Dark Web in Africa

June 8, 2016

In simpler language, “dark web” refers to a large collection of websites that use services to hide their server locations. To find these websites, users must also install anonymising programs such as Tor on their computers, creating a portion of the Internet where user exchanges, activities and purchases cannot be traced to specific computers or people. Once inside, web sites and other services can be accessed through a browser in much the same way as the normal web. But, some sites are effectively “hidden”, in that they have not been indexed by a search engine and can only be accessed if you know the address of the site. Special markets also operate within the dark web called, “darknet markets”, which mainly sell illegal products like drugs and firearms, paid for in the cryptocurrency. In Africa, online drug marketplaces on the “dark web” have begun to resemble traditional organised crime, according to the latest findings that i have obtained. South African drug dealers are the most prevalent users of this system per capita than any other country in Africa.The researchers who have been monitoring dark web marketplaces since January 2015 reports an emergence in extortion, server attacks and conflict over digital territory between online marketplaces and third parties over the past 15 months ending April 2016. In South Africa, there is even an “assassination shop” where users can pay towards having someone assassinated with less than 5,000 Rands.Because of the the dark web’s almost total anonymity, it has been the place of choice for groups wanting to stay hidden online from governments and law enforcement agencies.

On the one hand there have been whistleblowers using the dark web to communicate with journalists like it happens in Kenya and Nigeria but more frequently it is also being used by paedophile groups, terrorists in East, West and North Africa and criminals to keep their dealings secret.For ethical reasons, i will use basic language to explain a number of ways to access the “dark web,” including the use of Freenet, Tor and I2P. Of these, the most popular is Tor which back in the days was known as The Onion Router mainly because it is one of the easiest software packages to use. Tor downloads as a bundle of software that includes a version of Firefox configured specifically to use it.Tor provides secrecy and anonymity by passing messages through a network of connected Tor relays, which are specially configured computers. As the message moves from one node to another, it is encrypted in a way that each relay only knows about the machine that sent the message and the machine it is being sent to. Tor uses “onion” addresses, which further obsure the content. There are even special versions of search engines like Duck Duck Go that will return onion addresses for Tor services.It is a mistake criminals think that Tor is entirely anonymous.If you think like that, then accept you are an amateur in the game.This is because if a web site is accessed, it can still potentially find out information about whoever is accessing the site because of information that is shared, such as usernames and email addresses.

Therefore, those wanting to stay completely anonymous have to use special anonymity services to hide their identity in these cases.Services on the dark web in Africa would not have been as popular without a means of paying for them. This is something that digital currencies like Bitcoin have made possible in Africa. The report i have has calculated that drug sales on the dark net total US$7.9 million in 2015 alone with Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa accounting for more than 70%. Most was paid for in digital currencies.Hidden Wiki is the main index of dark websites and a quick search reveals that the majority of sites listed are concerned with illegal activities. Some of these sites are scams, and so it is not clear how quick it is to buy guns, forged identity cards, fake passports and hire hackers from the services listed. Believe me that there are likely sites on the dark web where these things are entirely possible and smart folks will execute their work flawlessly.The developers of softwares used in the dark web have for many years argued that the principal users are activists and people simply concerned with maintaining their privacy but the picture in Africa is different. Without doubt, “dark web” has been used in the past for journalists to talk to whistleblowers. Despite the fact “dark web” makes Africa’s law enforcement agencies’ jobs much more herculean,in South Africa and Nigeria security agencies have had a great deal of success in bringing down sites and hopefully in future will be able to arrest their users and the people behind them.

Contador Harrison