Modern digital piracy transcends almost all aspects of life. In this equation, the dark web and cryptocurrencies have fueled global piracy schemes. If you think that pirated material is only restricted to movies and music, you’ll be very mistaken. Today, piracy has become a solution to every item that is deemed expensive by the online world—even academic material. There exists a current war between academic factions and stakeholders about the need to tax academic research. While this battle rages on the surface, a host of academic materials have seeped deep into the underground, onto darknet websites.
Significance of Academic Piracy
A majority of scholarly materials are confined within paywalls, and unless you are logged into a university’s network with costly subscription, you must part with some dollars in order to browse such papers. Most scholars have come out to criticize this kind of system which, they say, is deepening the pockets of publishers like Elsevier, an organization that controls thousands of journals. This sentiment comes as authors are said to derive much less benefit compared to the publishers themselves. Otherwise, a number of experts think that the existence of free-of-charge articles will beget quality issues in which papers will be produced outside the boundaries of tough peer reviews. Having looked at the above conflicting issues, a student in Kazakhstan came up with the idea of establishing an online site that provides free access to paywalled academic material—Sci-Hub.
Created in 2011 by computer programmer Alexandra Asanovna Elbakyan, Sci-Hub prides in being a remover of barriers in the scientific world. By 2019, the site has managed to control a giant archive of 70 million academic articles. In late-April, Sci-Hub reported via Twitter that its daily visitor count has grown to 400,000 or more.
It has also cultivated an active community on Reddit. There is also good news: despite all the efforts against it, Sci-Hub grew: currently there are > 400,000 visitors daily, reaching more than half a million sometimes. The statistics will be published later— Sci-Hub (@Sci_Hub) April 25, 2019In addition to hosting its own Tor onion service on the dark web, Sci-Hub is also available on the deep web and the regular surface web. Although, its domain is subject to change. Before venturing into the dark web, Sci-Hub was used as an alternative method that enabled access to more information than any other single entity could amass. In practice, Sci-Hub obtained the link to a paper and automatically tried the login credentials of subscribed institutions until it managed to bypass the security protocol. The article would then be downloaded and availed to the desired persons.
Reaction from Traditional Publishing Outlets
Quite expectedly, the existence of Sci-Hub has rubbed academic publishers the wrong way. In 2017, Elsevier filed a lawsuit against Sci-Hub and another open-access site called Library Genesis—seeking millions in settlement for copyright infringement. The court ruled in favor of Elsevier and Sci-Hub’s initial domain was closed down. Later, the site would reappear under another domain. Nonetheless, the decision to move to the dark web has enabled Sci-Hub to maintain its existence under the radar of irked publishers. Sci-Hub is accessible through the Tor network, which eliminates a centralized registry to avoid detection or interception from law enforcement, internet service providers or other third parties—there would be no single platform to shut down.
A Rising Conflict: Education Systems and the Dark Web
The Sci-Hub case study demonstrates the dark web’s role in helping advance education and academic pursuits, providing free and open access to information for anyone who wants to learn.
At the same time, though, the dark web (and the resources therein) is also often used as a weapon to target academic institutions themselves. In the past, to avoid classes, students would feign sickness to stay away from school. Today, learners are seeking the services of hackers on the dark web to target their school servers for other reasons.
Some of these reasons range from altering students’ grades to launching attacks on an institution’s computer networks, usually with a DDoS attack. Various darknet markets also have fake diplomas on offer to whoever wants to buy one. One cybersecurity company, Radware, predicted the current state of affairs back in 2015. The spike in student-led cyberattacks against schools is caused by an increase in popularity of the dark web among growing learners. Darknet-hosted operators of such hacking services often use forums and social media posts to reach out to potential clients.
Considerations to Make While Accessing Academic Material in the Dark Web
The main issue with accessing academic material via darknet platforms is the lack of a clear mechanism to confirm its authenticity. There’s no sure way to understand its source and whether it suits your desired needs. This is especially real considering that you, the consumer, cannot access an original copy of the content you seek. Second, the possibility of finding a disorganized mix of both peer-reviewed and non-peer reviewed items is common. A reader may unknowingly access counterfeit scholarly work or fraudulent research.