A welcome to the dark side.

In some very fundamental ways, I’ve always been the slightly thick one. Too much focus on stuff nobody gave a rat’s ass about. All the dots everyone else could lickety split connect, I didn’t have the first clue about. For God’s sake, what are those dots, where are they to be found and can someone please explain to me what they are? Me and those bloody dots have always had an anguished relationship, to say the least.

I recall working very hard to wangle my way into a lecture on something totally new for the time which the Russians called cybernetics which therefore wasn’t approved of and which I should never have been anywhere near, but the man whom I’d come to hear kicked off with a very basic question – when it comes to understanding complexity, do we start at the top of the pyramid or the bottom? He was moving towards something called combinatorial pruning, though that term had yet to be invented. Very few people were in that area.

In a prescient way, he was talking about the software design of intelligent beings which was SciFi at the time but I was doing some way off the books math sketches about. Hands up the top downwards approach he asked, and my hand shot up straight away.

Patently, we start at simplicity and work our way down through the pyramid, finding and solving the complexity road blocks as we encounter them while drilling down into the problem. Looking around the lecture hall, I belatedly realised my rapidly shot up hand was in the minority apart from a girl who should never have been there in the first place anyway.

Girlies didn’t do hard science in those days and a pure math bozo like me shouldn’t be caught dead in a guest philosophy lecture. We both considered lowering our arms, but cringed together under the peer pressure and kept our arms defiantly up. We were later to became lovers at her insistence and to my consternation, but that’s a story for another day. She had the Mills and Boon theory of it all down flat, but the practise of it left a lot to be desired.

He then asked how many thought bottom upwards was the way to tackle it. Seemingly every hand in the place shot upwards but I saw no need to change my sense that we have to start at a simple understanding of anything and then begin to peel off the onion rings one by one to gain a deeper understanding. You will understand about onion rings later.

He let them hang there with their arms up like a Hitler youth symposium before hissing one word with a reserved but scathing venom you’d be hard pressed to miss – “amazing”. I’d read everything I could get my hands on that he’d ever written before hitting that lecture and wasn’t disappointed with the notes-free extemporisation that followed. The guy could rock your world, and I came out of that lecture with some big bastud ideas to think through.

I really haven’t evolved much since those days and still think a top down approach to understanding totally new and unfamiliar material is the way to go. Nothing much happens until I’ve found the book entitled the idiots guide to whatever. A quick read through and you can tell if all the hullabaloo about it was just piss and wind and it’s actually a load of old bollocks, or you gotta go out there and find the not so idiotic guide. Eventually you’re drag assing home some door stop books which are the excruciatingly detailed bibles of the area.

This is going to be the idiot’s guide to something you thought you already knew all about but actually didn’t, and there’s nothing more dangerous than that.

The internet.

What follows will be conceptually accurate, but technically a tad less so, very much so to be frank. We’re going to do the top of the pyramid stuff before I tool you up for a walk on the wild side.

To begin at the beginning, computers don’t think. They don’t understand concepts, feelings, poetry, Dylan Thomas, language, words or all of that stuff your average one-year old is already getting a decent grip on. They never will. All they do is numbers and since they’re not blessed with the ten wiggling phalanges we all have, they can only wave two fingers at the world – zero and one. We will not be exploring the irony concomitant with that statement.

Being the ingenious little anthropoids only recently having fallen out of the tree-top foliage that we are, we impose to our benefit a meaning on all those ones and zeros by looking at them in clumps. We’ve settled on clumps of eight. It’s one of those powers of two things. There’s a certain combination of eight ones and zeros that represents the letter “A”, another that represents “B”, and another that represents “C”, yackety yack, et cetera, et cetera, you’ve probably got the idea by now.

So, when you sit down and type “thepointman.wordpress.com”, what actually happens is there’s something called a server that translates those words into numbers which el dumbo the thicko computer understands and you eventually end up looking at a page lashed out by a web server based in Texas. I lived there for a while, but that isn’t where I am, just where WordPress currently hosts all our blogging efforts. The BBQ there is something to die for, but I digress.

That thing providing that service of translating what you’re typing in eminently sensible English into a string of binary digits is called a domain name server or DNS for short. Not exactly catchy, but there you go. It’s a very nice orderly way to proceed and there’s years of people having a boring but steady career defining in excruciating detail how your typing of something which means something to a human being gets translated into ones and zeros.

It’s a wonderful system, very few people actually know it exists and everybody totally depends on it. It’s great, standardised, ordered and everybody was really smug and pleased as hell about it. The thing is, it was just so deliciously ripe for the taking, which it has been for only about the last fifteen years or so. If you’re a low down sneaky bugger like wot I is, the whole thing opens up a whole nest of possibilities for the noughty boys and girls of the internet. Sorry, couldn’t resist the pun.

We all of course went after it big time. Once you do the stroll of getting in to the server and taking ownership, the world is your oyster but what do you do with it?

