countries plus Europol, has helped identified more than 11,000 child sexual abuse victims around the world. INTERPOL encouraged countries not yet connected to become part of the network in order to further build on these successes globally.