It’s elusive, silent and has a fearsome aura surrounding it. Even though it encompasses more than 95% of the internet, most of us haven’t heard of it or even accessed it. So what exactly is it?
Metaphorically, if the ocean was the Internet, and you threw a net and dragged it along the surface, you’d fish out sites like Reddit, Twitter and Tumblr; this is the Surface Web. However the deeper, darker waters remain untouched. In essence this is the Dark Web or Deep Web as it is sometimes called. It’s a bit like Hydra, it’s there but you never knew (sorry, my inner Marvel geek is strong in this article). It encompasses the majority of the internet but cannot be accessed by your normal, off-the-shelf web browser (read: Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer). You’ll need the Tor browser to access the Dark Web.
Tor? What’s that? Well, the Tor browser look like any ordinary browser except that it has Dark Web accessing capabilities, that is, it can access sites that have the “.onion” domain that is associated with Dark Web sites. Amusingly though it’s often seen as the gates to the internet underworld, it wasn’t created by some caffeinated university drop out student, it was actually created by a US intelligence agency, and to this day still receives federal funding. Alas, the Tor browser is often now seen as being synonymous with the Dark Web.
However dark as it may seem, it does have it’s boons; it was created for the purpose of assisting people living in oppressive regimes, and journalists often use it to speak to well placed sources who don’t want to be traced. Earlier this month, Facebook announced that they would make it easier for Tor users to access the social media site by registering an onion url (https://facebookcorewwwi.onion/). The reason that Tor is popular for both good parties and bad is due to the near total security it offers when it comes to guarding your identity. The anonymity it provides puts most proxy sites and applications to shame, achieving quite stunning levels of anonymity by sending data across the internet though many various nodes or “volunteer PCs” across a fairly circuitous route. As a result, the website from which data was requested would believe it was requested by the last node in the chain. To make it even more secure, many layers of encryption are applied at each hop in the chain.
Unfortunately all this extra security and anonymity resulted in the Dark Web hosting many illicit websites, and Tor was soon infested with all manners of unscrupulous people, from political dissidents to cyber terrorists and other nefarious criminals. Amongst the illicit websites that popped up was Silk Road, a website that was structured as a black market of sorts for the Dark Web. Over the two years it was active it made over $30 million in revenue through the sale of drugs, however it was shut down by the FBI in 2013.
Cut off one head and two will take it’s place; a successor website, Silk Road 2.0, sprang to fill the vacuum created by the original Silk Road’s closure (Hail Hydra!). It too however was closed down and it’s creator was arrested last week due to a multicountry raid on Dark Web websites; Silk Road 2.0 was one amongst 400 sites that were seized.
Whether more raids like these can cleanse the Dark Web and give it a more radiant name is yet to be seen.