Op-Ed: ZeroNet, the Dark Web & the Future of Internet Freedom

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A look into the what new technology in ZeroNet can mean for the future, for dark web marketplaces and the impact of net neutrality.

ZeroNet was created in 2015 as a genuine alternative to the internet as we see it today.

It’s a technical “next step” for protecting freedom and integrity in a system which over the last few decades has become polluted by corporate desire and information centralization.

Your TOR usage is being watchedYour TOR usage is being watched

ZeroNet takes principles used in cryptocurrency (or more broadly, cryptography) to create a subnet which removes centrally controlled servers. The entire landscape is distributed across all participating users’ systems: harvesting computational power to host.

Using cryptography, the hosting of a site is a chunk of code connected in a peer-to-peer manner like a torrent client, and the owner of a site (or “zite”) holds the private key. This private key allows the holder access to modify the site itself, while ensuring the protection of any proprietary data.

It Is Possible That ZeroNet Is Becoming the Dark Web 2.0.

The decentralized nature of ZeroNet makes it so that servers cannot simply be taken down. Dead onion links found littered across the dark web landscape are as a result of servers abandoned or sites seized. In the ZeroNet vision, this would become null and void. A site would be forever, so long as the private key holder does not remove the site.

It’s a prospect that essentially cuts out major server providers. It would make law enforcement seizure of servers moot. (However, it should be noted that if law enforcement obtained control of the private key to a ZeroNet site, the result would be the same.)

ZeroNet now automatically attempts to connect to the Tor network by default. ZeroNet sites themselves are a shell of what is thrown across a javascript and node.js rich internet of 2018, but it’s a necessary byproduct at this early stage of adoption in order to keep file sizes low.

ZeroNet and Dark Web Markets

Dark web marketplaces have taken a significant blow in recent times.

Last year, Hansa Market was revealed to have been secretly run by law enforcement for weeks after agents seized the market’s servers. This was around the same time that AlphaBay also went down last summer.

In a coordinated effort, Dutch police lured in and siphoned up vendors which joined Hansa once AlphaBay went down, collecting evidence and ultimately making several arrests.

Although the unexpected death of top markets is something the dark web community is used to, it’s still unsettling.

Even if a somewhat low number of arrests are made, the fact remains that any sting operation—such as the one conducted by Dutch law enforcement, coordinated on an international level—sews serious doubt into the community.

It is this doubt that rocks the dark web marketplace ecosystem, and it’s this doubt which harms the community more so than the actual end of a marketplace.

As vendors and users are left questioning every connection, every PGP message, every transaction that might be in the hands of a law enforcement officer, whether an arrest is made or not, if that user never returns to another dark web marketplace it’s arguable that it’s “a job well done”: there is no one to trust.

Without air, a fire can’t burn—regardless of how much gasoline is on hand.

Reddit too has maximized the crackdown by banning the popular “DarkNetMarkets” subreddit. It seems inevitable that the dark web community is forced underground, and ZeroNet may become a safe haven, even the known standard in accessing the dark web.

It’s this mistrust that is the foundation on which services like ZeroNet are built. Each users’ machine “distrusts” the nodes it is connected to, and only through cryptography is a site verified as legitimate. This principle will be tested in dark web waters, but might spill over to the “clearnet” as large conglomerate corporations ever tighten the grip of power over users.

ZeroNet and Net Neutrality

The concept of a criminal, incognito, mystery, secrecy, anonymity
ZeroNet takes principles used in cryptocurrency (or more broadly, cryptography) to create a subnet which removes centrally controlled servers.

Net neutrality is on the way out the door, and this could effect ZeroNet’s adoption.

Peer-to-peer protocols (such as torrenting) are the basis for the ZeroNet infrastructure.

Many internet service providers already look to limit this form of traffic, but it’s difficult as there are legitimate uses for BitTorrent traffic (such as the downloading of a Linux distro).

With net neutrality, it’s possible that internet service providers could attempt to block the torrent traffic which ZeroNet relies on. A Virtual Private Network can overcome this, and VPNs are becoming a necessity for safe internet use regardless.

OpenBazaar has served as a decentralized marketplace on the ZeroNet infrastructure for a while now, but only recently has been introduced to work on the Tor network. OpenBazaar’s model has been speculated as a good contender for the next generation in dark web marketplaces.

Now that the quality marketplace store infrastructure has been thrown at the Tor protocol, it’s unquestionable that we will begin to a new generation of dark web marketplaces pop up through ZeroNet.

It is a welcomed change in security the dark web’s future, and the future of free global commerce away from corrupt or unjust governmental restrictions.

It’s a vastly different internet than the one today’s generations grew up with. As consumer computational power increases exponentially, services like ZeroNet are legitimate alternatives. But the shift of power from users to large companies can damage this natural growth or move, but directly hindering the flow of traffic type.

ZeroNet may take the place of onion servers entirely, but there will always be a law enforcement answer to slow it down. The cat and mouse game continues.

Con

Con

Con's education background is law, where he's published on crypto-currency regulation. His opinion editorials range across the relationships between people and technology and the societal challenges it presents. His passion is for information security and the intertwining legal issues
Con
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