Security

Review: 'Down the Deep Dark Web' is a movie every technologist should watch

A new documentary about cryptoanarchists, hackers, and security experts explains about why encryption and privacy are important. This movie will make you see the Dark Web in a new light.

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Image: Zygote Films

The Dark Web is a deep well of dastardly villains, anonymous hackers, hitmen, and drug traffickers. Myth or reality, the new documentary film Down the Deep Dark Web will do nothing to dispel the notion that the Deep Web, a network of private sites accessible only by using an encryption-friendly browser, is a dangerous place.

And that's a good thing.

The film, which was co-produced by Duki Dror and Tzachi Schiff and debuts at the Jerusalem Film Festival on July 16th, is a flashlight of a documentary produced by Zygote Films that trails journalist Yuval Orr as he illuminates the people who occupy the hidden, encrypted internet. The film travels through scenic locations from Israel to Europe and, through a series of interviews with cryptoanarchists, traffickers, hackers, and security experts, explores the personalities that operate on the Dark Web.

SEE: Three ways encryption can safeguard your cloud files (Tech Pro Research report)

Orr's documentary also explores ideas about security and privacy, and is at times deeply technical. Experts and activists alike are thoughtfully interviewed about both the mechanics and philosophy of how secure communication helps insure free thought. Sandwiched between banter about tech regulation and the potential of Bitcoin are quiet conversations about why the general public should care about how encryption works.

The Dark Web is important, the film argues, and hacker culture is important.The premise, presented with a Vice-style dramatic panache, is always entertaining. The movie is loaded with neo-Gonzo Journalism tropes and crafted to appeal to hacktivists, EFF-hardliners, Bitcoin evangelicals, and techno-pundits. For that market in particular, the movie's aesthetic effectively communicates basic information about the Dark Web.

Down the Deep, Dark Web (2016) Official Trailer from Zygote Films.

Filmmaker and journalist Yuval Orr is also a technologist and created a film that tech insiders will appreciate. He spoke to TechRepublic about his approach to making the documentary and his relationship with technology.

Explain your thoughts on creating a film about the Dark Web.

When we first started working on the film our focus was very much on the "dark" side of the Dark Web. [We were] looking at the online drug and gun markets, forums for stolen credit cards, malware, and much worse. Then at a certain point we realized that all of this had already been covered in a thousand different media, all of them drumming up a lot of noise about everything scary and evil that the average citizen has to fear about the dark web. Hell, the name itself was meant to conjure up this shadowy image of a place you and I would never want to venture into.

But when we started looking deeper, we realized there was much more to this hidden corner of the cloud than met the eye. The co-directors and I started by looking in one place, and by the end of the process we were going in the exact opposite direction, from believing that the Dark Web ... is an embodiment of the worst of human society to the belief that it just might hold the promise for something better. In the end, I think the reality is that the technology holds both [good and bad] at once, and it's up to those who are developing, maintaining, and using it to determine which way it will ultimately take us.

How was technology important to the creation of the film?

We wanted to give the viewer the sense that they were watching the film unfold on my computer. We created a visual language that felt very YouTubey, with a lot of jumping windows, quick cuts, and short syncs that are fast-paced and resemble the kind of thousand-tabs-open-at-once browsing that our generation is so accustomed to.

I was also exposed to a lot of new technology over the course of making the film. There was, of course, Bitcoin, which I bought and used for the first time in my life. But also a sort of old school technology, like the private IRC chat rooms that I used to communicate with two of the film's protagonists, Smuggler and Frank Braun.

Why should business and individuals care about the Dark Web?

The Dark Web has largely been portrayed as a challenge for businesses to overcome, rather than an opportunity for them to explore. The most ready example is the credit card companies that hire cybersecurity firms, many of them in Israel, to monitor carder forums in the Dark Web and track down the criminals behind them.

But I think there's an opportunity on the privacy and free speech side of the debate that should be explored: why aren't microblogging sites like WordPress and Tumblr developing services for the [Dark Web]?

SEE: How to safely access and navigate the Dark Web

What are the implications of the Dark Web for global cybersecurity?

The war against encryption—which has cropped up of late with claims that ISIS has used encryption to hide its communication, or the FBI vs Apple case—is a long game, and the Dark Web is just the latest iteration.

READ: Cybersecurity spotlight: The critical labor shortage (Tech Pro Research ebook)

The cryptoanarchist crowd holds that they'll win out in the end because encryption will always develop faster than any given government's ability to crack it. So, sure the US government managed to shut down the original Silk Road, but it took a joint task force of the FBI, DEA, and Secret Service to do so. All that to shut down a single site, which has since been replaced by a 2.0 and 3.0 version. The same holds for Darkode, a site that sold various hacking tools, which was taken down by an international task force with the FBI at the head and some 20 countries.

What does that mean for us? It means we're living in an increasingly uncertain online world. The cybersecurity industry is sure to balloon to keep up with new threats that seem to crop up every week. One hopes that the upside will be an increasing awareness, and use, of encryption by average users.

Can you help us understand the future of the Dark Web?

To hear the cryptoanarchist crowd tell it, we'll soon be doing all our shopping on the Dark Web, avoiding government regulation, and taxation to buy goods and services we'd otherwise not have access to, or just buying them cheaper than we would elsewhere. I think that's a real possibility, but it requires a level of comfort and familiarity with technology like Tor that simply doesn't exist at the moment.

I suppose my biggest hope is that more people familiarize themselves with [encryption] and other tech, and that the Dark Web will stop being seen strictly as the last frontier of evil, and rather as a home to new ways of thinking about community and of accessing information.

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Note: Portions of this interview have been edited for grammar and clarity.

About Dan Patterson

Dan is a Senior Writer for TechRepublic. He covers cybersecurity and the intersection of technology, politics and government.

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