A pair of researchers has discovered a way to use modern browsers to more easily build darknets — those underground, private Internet communities where users can share content and ideas securely and anonymously.
Billy Hoffman, manager for HP Security Labs at HP Software, and Matt Wood, senior security researcher in HP’s Web Security Research Group, will demonstrate a proof-of-concept for Veiled, a new type of darknet, at the Black Hat USA conference in Las Vegas next month. Darknets, themselves, are nothing new; networks like Tor, FreeNet, and Gnutella are well-established. The HP researchers say Veiled is the same idea, only much simpler: It doesn’t require any software to participate, just an HTML 5-based browser. “We’ve implemented a simple, new darknet in the browser,” Wood says. “There are no supporting [software] programs.”
Unlike its predecessors, Veiled doesn’t require much technical know-how to join, either. “The coolest thing about this is it lowers the barrier to entry to a darknet,” Hoffman says. “You could put some very interesting applications on top of it. It could be a way to do secure whistle-blowing, [for example]. When you have something decentralized like this, no one can control or stop it.” No one can take it down, either, he adds, all of which makes it more approachable for a wider community of legitimate users.
Darknets can also be abused by the bad guys as a way to cover their tracks, but Hoffman and Wood say they see this as more of an opportunity for adding legitimate and mainstream uses of darknets, such as anonymous suggestion boxes or other ways for users to express themselves anonymously without their IP addresses potentially giving them away. “Students are getting reprimanded at school because of their Facebook postings,” perhaps criticizing something about school, Hoffman says. “They’re being punished for free speech. Where can you freely express yourself without fear of consequences? This could be an interesting app.”