Domain Names as tested by the Darkweb

Intellectual property, Internet, domain names, ICANN, NTICDarkweb… This is a term that gives rise to distrust. In order to understand this notion and the issues that arise from the existence of domain names, it is necessary to define the Internet in a concise way.

  1. What is Darkweb?

In order to best understand how this fabric of computer networks works, most authors present the World Wide Web System in the form of an iceberg with the emerging part corresponding to the Surface web and the immersed part corresponding to the Deep Web. At the very base of the iceberg is the Darkweb. The difference between Deepweb and Surface Web is in the intervention of an indexing robot (crawler). In other words, if we cannot find bank details on the web, it is because these pages are not indexed.

However, some sites are specifically created to escape from any referencing: they are integrated into the deep web but are what is called the Darkweb. This word allows to set the tone: The Darkweb brings together all the anonymous darknets networks, and is only accessible on the Deepweb. By their nature they are most often used for illegal purposes.

  1. The Domain name architecture

An Internet address consists of a “www” (World Wide Web) prefix and a domain name. This domain name is itself composed of a string of characters and an extension (gTLDs, corresponding to the generic top-level domains, ccTLD corresponding to the national top-level domains, new gTLDs corresponding to the new Generic top-level extensions launched by ICANN a few years ago). The domain name is registered via a registrar or a registry that issues the assignment if it is available. Registrars are in contract with ICANN, which oversees the rules for naming and managing domain names.

  1. Darkweb and domain names: what relationship?

To be able to penetrate the Darkweb, it is necessary to use anonymizing software, the most known being Tor. On the Darkweb, there are no traditional URLs, based on “www”, understandable domain names, and Tld in “.com”, “.fr”, etc. On the Darkweb, the addresses of the Internet sites are composed of mixed numbers and letters, and of unknown Tld. For example, the Tld of Tor is the “.onion”… thus far from the extensions controlled by ICANN. This is called open roots.

In order to understand, one must bear in mind that there is governance set up by ICANN. The latter manages the roots of the Internet and administers digital resources, such as IP addresses and domain names. Willingness to emancipate, lower cost, fight against the shortage of domain names, all these factors are considered in the evolution of open roots and their democratization. It is on this principle that the Darkweb is based.

Around these particular Tld there are disputes. Indeed, if the existence of this type of roots does not taint the root of ICANN, this coexistence can sometimes be difficult as evidenced by two disputes against ICANN by the companies Name.Space and Image Online Design which market extensions based on open roots.

These two disputes arose when ICANN launched the new Tld program, more commonly referred to as “new gTLDs”. In this case, Name.Space and Image Online Design had been proposing domain names since the mid-90s, particularly in the “.web” Tld. In the year 2000, these two companies applied for these extensions to ICANN, without success. However, later, ICANN did not object to a request for a new “.web” extension in its new  Tld program, knowing full well that these Tld were marketed by the aforementioned companies. These two companies have therefore brought a lawsuit in the United States against ICANN for trademark infringement, illicit agreement, unfair Competition and criminal acts.

The use of this type of so-called open roots deserves full attention and presents itself as an alternative solution to the system set up by ICANN. However, the difficulties that they can create should not be neglected.

  1. What are the possible developments?

In 2015, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) designated the “.onion” Tld as a special-purpose, first-level domain name used to implement an anonymous service with strong privacy characteristics. A first-level reserved domain is a top-level domain that is not intended for use in the Internet domain name (DNS) system, but is reserved for other purposes. Therefore, ICANN does not administer these special-purpose first-level Tld.

The Tor project worked with Facebook to achieve this recognition, as well as the Tlds in “.example”, “.invalid”, “.localhost” or “.test”. It is also an important step. However, and as with other special domain names, the “.onion” will not be able to become a top-level domain name sold by ICANN.

Thanks to the decisions made by the organizations for Internet regulation, “.onion” sites are now considered to be existing. In addition, they will be able to offer better security to their users more easily. Thus, SSL/TLS certificates can be issued by an authority for “.onion” sites in order to put a security protocol in place so as to ensure the legitimate identity of a site, but also to allow the encryption of their contents.

There is thus a willingness of emancipation from the negative shackles represented by the Darkweb in the eyes of the Cybernaut community, demystifying the notion.

The Darkweb also allows, thanks to the progress of the Tor project and the IETF, to secure a website that one does not wish to reference. It also means that we do not necessarily only find illegal sites on these anonymous networks, but that Darkweb is used as a means of confidentiality.