The Dark Side of the Web


As the internet continued to grow in the mid-to-late
1990s it would come to transform society on a global scale. The biggest change came in
the form of instant communication. As long as you had an internet connection you could
talk to anyone on earth, assuming, of course, they were also connected to the internet.
And around the millennium-shift you had over 350 million connected people to choose from.
The thing is, the internet was not designed with things like anonymity and privacy in
mind so everything you do and say online can and, in many cases, will be tracked, recorded,
and traceable back to you. Some people are very concerned about their privacy and in
the mid 1990s one such group of people was the United States federal government. A team
of computer scientists and mathematicians working for a branch of the US Navy known
as the Naval Research Laboratory, abbreviated as NRL, began development of a new technology known as
onion routing. Onion routing would allow for anonymous bi-directional communication where the source and
destination cannot be determined by a mid-point. This is accomplish by creating something known
as an overlay network. An overlay network is simply a network that is built on top of
another network, in this case the internet. So instead of using the normal unencrypted
internet, also known as the surface web, your traffic goes trough an overlay network. Now,
there are many different types of overlay networks but a network using onion routing
technology would be classified as a darknet. A darknet can only be accessed via specific
software and/or authorization. In case that was hard to follow, all you you need to know
is that people working for the US government created a system which would allow for anonymous
communication over the internet. However, the people over at NRL
soon realized a major limitation. ROGER DINGLEDINE:
…the United States government can’t simply run an anonymity system for everybody and
then use it themselves only because then every time a connection came from it people would
say “Oh, it’s another CIA agent looking at my website!” if those are the only people
using the network. So you need to have other people using the network
so that they blend together. So what he’s saying is that for the network
to be truly anonymous it has to be available to everyone and not just the US government.
So the NRL was forced to release their onion routing technology to the public. The technology
was eventually released under an open source license and became TOR. TOR stands for The
Onion Router and is the software you need to download to be able to access this network
of onion routers. Today, millions of people across the globe use TOR for a multitude of
purposes. Everything from innocent daily browsing to criminal activities. And while it is the
most popular, TOR is but one among numerous darknets. Together they all make up the dark
web. Subsequently, the dark web forms a small part of the deep web. The deep web is everything
on the web that can not be indexed by search engines. It’s nothing like the dark web as
most of us use the deep web all the time. If you visit this link, you will find an unlisted
YouTube video on my channel. This can be classified as deep web content. I know it’s a bit anticlimactic
but, yeah, this video exist on the deep web simply because no search engine can find it.
Other examples of deep web content includes online banking, Netflix, web mail, dynamic
pages, databases, and everything that’s password- or paywall-protected. As you can imagine, the deep
web has a lot more content than the surface web. How much more? Well, we don’t know because by its very nature it’s near-impossible to determine. A paper from 2001 estimated
that the deep web is 500 times the size of the surface web but, then again, that estimation
is over a decade old. All we can say for certain is that deep web content accounts for the
vast majority of the content on the world wide web. So, to summarize. The surface web is content
that can be indexed by search engines. The deep web is content that can not be indexed by search engines. And the dark web is a fraction of the deep web consisting of numerous darknets which
require specific software and/or authorization to access Okay, we know what’s on the surface web and
we know what’s on the deep web. But what do we find on the dark web?
More specifically, the darknet known as TOR. As mentioned, you can use TOR for almost anything.
Browsing the web, checking your email, posting on forums, instant messaging, watching YouTube
videos, you name it. But the dark web aspect comes in the form of hidden services. A hidden
service is essentially a website that can only be accessed via TOR and the address for
a hidden service will always end in .onion. So if I attempt to access this hidden service
using Google Chrome, nothing happens. It will only connect using specialized software such
as the TOR browser. This is the dark web. Well, one site on the dark web. This specific
site is known as The Hidden Wiki and attempts to list as many publicly known hidden services
as possible. Facebook operates a hidden service. The search engine DuckDuckGo is another. But
this is about as far as I will go because there is definitely a darker side to the dark
web. Anonymity attracts a vast variety of people and can be used for both licit and
illicit purposes. In October of 2013, the FBI took down the
online drug marketplace known as Silk Road. The website had been in operation since the
beginning of 2011 with a total revenue estimated at $1.2 billion. News about the Silk Road
website brought the dark web out of the dark and right into public eye. This graph shows
daily traffic over the TOR network before Silk Road was mentioned in mainstream media.
