Shining a Flashlight in Space

November 9, 2016

A tired, yet thorough metaphor of explaining the dark web is shining a flashlight in space.  If you shine a flashlight in space, your puny battery-powered beacon will not shed any light on the trillions of celestial objects that exist in the vacuum.  While you wave the flashlight around trying to see something in the cosmos, you are too blind to see the grand galactic show hidden by the beam.  The University of Michigan shared the article, “Shadow Of The Dark Web” about Computer Science and Engineering Professor Mike Cafarella and his work with DARPA.

Cafarella is working on Memex, a project that goes beyond the regular text-based search engine.  Using more powerful search tools, Memex concentrates on discovering information related to human trafficking.  Older dark web search tools skimmed over information and were imprecise.  Cafarella’s work improved dark web search tools, supplying data sets with more accurate information on traffickers, their contact information, and their location.

Humans are still needed to interpret the data as the algorithms do not know how to interpret the black market economic worth of trafficked people.  His dark web search tools can be used for more than just sex trafficking:

His work can help identify systems of terrorist recruitment; bust money-laundering operations; build fossil databases from a century’s worth of paleontology publications; identify the genetic basis of diseases by drawing from thousands of biomedical studies; and generally find hidden connections among people, places, and things.

I would never have thought a few years ago that database and data-mining research could have such an impact, and it’s really exciting,’ says Cafarella. ‘Our data has been shipped to law enforcement, and we hear that it’s been used to make real arrests. That feels great.

In order to see the dark web, you need more than a flashlight.  To continue the space metaphor, you need a powerful telescope that scans the heavens and can search the darkness where no light ever passes.

Whitney Grace, November 9, 2016
Sponsored by, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph


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