When most people think of the internet, they tend to imagine their Facebook pages or funny Youtube videos of cats playing the keyboard. While these kinds of sites are probably what the majority of people will encounter when going online, they are by no means the full extension of the digital world. There is another – sometimes more sinister – corner of the internet that has been coined the Deep Web.
The Deep Web cannot be found by a Google search or through random internet surfing. A lot of the information contained here is private data, such as electronic health records, that need to be securely accessed via a virtual private network. However, a large portion of the Deep Web is dedicated to illegal activity. Gambling, drug trafficking, child pornography and countless other nefarious deeds all make up parts of this space, and law enforcement agencies are doing all they can to track down the individuals behind these crimes.
Sadly, many of the agents responsible for tracking the Deep Web are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of this digital underground. There isn't an official number, but experts believe that a vast majority of the internet – more than 90 percent – is contained within the Deep Web. With so much ground to cover, law enforcement officials simply can't keep up with the level of criminal activity.
That said, the problem runs much deeper than the size of the Deep Web.
Agencies just don't have enough manpower
The main problem facing law enforcement agencies is the fact that they simply don't have enough knowledgeable people to get the job done. We've previously discussed the fact that police departments very often don't have the skills necessary to properly monitor the web. While every part of policing is obviously difficult, cyber security requires intense training and years of experience before a person is ready to start taking down the online criminals of the world.
The sad part of this is that law enforcement officials know full well that they are lacking in this area. The problem isn't that they don't have the people willing to go after the online drug pushers and child pornographers, it's that the officers willing to do this just don't have enough training. What's more, it can sometimes be difficult to rally public support for these kinds of ventures.
While the average taxpayer is certainly aware of Deep Web activities – even if they don't know its name or where to find it – they're often much more concerned with what they would consider "real-world problems." They want officers with more guns and better physical training in order to catch murderers and thieves. These kinds of law enforcement employees are obviously necessary, and the need for them won't be diminishing anytime soon, but these exact same crimes are also happening online. In fact, a huge amount of "real-world problems" originate from the Deep Web.
Trend Micro's Martin Roesler was recently interviewed by the German newspaper Handelblatt about the horrific shooting in Munich. The gunman had purchased his weapon in a Deep Web market. Nine people are now dead, all thanks to the online criminal who facilitated this deal. This is a major problem, and people need to begin to understand the scope of it.
Banning the Deep Web/online anonymity isn't the solution
Of those that do actually fully understand the power of Deep Web crime, many decide that this portion of the internet – or at the very least its anonymity – should simply be destroyed. To begin, the idea that the Deep Web could be completely irradiated without some kind of all-powerful fascist dictator taking control is simply laughable. However, even if society were to go down that road, the world would not be better for it.
Although the Deep Web certainly has its dark corners, it also has some incredibly beneficial uses. Companies from all kinds of industries need to be able to access and share private data without the fear of hackers gaining control of it, and the Deep Web is incredibly good at this.
On top of that, anonymity is one of the greatest advantages of the internet era. The Deep Web allows oppressed people to access information their governments would never dream of letting them see, which helps fight ignorance. In fact, it played a key role in the many revolutions that toppled horrific dictators in the Middle East back in 2011. Dr. Ian Walden was quoted by Motherboard as saying that the Deep Web was instrumental in allowing for information to be spread during the Arab Spring.
Like any other creation of mankind, the Deep Web's influence entirely depends on how people use it. A screwdriver can be used to help build a house for a homeless family. It can also be used to stab someone in the neck. Outlawing screwdrivers just because they can be used for murder is ludicrous, and doing the same to the internet would hurt more than it would help.
The problem runs deeper than the Deep Web
Even though there are many questions about the Deep Web that still need to be answered, the fact that law enforcement officials can't properly police it is indicative of a much bigger issue: a lack of trained cybersecurity professionals. The government itself has struggled with this problem for a long time now. Jeh Johnson, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, even brought the issue up when discussing the agency's proposed 2017 budget on Capitol Hill, according to Federal News Radio's Meredith Somers.
"We are competing in a tough marketplace against the private sector, that is in a position to offer a lot more money," Johnson said. "[Homeland Security Undersecretary for the National Protection and Programs Directorate] Susan Spaulding and her people are making very aggressive efforts to A) implement the 2014 legislation you passed and B) in the interim, do a lot of things in terms of recruitment; expediting the hiring process and so forth. We need more cyber talent without a doubt in DHS, in the federal government, and we are not where we should be right now, that is without a doubt."
Although the private sector is doing better than the government in terms of hiring cyber security professionals, even these organizations are struggling to keep up. A multi-nation study conducted by Intel security and the Center for Strategic International Studies found that 82 percent of companies don't have enough trained individuals to fulfill their cyber security needs. On top of that, nearly a quarter of respondents said they had been hacked and lost control of private information as a direct result of this.
Clearly, this lack of cyber security experts is causing quite a lot of trouble, both for law enforcement agencies and for private companies. The world will never run short of criminals, as they can make quite a lot of easy money by exploiting the weak and helpless, which is a major issue that must be confronted.
What's to be done?
The first step for law enforcement officials wanting to better police the Deep Web needs to be understanding the scope of the problem. This area of the internet is absolutely enormous, and simply monitoring it isn't an option. Police need to take direct, targeted approaches to taking down these empires, which demands an increase in undercover operations. The problem with these kinds of stings is that criminals are always on the lookout for them, so departments need dedicated employees who have the time and ability to build up a report with these individuals before they start going after bigger fish.
Private companies, on the other hand, simply need to weigh the importance of cyber security against their current IT budget. Individuals with these kinds of skills demand large salaries, and for good reason. It's extremely hard to build up this kind of expertise, and it therefore doesn't come cheap. However, hackers can cause major financial damage to an organization, both by actually stealing money and by ruining their customer-facing reputations. At the end of the day, business leaders need to realize reallocating the budget is a lot easier than explaining a data breach to shareholders.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, there needs to be a push from private citizens toward cyber security jobs. The average person is often dissuaded from working in cyber security due to its perceived complexity, thereby causing a shortage in talent. While this field is certainly difficult at times, its importance needs to be emphasized by educators and other influential officials.