You gots all the choices as Van da Man would say. Do I redirect all those requests for Google to a good old raunchy porno site? Perhaps my own modest blog? Worst of all, a born again Christian site? The possibilities are endless once you have the power to misdirect people. You could do all of those things and become famous, because doing a half-brained hack these days is all about becoming famous, which would be anathema if you move in the very quiet Jaylene Slide circles that actually matter.

Let’s say for instance we don’t vandalise the internet and rather than ruin other peoples’ enjoyment of it, do something a little bit more constructive. Let’s get creative instead.

Is there some God up there who said you can’t set up your own DNS server? A baby DNS server you will never let Google near to index, but one that redirects people off down to a wild side you get to create. If perchance someone was to set up their own one, the possibilities become very interesting. There are servers like that all over the place.

Again, I remind you that the concept is very real but technically it’s a lot more complex.

So, what we’ve ended up with is a two tier internet, but that’s not exactly true either since everyone setting up their own name server is creating their own space. In broad terms we have the ordinary internet which is called the clearnet, but underneath it is what’s sometimes called the darknet, which is really several darknets. Don’t get hung up on it being dark; it’s just a name, somewhere where you’re free, though I’d have to admit some of the nets are dark indeed and there have been wars fought to close them down.

It’s always in a state of flux but it does have a few constants. It’s a functional arcology with its own currency (bitcoin), places to hang out, email services, the usual stuff and somewhere safe from all the snoopers determined to treat you as a criminal simply because you value your privacy.

It has no Google, no Facebook, no Hotmail, no Twitter. None of those old reliables I’ve come to distrust so deeply. It’s off the grid, because it’s underneath it. It can’t be controlled and refuses to be, because every time some compulsive controller tries to get its grubby hands on it, it changes form, transmigrates, moves, mutates out of sight.

There are of course dubious uses for such facilities, but there’s nothing new about that. You have to be prepared to take the rough with the smooth. If you accept for instance that as a general principle books are good, then you have to be prepared to accept that some books will be written which you will find to be objectionable. In some cases, deeply so.

The thing to consider is if by creating such shadowy places, are we acting as a force for good or bad? It’s a value judgement; there isn’t an absolute right or wrong – you’re going to have to wrestle with that problem in the wee small hours of your four am in the morning darkest moments, and if you’re a person of decent conscience, there will always be an element of doubt.

What is undoubted though, is that there are regimes and governments around the world who do not like their own citizens being able to tell the rest of the world the things like human rights abuses that routinely occur in their country. If they get caught telling that story, their government will kill them. All they’ll ever need is your name.

It’s as simple as that.

By providing darknets, we give them and their loved ones the needed protection, the oxygen that freedom of speech needs. Nobody actually knows how big the underside of the internet is, but in my experience it seems to grow bigger and bigger as the clearnet becomes more and more controlled. Possibly the biggest darknet is called Onionland, and is the one every journalist, freedom activist and source for WikiLeaks uses, because it’s secure. I can’t guarantee it, but it’s one I use myself and when it comes to watching my internet six, I redefine paranoia.

The way you get into it is by visiting the Tor project site and doing a single download of what is actually an internet browser. Please take the time to have a good read through the site before making any click to download and install decisions. Worst case, you’ll end up with a second internet browser which you’ll never use.

Best case, you’ll use the Tor browser and drop off everybody’s radar. You can still visit all your usual clearnet sites using it, but nobody will know who the hell is visiting and where on Earth they are coming from. You’re now off the grid. As far as any snoopers and your ISP is concerned, you’ve just blinked out of existence.

Welcome to the dark side.


Related articles by Pointman:

A message in two parts – part one.

A message in two parts – part two.

Click for a list of other articles.


15 Responses to “A welcome to the dark side.”
  1. Blackswan says:

    Thanks Pointman,

    A very clever interpretation of 21st century technology for plebs like me. Thank you.

    Reading about a quote from the great British actor/comedian Ronnie Barker … “He used to say that as performers we are our own currency and you must spend it wisely.” … it occurred to me that as truth-seekers and bloggers, WE are our own currency and must be judicious in how we expend our energies, upon what, and with whom the currency of our integrity is spent.

    Sure, there’ll certainly be some counterfeit cash circulated about, but it’s worthlessness soon reveals itself.

    Consider this … a $50 note is only worth $50 because we AGREE that it is. Without our agreement as to its value it’s just a piece of paper or these days, a colourful piece of polymer that survives the washing machine in the back pocket of our jeans.

    In our fight to retain Freedom of Speech we must determine the worth of that currency, agree to its value, and be unerring in our protection of it against the thieves and robber barons who’d wrest it from our grasp.

    Looking forward to this continuing master class in what matters the most. Meltemian is right … time to fasten our seat belts!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Pointman,
    I do not want to be negative, but rather enhance your new efforts. How is the ‘Tor project site’ any better than all other re-mailers or mix-masters, mostly run by some government agency? What sort of non breakable encryption is used to defeat path following\contact, just as incriminating as actual text of messages? -will-


    • Pointman says:

      Hi Will, there’s a lot of technical reading on the routing and encryption used between your real IP address and the one that appears on the clearnet. I’d encourage you to start reading it.