This is after. Only a few months after Silk Road had been taken down ex-administrators
of the site launched Silk Road 2.0. However, in late 2014, the FBI arrested the admins
and the second marketplace was taken down as well. A few hours after that, Silk Road 3.0
was launched and the seemingly endless spiral continues. And keep in mind that Silk Road
was just one website among many. You can find numerous others just like it, selling
every illegal drug you can imagine and more. The FBI also claimed that the owner of the
Silk Road website had attempted to have six people killed by using deep web murder-for-hire services.
While the assassinations themselves are unlikely to have occurred, these websites can definitely
be found on the dark web. The problem is a lack of evidence. Anyone can set up a darknet
website claiming anything for any reason. Especially if there’s money involved. One
such website was recently hacked and several emails by the admins would suggest the website
is indeed a scam set up to make money. One message reads: “We receive orders to kill
people from all over the world, however our site is fake and we don’t have any hitmen.
We forward the orders to police departments where the targets are located.”
And in yet another email they bluntly state: “…this website is to scam
criminals of their money.” Then again, this supposed hack could’ve been faked
as well so there’s no way to be absolutely certain. Unfortunately, the dark web has some much
more depraved and gruesome extremes. Many websites contain various forms of sexualized
torture and killing of animals and child pornography sites are a huge problem on the dark web.
A site known as Lolita City which has now been taken down contained over 100 GB of photos
and videos and had around 15,000 members. Another website known as Playpen was taken
down by the FBI in 2015 which may have been the largest child pornography site on the
entire dark web with over 200,000 members. There’s somewhat of an urban legend known
as red rooms. A red room is a livestream of a person being tortured and/or murdered for
the entertainment of others. Supposedly, the viewers may event interact by typing down
instructions. Again there’s no evidence of this ever taking place but the myth persists.
Not too long ago, a .onion link appeared on various forums which take you to a page
claiming that a red room-style livestream would shortly begin. The victims where supposedly
captured ISIS terrorists and the soon-to-be-killers promised hours of torture. Though the first
hour would be family friendly. You know, for all the kids staying up late to watch a person
being brutally murdered live on the dark web. After much morbid anticipation, the livestream went
live and viewers where greeted by a plate of bacon. Mainstream media would have you believe that
the surface web is just a thin layer on top of an enormous criminal underground but it
couldn’t be further from the truth. And it’s no wonder as they frequently confuse the dark
web with the much, much larger deep web. A recent study from early 2016 found that, out
of 2,723 active .onion websites on the TOR network 1,547 contained illicit content. So
that’s over half. This includes pornographic material, drugs, money laundering, cyberterrorism,
contract killers, trading of firearms and weapons, etc. But only 3-6% of all TOR users
actually use these hidden services. So only 3-6% use the dark web. The vast majority
exclusively use TOR to protect their privacy and to browse the surface web anonymously and have
never visited a .onion website. So while there’s no question that the dark web contain
some of the most horrific content on the entire web, it’s nowhere near as extensive
as some make it out to be. Okay here’s a question then… How do you prevent criminals from using these services while still alowing lawful citizens to protect their privacy? The answer is simple, you don’t. You can’t restrict something that is, by it’s
very nature, meant to be unrestrictive. That’s the problem with anonymity. Anyone can
do or say anything so we have no choice but to take the good with the bad. Even if law enforcement
agencies had the ability to shut the entire network down completely, they wouldn’t. Because the
US government need TOR as much as anybody else. Remember, they
created this technology. And they did not create this technology
just so they could release it to the public for free. It was only released to the public
as public usage is an essential part of what makes TOR anonymous.
It takes us right back to this: ROGER DINGLEDINE:
…the United States government can’t simply run an anonymity system for everybody and
then use it themselves only because then every time a connection came from it people would
say “Oh, it’s another CIA agent…” Who do you think funds the TOR project? In
2007, 100% of the TOR project’s funding came from the US government. In 2008, 86%. In 2009, 90%.
In 2010, 94%. In 2011, 78%. In 2012, 81%. In 2013, 94%. A government agent working
undercover is as much in need of online anonymity as a terrorist,
pedophile, or whistleblower. It’s everyone or no one.
That’s the unfortunate truth.

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