(8/7/19 1:45pm MST): We’ve now learned that Homeland Security has sent a letter to 8chan owner Jim Watkins demanding he come before Congress and answer questions on the site’s extremist content. Read more.
(8/7/19 11:30am MST): One of 8chan’s admins published a tweet denying that 8chan is behind the creation of their ZeroNet bunker.
8chan on zeronet was not made by our team and I have no idea who set that up.— Ron (@CodeMonkeyZ) August 7, 2019
If @CodeMonkeyZ is being truthful, then someone else is responsible for preparing the 8chan ZeroNet bunker on their behalf. We will continue to investigate and update here as we find out more information.
For a long time now, 8chan has known that their days as part of the mainstream internet (or “surface web”) were numbered. In this case, it took an unstable individual publishing a “manifesto” on their site to force an action to migrate to the dark web. The manifesto in question advocated for violence, eugenics, and mass-murder on one of their boards. While the 8chan platform is known for its forums seeped in hate, racism, sexism, offensive humor, and just general derision, this appeared to be the tipping point. There was bound to be something posted by one of their users that crossed a line, which is how 8chan found themselves setting up a potentially permanent camp on the dark web.
For those unfamiliar with the website, 8chan is an online forum that is essentially a mixture of 4chan and Reddit, and is known for its hands-off policy when it comes to moderating user content. This laissez-faire approach is at the heart of the platform. The website itself came about when a frustrated user of 4chan, Fredrick Brennan (known as Hotwheels), felt that 4chan moderators were overstepping rights to free speech by removing content.
Knowing this, it makes some sense that people with perhaps unpopular or fringe viewpoints would find a safe haven in 8chan. And, to their benefit, the administrators behind the divisive platform have arguably done their due diligence in ensuring its survival.
“Welcome to the semi-official 8chan emergency bunker”
Traditionally, 8chan has operated on the surface web (8chan.net), while also maintaining a mirror .onion site on the popular darknet, Tor. However, DarkOwl Vision has records of a third 8chan hub that has existed since at least early April. This version of 8chan - nearly identical to its counterparts - is hosted on ZeroNet, a slightly lesser known dark web that is similar to Tor.
While many recent reports in the press are indicating that 8chan scrambled for a new place to land, this is only somewhat true. ZeroNet is a lesser known darknet, yes, but painting 8chan moderators as shocked or unprepared for this type of event would be inaccurate. It appears they anticipated something of this nature happening for several months.
Self-described as an “emergency-bunker,” the 8chan “zite” was all-but inactive until this past weekend. Records from DarkOwl Vision indicate little to no user activity when it was first collected into Vision’s dataset. Meaning, this zite was put in place truly to serve as a back-up hub for 8chan. The administrators foresaw an end to the site on the mainstream internet.
The takeaway here is that 8chan administrators anticipated losing network stability and set up a version of their chan board on ZeroNet, a peer-to-peer decentralized anonymous network that very few people are - or were - familiar with. In the last 48 hours alone, the volume of users or “seeds” on the ZeroNet 8chan zite has skyrocketed with thousands of posts.
The popular boards, “Politically Incorrect (/pol/) and Noob dig (/QResearch/) include several posts about the recent El Paso shooter’s manifesto and activities. Further discussions cover attempts to censor “free speech” and the fact that taking down 8chan’s service will have little to no impact on gun violence in the US.
One user pointed out the manifesto was posted to the popular social media app Instagram prior to 8chan, spreading the conspiracy that this was all an effort to justify shutting down 8chan’s boards.
Some anonymous users have expressed concern over the security of ZeroNet, and the potential that this new platform could be a government honeypot collecting user’s IP addresses and VPN services-a similar tactic used by law enforcement in previous hidden service takedowns on Tor.
How 8chan scrambled to stay online and found its new home on the dark web
While the details of how 8chan lost its footing on the surface web and Tor are still emerging, we do know a few things for sure. 8chan used CloudFlare’s services to protect it from DDOS attack, until over this past weekend Cloudflare chose to terminate its security services for 8chan servers, calling it a “cesspool of hate.”
On Sunday, 8chan creator Frederick Brennan, who no longer runs the forum, called for 8chan to be shut down.
What comes next is less clear. It is confirmed that after losing CloudFlare, 8chan then shifted to BitMitigate security protection services, who also provide DDOS protection to White Supremacist news outlet The Daily Stormer. Reports have widely indicated that BitMitigate also dumped 8chan of its own volition, though it is unclear if that is accurate. It appears that instead of deciding to drop the controversial forum, BitMitigate may have been blacklisted by its service providers and "de-platformed” for hosting 8chan. Evidence of this is supported by reports that at sometime this weekend, all sites hosted on BitMitigate were offline.
Shortly after discontinuation of its security services, 8chan suffered outages from its 8chan.net surface website and of its Tor hidden service site due to large scale DDOS attacks targeting the servers.
As of Tuesday afternoon, 8chan’s Tor hidden services had been restored and was back online.
Is the 8chan culture the culture of the dark web?
Decentralized internets or “darknets” (or “dark webs”) have long been infamously characterized as hubs for the darker side of society. Some of the most popular examples of this are the abundance of dark web market places selling drugs, hitmen for hire, child pornography, human trafficking operations, etc. However, defenders of the merits of dark webs often market the right to free speech and unregulated communication as a vital function of society, with the dark web being a tool to achieve these ends.
That being said, it would be remiss to not acknowledge that “free-speech” forums seemingly come with a heavy load of potentially dangerous baggage. 8chan is not the only type of discussion board where hate speech and political ideology is proliferated. 4chan, Oniichan, and 2chan contain similar types of posts, and many dark web chat rooms and underground internet relay chats also support the congregation of radical nationalistic personas.
We will continue to monitor the dark web as the situation develops. For more information on the darknet and ZeroNet, contact us today.