Dark Net Woes

Dark Net is that part of the internet which is not indexed by search engines and is only accessible through specific software or configurations.

Dark Net Woes

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Surface Net, Deep Net and Dark Net are normally being described as three parts of the internet. While Surface Net is used mostly by everyone, including social websites, for normal communications, Deep Net is normally used by banking companies, research organisations, health organisations, private networks etc. for keeping their data safe. The Dark Net has a different composition and intent altogether.

Dark Net is that part of the internet which is not indexed by search engines and is only accessible through specific software or configurations. It is often associated with illegal activities, such as drug trafficking, terror activities including terror financing, all aspects of cybercrime, and hacking, resulting in ransomware attacks, etc., due to its anonymity and lack of oversight. Anonymity provided by the dark web and payment options like bitcoins/escrow accounts has made it easier for people to perform illegal activities more frequently without being easily traced by law enforcement authorities.

While there are some legitimate uses as well for the Dark Net, such as providing a platform for whistle blowers, or individuals living in repressive regimes, to communicate safely, it has gained notoriety for facilitating illegal activities. The term Dark Net originally described computers on ARPANET that were hidden, programmed to receive messages but not respond to or acknowledge anything, thus remaining invisible, in the dark. Since ARPANET, the usage of dark net has expanded to include friend to friend networks (usually used for file sharing with a peer-topeer connection).


The most well-known privacy darknet platform is the Tor network, which stands for “The Onion Router.” Tor is a free software that enables anonymous communication, and it uses a system of relays to protect the privacy and anonymity of its users. Through the Tor network, users can access websites and services hosted on the darknet, which typically have addresses ending in “onion.” The financial transactions over the Dark Net world are primarily through crypto currencies such as Bitcoins, Monero etc. which are difficult to track. In most cases where the Dark Net is involved, it is very difficult to find and seek the information of both the identity of the user doing the transaction and the money exchange channels involved.

Such investigations suffer for want of digital foot prints over the internet and financial trail. The financial trail on the Dark Net is primarily through various crypto currencies, which are based on blockchain technology, thereby creating layers of anonymity to the user. The darknetcrypto world is misused by criminals/organised crime groups, terrorist organisations etc. and developing actionable inputs by tech analysis, and data mining over the Dark Net and crypto world is a challenge due to limited technical, analytical and human resources.

In the United States, one of the largest darknet marketplaces involved in drug sales, namely the Silk Load, was dismantled in 2013; however, by then they had been responsible for around $23 million annual drug sales. Even the firearms market continues to be unfettered on the dark web, providing buyers options ranging from a military grade weapon to explosives. Use of the Dark Net for illicit purposes is not new to India. It is a fact that in our country, the drug trade, especially that of synthetic drugs and psychotropic substances is mostly conducted through the Dark Net in which the material is supplied through courier companies.

Investigations conducted by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) have revealed that India-based drug lords have strong connections with international syndicates in this field, and large volumes of pharmaceutical opioids and synthetic drugs are sourced to the illicit international markets through this channel. During Covid times, use of the Dark Net increased multi fold for sourcing and procuring drugs safely.

In the recent past, one such syndicate was busted by officers of NCB after a prolonged surveillance and undercover operation, in which the officers had penetrated one such Dark Net site, and arrested a young person named Dipu Singh from Lucknow for allegedly shipping hundreds of psychotropic drug parcels abroad in the grab of sex stimulation medicine. Dipu Singh allegedly was a kingpin of the drug trade through the Dark Net in India, and large numbers of drug parcels were couriered to countries like the UK, US, Germany, Holland, Spain, etc. Around 12,000 psychotropic tablets were seized from his residence, and a total of 55,000 drug tablets were seized from various places across the world during a two-month long operation conducted by the NCB with the cooperation of other international agencies.

This was the first time that a drug racket was operated through the Dark Net was busted. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg, as the volume of illicit drug trafficking through the Dark Net is much higher, and the agencies all over the world have a long way to go. One can easily understand the threat of narco-terror in this scenario when the money thus generated can safely be used for terror activities by using crypto channel over the Dark Net.

Though there is no confirmed incident of firearms being sold over the Dark Net in India, yet there are indications that the gangsters belonging to organised gangs operating in different parts of India have of late been used by the terror groups sitting abroad, and these gangsters carry out operations on behalf of such terror groups in India, for which huge payments are being made in crypto currency through Dark Net channels, which are also being used for procurement.

This is an area where the specialised units in the police forces and the central agencies are keeping an eye, and continuous efforts are afoot to crack such Dark Net markets. Growth of network and technology which anonymizes the place of operation and the individuals involved has led to the emergence of several online illegal marketplaces which pose a serious threat to the internal and external security scenario.

Though law enforcement agencies find it extremely difficult to identify the key players of such marketplaces due to the level of encryptions and cryptographic features, yet there have been constant efforts on their part. International co-operation and collaboration amongst the security agencies in this regard is remarkable. International co-operation, and synchronisation between different law enforcement agencies across the globe, is of utmost importance as it is a borderless crime. Basic understanding of the players, the process of buying and selling, and the intermediaries used, can provide vital information on how to intervene and investigate such crimes. Additionally, through international mandate and local legal requirements, Indian enforcement and regulatory agencies have made courier companies, which carry the supply, accountable.

The Information Technology Act, 2000 (IT Act) which is the primary legislation dealing with cyber and digital crimes in India, has also made the intermediaries accountable, especially after the amendment in the Act in 2008. However, notwithstanding these legislative provisions, there have been very positive and encouraging responses from the courier companies, in as much as they co-operate and collaborate during the surveillance stage itself, which has resulted in large seizures by law enforcement agencies.

Though the criminals are always a step ahead in making use of technology while planning and committing crimes over the Dark Net, yet there has been awareness as well as the commitment to make matching and effective counter response by the law enforcement agencies in sync with their counterparts across the world.

(The writer, a retired IPS officer, has served in various capacities including as Commissioner of Delhi Police, DG-BSF, DG-NCB, DG-BCAS and Special Director, CBI. He can be reached at asthaanarakesh@gmail.com)