The concept of the "dark web" in Asia is way different to what peeps in Europe and the Americas are used to.
This is according to researchers at New York computer security firm IntSights, which today outlined a number of quirks unique to Asian countries in the way underground sites, and those of questionable legality, operate.
IntSights director of threat research Itay Kozuch told The Register that various countries in the region will use hidden Tor services in different ways and for different purposes compared to folks in the EU and US.
In Japan, for example, the dark web has a decidedly more civil tone than in other countries. Users in Japan will often use Tor-hidden sites for benign things such as blogs or BBS communities.
Even when illegal activities are taking place, Japan does so with good manners. Kozuch noted that drug dealers on the Japanese dark web will offer their customers free samples, and give refunds to those who are not satisfied.
"We contacted a few vendors and they said it is correct, if you're not happy with the drugs you bought you can get a refund," Kozuch said. "Even during the criminal acts they're offering services, and it is important to them you would have a good experience."
In China, meanwhile, there's relatively little of a "dark" internet to speak of. Kuzich said that many of the activities seen on hidden services in other parts of the world operate on the "clear" internet in China, where the sheer size of the population – an estimated 772 million internet users – makes it difficult for authorities to combat illegal activity.
"The Chinese are really not afraid to operate within their clear web," Kozuch told us. "The police and intelligence services are there, and from time to time we hear about arrests, but the fact is there are many hundreds of thousands of websites."
In addition to being widespread in number, nefarious goods and services on the Chinese web can also be had at bargain prices. The IntSights team, we're told, found that everything from narcotics to distributed denial-of-service operators and exploits were offered at far lower prices compared similar fare touted in Western cyber-souks.
Don't, however, expect to be able to take advantage of any of those low prices. Kozuch noted that most vendors within China do not do business with international punters, and even fewer will so much as respond to anyone who does not communicate in Chinese.
This can be due to things as simple as the language barrier, but just as often the seller's fear of government retribution will keep them from dealing outside of their own borders.
"It is one thing to do business with other Chinese," Kozuch explained, "but if you are caught doing business with an American, you have a serious problem."
In other parts of Asia, hacktivism dominates dark-web activity. In politically tumultuous places such as Thailand, activist groups such as Anonymous still operate prominently. Visitors to those underground sites will often seek out copies of database leaks and dumps of intelligence files, as well as hacking tools and guides that can be used in campaigns.
Back in China, hacktivism also has a prominent place on the dark web, though in many cases hacker groups will actually be acting on behalf of the state.
"Many of the groups in China are considered nationalistic and they have a strong sense of pride," said Kozuch. "If a country, according to their belief, misbehaves against Chinese people.. they will act without any government orders or prompting."
A full report on IntSights' findings, if you're interested in the details, can be downloaded here. ®