The Internet’s Underbelly

The Dark Web is rife with shady dealings, anonymous communications, and illicit material. Enter it at your peril.

We seem to be hearing more and more about the Dark Web. But how many of us know what it actually is?

To begin with, the Internet is actually comprised of several layers. The ‘clear net’ is the one we use every day, which includes websites and data you can access normally through a search query or visiting websites by using typical web browsers or mobile applications.

Below this is the ‘deep web’ which includes data that’s not accessible to all, like information stored on corporate networks or intranets that require a username and password to access. At this level you can use the regular web browsers as interfaces to log in, but you must have the correct credentials to get past any encryption technology.

Further down is the Dark Web. It’s made up of sites and networks that can only be accessed through special software, the most popular of which is a browser called TOR (The Onion Router). It’s quite simple to find and download the software by just Googling it. TOR browsers are built using the Firefox (Mozilla) browser code and look like the ‘clear net’ browsers. Other access tools include I2P (the Invisible Internet Project) and FreeNet.

The Dark Web was created by a couple of computer scientists at a US naval research facility in 1990s. It became accessible to the public when they decided to release the code for TOR online. It’s ironic that a governmental organization was responsible for creating a digital space that’s become home to anarchic activities and the buying and selling of illicit material, guns and drugs.

Most products and services on the Dark Web can be bought using bitcoin or other crypto-currencies, whereby the buyer and seller remain anonymous. Unfortunately, this means the Dark Web is truly a safe-haven for decidedly dodgy activities.

Marketplaces have even emerged, with listings detailing the different types of products and services and the names of the sellers, with star ratings for these sellers and reviews from buyers. Perversely, even criminals appear to need a rating system to better trust each other.

Some Dark Web users advertise services such as ‘200 euro for hacking someone’s email’ or ‘500 euro to ruin someone’s life by accusing him/her of child pornography or terrorism or any other malicious accusation.’ Hacking tools are also on sale including Key-loggers, bots for denial-of-service-attacks, bitcoin-stealers and more. Still, these could be considered the less harmful items on sale.

Much more serious items like drugs, guns, and fake passports are also available which reveals how seriously dangerous the Dark Web actually is. It also means that it’s being used simultaneously by terrorists and criminals to communicate and by the governments and law-enforcement authorities that monitor them.

But are there any legal or potentially useful aspects of the Dark Web? Apparently it’s being used by journalists and bloggers in countries that suppress freedom of expression. It’s also used by whistleblowers and information-leakers, and by users who wish to remain anonymous in seeking professional help regarding social, cultural, or psychological topics on message boards.

Clearly, the Dark Web is a dangerous place, and should be avoided by most of us. Experts warn not to attempt to access it unless it’s necessary in a professional legal or law-enforcement capacity, and to only do so with the guidance of a cyber-security specialist, especially as your actions could be tracked by governments and criminals alike.