Informed Librarian Online -- Guest Forum -- www.informedlibrarian.com
Online Challenges: IRC Adds New Challenges in Online
by Stephen Arnold
Stephen E. Arnold
worked for Data Courier, which produced the ABI/INFORM, Business Dateline, and
Pharmaceutical News Index databases, among others. Prior to retirement, he
provided consulting services to clients worldwide. In 1989, Mr. Arnold received
the Eagleton Lectureship Award from the Association for Information Science and
Technology. 1998 he received The Gale Group / Online, Inc. "Best Technical Paper
in 1997." In 2003, he received the Malcom Hill Lectureship Award from the New
York State Library Association / Tri-County Library System. In 2008, he also
received the OSS Golden Candle Award for his contributions to open source
intelligence. He has written a number of online-centric books, including Dark
Web Notebook, which explores the online world of the hidden Internet. To
purchase the book, point your browser to https://gum.co/darkweb
The PDF book has an ISBN, a table of contents, and an index. 175 pages with
Abstract: This article discusses what
librarians need to know about the Dark Web. It updates a 2015 Guest Forum by
the author entitled “The Dark Web and Library Patrons: A 21st Century
In my Dark Web Notebook
I point out that increased censorship of public information services will drive
some online and communications underground.
Censorship works like a pastry cook squeezing icing to
decorate a cake. In the case of restricting what’s online, the squeeze
injects users and information into the hidden Internet.
The actions of elected officials are likely to increase
Dark Web activity. Within the last three months, usage of the The Onion Router
software bundle or Tor has increased. The Tor user report through November 2017
illustrates the traffic increase:
Hate speech groups like Stormfront have made a bee line
to the Dark Web. The “Dark Web” is one of the hidden Internet
services that requires special software to access. In November vendors of
contraband substances went offline, but new vendors set up shop almost
immediately. The Dark Web is more like an expanding online Wild West than an
obscure corner of the Internet.
One interesting shift is that old-school communication
services are undergoing a renaissance. The decades-old Internet Relay Chat now
offers such features as drag-and-drop information sharing and obfuscation
methods offering an alternative to cumbersome Dark Web
Recently an announcement by a major media company drew
more attention to the digital underground of hidden online services.
The New York Times is now available via Tor, a
decision which surprised me. The Dark Web is usually associated with illegal
activities like the contraband marketplaces AlphaBay and Silk Road. Anonymity
and encryption go hand-in-hand with Dark Web access.
Many do not know that DuckDuckGo, Facebook, and other
high-profile companies have explored the Dark Web and made their services
available to Dark Web users. Since the newspaper's announcement in October 2017,
the reasons for the Dark Web presence are not clear.
For libraries, a popular information source like the
New York Times on the Dark Web may spark discussions about what’s
publicly available for students, patrons, and researchers.
Tor, short for The Onion Router, has been available for
more than a decade. Queries for the term Dark Web on Bing, Google, Yandex, and
the less well known iSeek.com return a wealth of information.
Scanning these search results, even a casual review of
each service’s first two Web pages, would give the impression that the
Tor-accessible sites require learning a different method of online access. Once
the "straight dope" is in hand, the "Dark Web" search results present links to
sites about drugs and other blatantly problematic products and
Consider iSeek.com (www.iseek.com
), a search
service offered by Vantage Labs LLC. Notice that the first suggested topic is
the "Dark Side of the Internet." The second topic identified by the system's
entity identification routine is Ashley Madison, a Web site associated with
behaviors between consenting adults and the sale of Ashley Madison "customer"
data on the Dark Web days after the security breach was made
Accessing the Dark Web is easy, particularly if
filtering software does not place certain sites on a blacklist. A person using
Chrome, Edge, Firefox, or Safari can navigate to www.tor2web.org
instructions for accessing Dark Web sites are explained clearly. If a library's
public computers are allowed to access Tor2Web.org, a library's computers or
public network can be used to explore information which may pose risks to some.
A clever public terminal user can insert a bootable USB drive into a computer.
When the machine is restarted, Tails and the Tor software bundle will be
A text-centric technology from the Stone Age of online
access is capturing attention. Do you remember IRC or Internet Relay
The idea behind IRC sessions is simple. Two or more
people engage in a real-time conversation. A person wishing to engage in a chat
downloads an application called an IRC client. IRC itself is not a secure
protocol, but the Tor browser can be used as a proxy in order to route
communications via the Tor network. The chats are enabled by IRC servers.
IRC.org, a not-for-profit organization, provides a useful list of links to allow
anyone to identify chat-resources. http://www.irc.org/links.html
Plus, detailed technical information is available in RFC 1459 at https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc1459
The major development in chat concerns private and
secure browser-based chat services. Examples range from Mibbit WebChat
to CGI IRE (http://cgiirc.org/
). CGI IRE is
interesting because it works when the user is "stuck behind a restrictive
firewall. A demonstration of the browser-based utility is available at http://cgiirc.blitzed.org/
Chatstep allows files and images to
be shared among groups of people with ease and simplicity. To do so start by
dragging in your media into the chat window. Your content will be instantly
available to everybody in the chat room. If the media dragged in is an image, a
preview of the image will be displayed with a color-coordinated frame.
Additionally if the attached media is a file, a hyperlink to download the
attachment is rendered. The lack of accounts coupled with the ability to create
rooms in seconds makes Chatstep the most effective and flexible way to exchange
files and related media.
Most of the libraries with which I am familiar have
safeguards in place to prevent Dark Web access, i2p sessions, and real-time IRC
conversations. However, the increased censorship of content by Facebook, Google,
Reddit, and Twitter, among other firms, is forcing some users to find new ways
to communication, share information, and find like minded individuals.
Our research for the Dark Web Notebook revealed three
significant areas ripe for innovation for bad actors. These are:
- More emphasis on hidden, encrypted IRC-type services
which allow digital "flash mobs" to form and share objectionable or copyright
* Cloaking or spoofing
innovations to prevent these information and content sharing channels to be
filtered or missed by routine data monitoring procedures
- More robust browser based services developed by
individuals who want or need to have more secure ways of interacting online; for
instance, progressive Web
What steps can libraries
take today to prepare for the innovation triggered by stepped up scrutiny of
First, libraries want to make staff aware that oversight
remains important. Awareness of what patrons and users are doing remains
Second, vendors of filtering and security tools will be
upgrading their products and services. Learning about what's available and
verifying what works and what does not must precede renewing for another year.
Third, first-hand exploration of chat-centric services
can help keep those working in a library in touch with these communication and
As we reported in
the Dark Web Notebook, one important wave of innovation will be in making "old"
technology new again.
Net net: Public access terminals require vigilance.
Security procedures and software remain priorities regardless of library type.
Copyright 2017 by Stephen E.
About the author:
See Editor’s Note above.