Structural analysis of internet and darknet topologies in 2015. These force-directed visualizations have nodes colored to reveal the underlying mesoscale structure. (Image courtesy of URV.)
Researchers have often questioned how the Darknet—the part of the Internet only accessible via specific software—is able to ward off the vast majority of the digital attacks directed against it. Now, new avenues of inquiry regarding the strength of the Darknet’s defenses have been opened by Manlio De Domenico and Alex Arenas from the Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV)’s Department of Computer Engineering and Mathematics
In a recent study, Arenas and De Domenico utilized network analysis and new data stemming from UCLA’s Internet Research Lab to construct a topological model of the Darknet, demonstrating how information is transmitted through the use of “onion routers,” which encrypt messages in multiple layers. The model has revealed that the unique topology and structure of the Darknet renders it almost impenetrable to attacks.
The Darknet exists as an overlay network—a series of virtual nodes and pathways—which functions above the Internet’s infrastructure. Due to its construction and the plethora of illegal activities (like child pornography, drug trafficking and piracy) perpetuated among users of the network, the Darknet is often subject to intense cyberattacks.
The network’s defenses were simulated with three separate types of assaults: attacks that cause certain nodes to fail randomly, attacks on specific nodes and attacks that unleash a wave of errors that are spread across the network.
The results of these simulations demonstrated that a cyberattack aimed at the Darknet’s various nodes must be at least four times stronger than an equivalent assault against the Internet’s nodes in order to cause a significant disruption to the network. The need for greater force against the Darknet is because of the network’s ability to counter the waves of attacks upon its many nodes easily by simply adding more network capacity.
Arenas and De Domenico attribute this pattern of behavior to the more decentralized topology that emerges spontaneously from the Darknet’s onion router protocol. In comparison, the Internet’s structure is much more heterogeneous in nature.
For many years, the Darknet has been the subject of controversy, intrigue and mystery. Rumors have long abounded concerning the secretive and often illicit exchanges that occur anonymously and away from the prying eyes of the authorities. This new appraisal of the Darknet’s robust nature may shed some much-needed light into the shadowy crevices of the infamous network.
For more Internet news, find out How Surfing the Web Improves Machine Learning.