The Dark Web refers to the web pages that are not indexed by search engines like Google or Bing, but I think a more accurate description is the collection of sites that are anonymised (usually having a .onion domain). The best metaphor of the Dark Web is that the internet you know (indexed by search engines), is only the tip of the iceberg, whilst the Dark Web is the rest, some sites estimate it to be 500 times larger than the normal web, and some stating 5000 times larger.
The main way to access the Dark Web is through TOR (the onion router) browser (which you can download for free and legally here). This is a open source browser based on the Firefox browser, but automatically connects to the TOR Servers (which anonymises you and encrypts your data).
The TOR browser was made by the US Navy to increase their security, but to truly be anonymous, you need more users to mix. This is why the US Navy made the Tor Browser public, but in mid 2000 it was handed to the public, and is now run by Jacob Appelbaum.
The Tor browser works by using advanced Cryptography, your packets are encrypted and instead of going nearly directly to the site, it is sent across Tor nodes which peel away the layers until it’s sent to the designated site. Tor uses the mix network which was invented by David Chaum back in 1981, he developed this method of encryption since he foreseen privacy issues in the future (then).
Why? (Anonymise yourself)
In the information age companies are trying to gather as much data as they can, and that data is yours that they want. Companies will try and track you by your IP address (Internet Protocol) and by leaving cookies in your browser, once they do this they will be able to follow you across certain parts of the internet.
As an example if you were to search Google, or another search service (maybe Amazon), for “pregnancy test” then maybe baby related items, when you go to another site (or even though that one) you might see ads, or receive emails for baby products.
If you use Tor (which can be used to surf the normal web as well, not just the Dark Web), it make you anonymous stopping companies from tracking your search habits and where you have been, or what you have searched.
In some countries (for example China) the use of the internet has quite a few restrictions (having repressive regimes), so citizens in these counties use Tor to access content they otherwise wouldn’t be able to. Also in some countries, the government is believed to be corrupt, and citizens speak out (also known as whistleblowing). An example of this is in the middle east, specifically during the arab spring, it became a vital tool for dissidents especially in places like Syria, where oppositional activists used it.
But governments do not have to have repressive regimes or be used by oppositional activists, for it to be popular with citizens to be used for the purpose to stop the government spying. Famous whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that governments across the globe, like the NSA, CIA and GCHQ, were analysing all of our private data.
The NSA say it “needs all this data to help prevent another terrorist attack like 9/11. In order to find the needle in the haystack, they argue, they need access to the whole haystack”.
The way that they gain access to our data, or at least the GCHQ as an example, is that fiber optic cables run across the ocean and appear on the sore. But fiber optic cables need their signal boosted every so often for it to be able to travel to its destination, and this is where the flaw lies. Once the signal is boosted it can also be tapped, this is where the information which is being boosted is duplicated and sent to the government (GCHQ in this case).
Edward Snowden is a quite well known name by now, and he got famous (or infamous) by whistleblowing on governments spying on their citizens, Edward Snowden used a quite well known site for whistleblowing named Wikileaks. Wikileaks was co-created by Julian Assange in 2006 (who has been under protection by the Ecuadorian Embassy based in London since 2012).
One of the well known leaks (apart from Edward Snowden) was by Chelsea Manning, she leaked video footage from an Apache helicopter which killed 2 journalist in Iraq.
Torrents (The Pirate Bay)
The Dark Web is also used to find links to magnets for a manner of multimedia, the most popular site to find these magnets (to download the torrent from a client such as utorrent) is The Pirate Bay. The Pirate Bay is most popularly used to download videos, such as the Game of Thrones series, although this being very illegal, and the site being took down multiple times (on the normal web and dark web), it has still been used by millions of users to download videos.
Merchandise (The Silk Road)
Ever since the introduction of a digital currency which is impossible to trace (Bitcoins), there has been many transactions for illegal goods on the dark web, the most popular site being The Silk Road. This site can be used to buy a wide array of illegal goods, such as a variety of drugs and weapons.
The Silk Road was created by someone who goes by the name of Dread Pirate Roberts, it was believed to be Ross William Ulbricht who was convicted after an elaborate plot (which you can read here) to find the infamous Dread Pirate Roberts on October of 2013. But alas The Silk Road was online and fully functional two months later and renamed The Silk Road 2.0.
As explained before Bitcoin is a digital currency which is impossible to trace, which its algorithms can be ran on any machine for free, it is impossible to trace since transactions are not done via a bank, and is achieved though the Blockchain. The Blockchain is the algorithmic technology used by Bitcoins, it is a list of rules to ensure that all transactions are valid, and is ran on all the machines using the Bitcoin algorithm.
As I’ve explained above The Dark Web is used to illegally download videos, and purchase drugs as well as weapons, but it’s used for many more illegal activities than that.
It has an array of sites which sell bank card information for a small fraction of a bitcoin, which are sent via “dumps”, these dumps contain the information of the amount of the bank card information purchased.
You can hire a variety of people to do a host of illegal activities, such as hacking, going from a Facebook account, to a DDoS attack on a large company, or you can even hire a hitman to kill anyone you like (which will be more expensive for more popular people, because of the risk).
A variety of illegal adult material is also uploaded and sold on The Dark Web, going from personal information about girls with revealing images of them, hidden cameras, videos of nonconsensual inercorse, and even involving people under the legal age.
There’s also a wide variety of other illegal activities that will be going on the Dark Web, but above are the most known and done.
Tor can also be used as a simple VPN (virtual private network) to access sites that might just be blocked by your ISP (internet service provider), since it might contain adult content.
Good or Bad
I have mentioned a few good aspects, or at least valid reasons to use The Dark Web, but there is quite a lot of illegal activity talking place as well on The Dark Web, but I like Jacob Applebaum’s statement on the Horizon episode “Inside the Dark Web” (which you can read the script of here, which I would highly recommend):
“There is often asserted certain narratives about anonymity and, of course, one of the narratives is that anonymity creates crime so you hear about things like the Silk Road and you hear, ‘Oh, it’s terrible, someone can do something illegal on the internet.’ Well, welcome to the internet. It is a reflection of human society where there is sometimes illegal behaviour” – Jacob Applebaum
Simply, it is neither good nor bad, it is how people use it, like how they behave in real life.
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