The Devil’s Web

The internet has many usages. Talking with your friends, shopping, sharing your creations and many more. It’s deemed to be the most revolutionary invention humankind has ever come up with. While much of the internet is readily accessible, certain parts lie hidden beneath intricate layers of obfuscation. This dark side of the web provides a much greater level of anonymity and privacy and in text, we’ll explore why it exists, what it contains, and who it appeals to.

As the internet continued to grow in the late 1990’s it would come to transform society in 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 the earth. Around the millennium shift, you had around 350 million to choose from. Everything you do or say online can or will be tracked, recorded and traceable back to you. Some people were very concerned about their privacy, as one such group of those people were the United States Federal Government. A team of computer scientists were working for a branch named Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) began the development of a technology known as “onion routing”. ( Yasha Levine Jul 16, 2014) Onion routing would allow for anonymous bi-directional communication, where the source can’t be traced. This uses an overlay network which easily described is a network built on top of a network. In this case, the internet. Instead of using the unencrypted internet, also known as the surface web, your traffic goes through an overlay network. Now, there are many reasons and ways to use an overlay network, but a network using onion routing technology can be classified as “darknet”. Darknet is information that you can only access through certain addresses and authorized keywords. This does not mean its always suspicious content. For example, unlisted Youtube videos, private Facebook photos. You may only access these through a special link, or access to your account.

The NRL soon realized what they could do is majorly limited. “The US government can’t simply use an anonymity system for everybody and only use it for themselves only. Because then every time a connection came from it, people would realize “Oh it’s a CIA agent looking at my website!” because those are the only people using it. So, you need to have other people using the network, so they blend together.” Roger Dingledine, Co-Founder & Director of the TOR project, speaking at a conference in 2004. (Dingledine, 2004) What he’s saying that for the network to be truly anonymous it has to be available to everyone, and not only to US government. So, the NRL was forced to release the onion technology to the public. It became The Onion Router (TOR Project), may sound funny but it is a crucial part of tracking down illegal activities present on the internet. It’s the software you need to download in order to access this network of onion routers. Many people across the globe use TOR for a multitude of purposes, everyday browsing to criminal activities. (Routing, 1996) While it is the most popular TOR is but one of the numerous darknets, together they make up the Dark Web. They essentially create what the tiny part of the internet is, other that deep web, which is the part of the internet you can not find by searching on a search engine.

As you can notice, the deep web consists of much more content than the surface web. Banking details, Netflix, Facebook accounts, important cloud storage and many more examples rely on encryption. How much more is it from the surface web? We’ll by the very nature of it, we can never know. A paper from 2001 estimated that the deep web is the 500 times the surface web. That estimation is a decade old.

To summarize, surface web is the part of the web can be indexed by search engines. The deep web is the content that can’t be indexed. Dark web is the fraction of the deep web which requires specific software or authorization. But what can we find on the dark net? As mentioned, you can use TOR for almost anything. Instant messaging, browsing, and much more. But the dark web aspect comes in the form of hidden services. Hidden services are websites that can only accessed by tor and the address will always end in “.onion”. For example: http://zqktlwi4fecvo6ri.onion. If you try to access this server through google, it won’t do anything. But through TOR it will lead you to “The Hidden Wiki”. An encyclopedia providing a list to many hidden services. Anonymity attracts a vast variety of people, can be both used for licit and illicit purposes.

Mainstream media would make you believe that surface web is just a thin layer on top of an enormous criminal underground. But it couldn’t be further proven. They confuse it with the much larger layer “deep web”. A recent study shows that out of 2,723 actives .onion links 1,547 were illicit. That’s over half, this includes pornography, trading of firearms, drugs and more. But only 6% of TOR users use these services. The vast majority uses TOR in order to protect their identity.

There is no question that the dark web contains of the most horrific content on the entire web, it’s nowhere as near as extensive as some make it out to be. How do you prevent criminals from using these services while still allowing lawful citizens protecting their privacy? The answer is simple, you don’t. You can’t restrict something that is by its nature is unrestricted. That is anonymity, anyone can do or say anything they want to, so we have no choice. If the US government had the ability to take down TOR, they wouldn’t because they need it as much as anybody else. Remember they created this technology, releasing TOR to the public is what makes it anonymous.  It’s everyone, or no one, that’s the unfortunate truth.

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