You’re watching a video on YouTube. Then you thought of getting some good information and came on the Code Stories blog. This internet browsing is taking place on a layer of the internet called the Surface Web. But beneath it are many more layers of the internet, in what’s known as the Deep Web. At the top of these layers are websites that can be accessed, but can’t be found by searching on Google or Bing. Think online banking and government databases, pages that are password encrypted. But what if you keep going down, all the way to the bottom of the Deep Web? Well, here you’ll find the Dark Web. Here, users communicate through encrypted messages and can buy or sell anything with total anonymity. It’s been called the ‘wild west’ of the internet because operating here in the shadows are extremists, criminals, and trolls. So, where did the Dark Web come from, and how does it work?
Well, firstly the Dark Web is not a place but a term that describes parts of the internet that hide your identity and location. The Dark Web’s infrastructure was created in the 1970s at the same time as the internet itself – but to utilize it, you needed dark-net software. Enter the U.S. Naval Research Lab who created, back in the early 2000s, one of the first and still the most popular dark-net software – Tor. It was created for several reasons, which included providing the U.S. Navy’s intelligence officers with the means to maneuver through the internet without being recognized or traced. But, to really give you an understanding of what the Dark Web is like we need to explore it first-hand. So Tor, which looks like a normal web browser and seems to behave like one too. I can visit any site I like, but unlike normal web browsers which would register my IP address straight away, the Tor browser bounces my request to enter the site via several computers around the world encrypting and decrypting my identification as it goes so that no one knows where the request has come from. Now that I’m browsing the internet anonymously, certain websites have become accessible.
Sites that are much like the infamous Silk Road. The Silk Road was one of the first online black markets where you could buy drugs, guns, and child pornography. Two years after starting the site the founder, Ross Ulbricht, was arrested in 2013 and sentenced to life in prison for money laundering, drug trafficking, hacking, and fraud. This was quickly followed by a shutdown of its successor Silk Road 2.0 along with similar sites such as ‘Project Black Flag’ and ‘Black Market Reloaded’. There are even reports that the FBI has hacked into Tor itself, which subsequently saw the browser’s usage drop by nearly 50%. This all gives the impression that the authorities are fighting back, but closing down one or two online markets has simply cleared the way for its competitors.
If you didn’t want to use the Tor browser, there’s I2P or Freenet. Instead of Silk Road 2.0, there’s now Dream, Agora, or Alpha bay and they all provide the same services. The Dark Web however is not just an eBay for illegal purchases. It’s also used by radical extremists to communicate and spread propaganda. But not all activity going on down on the Dark Web is illegal. Tor, for instance, receives 60% of its backing from the U.S. State Department and the Department of Defense to act as a secure network for both government agencies and political dissidents fighting oppressive regimes. Over the past decade, the Dark Web has empowered activists to spread news during the Arab Spring and encourage whistleblowers to release information. The Dark Web as a tool to help journalists uncover the truth was made popular by WikiLeaks. Now news organizations such as The New York Times and The Guardian all host Dark Web drop
Sites for uploading anonymously leaked tips and documents. It’s also helped domestic-violence victims hide from online stalkers and allowed ordinary citizens to surf the web without being tracked by advertisers or even the government which leaves us with a great dilemma. If the authorities try (and succeed) in shutting down the Dark Web and the criminal activity that it supports, they’ll also be adversely affecting all the people that use it for social benefit. The question remains whether internet freedom and privacy, for legitimate and sometimes Life-saving reasons are worth protecting while this vast criminal underworld operates alongside it, inside the dark web.
In 2015 the founder of a website called the Silk Road has sentenced to life in prison the billion-dollar black market site was once the premier online Bazaar for drugs and other contraband but it remained hidden from casual Internet users for years because of something called the dark web so what exactly is this dark side of the internet if you think of the web like an iceberg you’ve got the surface web up top that’s the Internet you see in use every day what’s emerged is the Deep Web an anonymous online space only accessible specific software and then there’s the dark web now that’s the part of the Deep Web that hides your identity and location the dark web is a series of encrypted networks that serve to anonymize people’s use on the Internet that’s Matt Swenson he’s a special agent with the Department of Homeland Security
and his focus is on cybercrime it’s relatively easy for anyone to access this encrypted network all it takes is downloading dark-net software the most common dark web networks that we encounter right now are tour I to P and free net tor is by far and away from the most popular tourist Anne’s for The Onion Routing project it was actually developed by the Navy for the government back in the mid-1990s but it was open-sourced in 2004 and that’s when it went public it’s now the dark web browser that the vast majority of people use tor allows a person to surf the internet anonymously so that their web traffic is basically encrypted and when they view the web the encrypted traffic won’t be attributed to them or their location.
To understand how Tor actually works you need to know what happens when you typically search the web think of your IP address as an online identity any device you use to connect to the Internet has one so anytime you visit a website you can be traced back to your exact location thanks to that IP address the tor browser looks like any other except there’s a whole lot happening that you don’t see instead of your connection requests bouncing from its origin right to its destination for sends your request on a much more roundabout route so let’s say you’re in New York and you want to search a site hosted in New Jersey instead of connecting you directly the tor browser takes you on at least three random detours called relays so your request could go from New York to South Africa from South Africa to Hong Kong and then from Hong Kong to New Jersey tor is comprised of people from all over the planet who are donating their computers to the network it has more than 7,000 relays to choose from bouncing your request around to random computers all over the world makes it much harder for people to find you software firm Hyperion Gray put together this map showing all 6608 dark web sites crawled during January 2018 each screenshot is a site and the content ranges from the nefarious to the noble for some users like journalists or whistle-blowers the dark web is just about identity protection whereindividuals can share anonymous tips with the press on secure drop sites but more often than not it’s tied to the world of cybercrime special agents like Swenson are looking for the kinds of
users who want this full cloak of anonymity to mask their illegal activity putting a stop to this kind of crime has been described as a never-ending game of whack-a-mole for law enforcement but even with the odds seemingly stacked against them the anonymity of the dark web can sometimes play to the advantage of the law no ID and no location means you never really know whom you’re talking to