      Bear in mind, it took the combined resources of the NSA and FBI nearly three years to track down who was running the Silk Road darknet site selling drugs, and they only found him because he let his own ego give himself away. There’s no way it’s a government darknet.



  3. Denis says:

    I’m following along.


  4. asybot says:

    Maybe I am being paranoid but when I attempt to enter the project on the “clearnet” won’t “they” not be able to follow? I am just not clear on that.


    • Pointman says:

      Hi Asybot, Once you visit the TOR site, sure, they’ll have your IP address, but that’ll just be the address of someone visiting the site.

      However, if you download the TOR browser and use it from then on to visit sites in the clearnet or darknet, there will be no connection to your real IP address. Every time you use the TOR browser, you show up with a different address on any sites you visit.

      Does that help? If not, tell me.



  5. nzpete says:

    While I was aware of the dark side, I found Pointman’s explanation to be very good. An interesting read.
    I’m looking forward to future articles on this subject from him.


  6. rapscallion says:

    Pointman. Your explanation of DNS is nearly there, but not quite. I do know this stuff because, well, it’s my job. In strict terms every company will have a DNS Server so that it can “resolve” requests. What this means is that when you want to connect to a particular resource on say ServerX, what your company DNS servers does is to search its records (because all it is, is a massive index) to lookup the IP address of ServerX. This IP address will look like for example 145,234,112,63, and it is these numbers that are turned in a binary address.

    Your company will have it’s internet connection(s) provided by an ISP, and this ISP will have it’s own DNS Server, and that DNS server will “point” to another DNS Server further up the pyramid and so on and so forth until you get to the very top, which has indexed every single IP address and domain names etc.

    You can prove this by trying to access an internet site you visit regularly – the response is almost immediate because the browser has checked your cache first (on your computer). If the site address is not in your cache, it will ask your local DNS server to resolve. If that doesn’t work your local DNS server will ask the next DNS server up the pyramid and so on and so forth. Once the answer is found it it passed down through all the DNS servers that referred the question upwards until it reaches the first DNS server that passed it up. It is this process that takes time. If you type in http://www.rorc.org/ – a site I’m betting many of you haven’t been to before I can guarantee that it will take more than 5 seconds and probably longer.

    Bearing all this is mind is that Pointman said that you can create your own DNS Server – which I’ve done at home. Your company has created its own DNS Servers too, most of which are for internal use only and will never be accessed by any external computer. If you like company DNS Servers are like the Darknet.

    Using TOR browser is not ideal as it immediately flags up to anybody who is interested that you are using TOR and that makes you immediately suspect. All the paedos use TOR for example.

    The purpose of all this you’ll remember is to avoid revealing your IP address, because once “they” have your IP address they’ve got you. Cold

    The trick is to use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) which obscures/hides your original IP address. Google Nord VPN

    Apologies for length of post


  7. Pointman says:

    Hi Rapscallion, good contributions are always welcome, long or short. I am aware of the DNS pyramid used to resolve addresses (cryptic reference in the piece!), but that wasn’t what the article was about. As I said more than once, technical accuracy would be sacrificed to get the functional concepts over, and it was.

    How do “they” know you’re using a TOR browser? Paedos tend to set up their own darknets but you’re right, there are questionable sites on the darknet, just as there are on the clearnet. But that’s no reason not to use it.

    Again, if you’re using the TOR browser from the darknet, how will they determine your real address?

    Agreed, a VPN is a very secure solution, but requires an IT technician’s skillset to install and use, which is way beyond the capabilities of most internet users.



    • Denis says:

      Setting up a VPN is usually covered by the various VPN providers and rapscallion the only one I will use is set up by a University in Japan.

      Tor nearly provides a similar thing. Which I think the Pointman is trying to introduce.

      And all of them require risk adverse strategies the easiest being, don’t be online for too long and update your defense systems daily.

      Thanks Pointman


  8. meltemian says:

    Hi Pointy, I have an English router with a UK based server feeding off my Greek router.in order to watch UK TV.(not altogether legal I know) I assume sites accessed via that give me anonymity?
    I also subscribe to a VPN for the same reason in case one of them goes down.


    • Pointman says:

      Bloody hell Mel, two joined routers and a backup VPN??? You should have written the article, not me.

      Seriously though, I’d say you’re pretty anonymous, especially as you’re operating in two countries behind two routers. Hackers never operate in their own country if possible, because anyone nagging a foreign ISP for traffic records doesn’t have a snowflake’s.



      • meltemian says:

        Thanks Pointy, I certainly wouldn’t want to have to drag information out of a Greek organisation myself….I’ve seen how long any applications take here!
        Guess I’m safe then.


  9. Pointman says:

    As a general point to all people commenting here, I still require you to use a genuine email address, otherwise your comment won’t appear.



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