It’s tricky to get onto the dark web, I’ll give it that much.
Downloading a VPN and heading over to my local coffee shop, I connect to the wifi and attempt to download TOR only to find the website blocked from their wifi.
So I try again, this time I go to the library, but what do I find? blocked once again.
At this point, the only thing that will work is if I try to download it at home, so that’s what I do.
I was hoping the dark web was exciting like I was lead to believe.
It wasn’t, and I was vastly disappointed.
The hidden wiki is where I started to research, It was the best place to begin as it contains a list of links to onion sites varying from drugs and weapons markets to pornography and email services. I find a link to a website that sells drugs click on it hoping to find what I was looking for.
It didn’t even work.
This is a common occurrence I soon found out.
Most of the links didn’t work, the ones that did were shocking in quality, the grammar was awful and I couldn’t find a decently taken photo of the “goods” they were looking to sell.
These are the mastermind criminals that supposedly can’t be caught?
I did find a nice site that sells German E-books, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time.
What is the Dark Web?
There is a common misconception that the deep web and the dark web are the same things, this is in fact false.
The deep web is the portion of the internet that is not indexed and can’t be found by normal search engines like Google, it isn’t this dark sinister thing to be scared of, most of it is quite normal and very legal.
Do you own a Netflix account? Have you ever added anything to your Amazon cart? If yes, congratulations, you’ve visited the deep web.
The dark web is something else entirely, it is a subset of the deep web, that’s where the similarities end. It can only be accessed using specialised software, the most popular being The Onion Router commonly known as TOR.
TOR was in fact created by the US Navy.
It was developed in the late 1990’s by computer scientists Paul Syverson, Michael G Reed, and David Goldschlag in the United States Naval research laboratory.
Here they created a system that allowed US Navy to stay anonymous on the internet while getting rid of possible surveillance or location tracking while on the internet. It allowed them to send messages and plans privately, they named this new system TOR because of the “onion routing” process that it goes through while running.
Onion Routing is a complicated process.
During normal browsing on the surface web, information travels through the internet in packets. However, when a TOR user visits a website, their packets do not simply travel to that server. Instead, TOR creates a path through randomly assigned nodes which are devices on a larger network, in this case, other laptops, that the packet will follow before reaching the server.
The other important aspect of onion routing is how the packets are constructed. Normally, a packet will include the sender’s address and the destination, much like a letter. When using TOR, the packet is wrapped in successive layers of packets and can be compared to a nesting doll. You know the cute little dolls that people put on their fireplace? like them.
This process allows TOR users to remain anonymous while using the browser although it is not 100% effective against hackers, which is why a VPN is often needed when browsing TOR.
It was launched on the 20th of September 2002 and was released to public domain one year later where anyone could access it.
There is a good reason for why they did this. It was part of the Navy’s strategy for secrecy, they knew the more people using the system, the harder it would be to separate the government’s own messages from the general noise.
Dark Web is bad.
Over the years the dark web has gained a reputation for being a place that facilitates criminal activity, which is true, the dark web is used for illegal purposes.
In the first study of it’s kind, researchers from King’s College London found that 57% of sites designed by TOR facilitate criminal activity such as the selling of drugs, illicit finance, and extreme pornography.
As Jamie Bartlett says in his book The Dark Net “Ultimately, the darknet is nothing more than a mirror of society. Distorted, magnified, and mutated by the strange and unnatural conditions of life online—but still recognizably us.”
One of the first known legitimate dark markets available on the dark web was Silk Road which was created by Ross Ulbricht. It was a digital marketplace that connected vendors of illegal drugs with potential buyers. Drugs like weed, MDMA and even cocaine could be bought using a “check and balance” system to make sure that people follow through with the transactions.
Some markets use a system of “escrow,” where bitcoins which is the currency used on the dark web, are held by a third party until the transaction is complete.
Other users have “multisig,” which means two or more people have to sign off on the transaction with a cryptographic key to verify that it’s been completed. There is also a type called “finalize early” or FE, but this is usually only done when the customer trusts the vendor and knows that they won’t get ripped off.
After the process is complete, the drugs are then stealth shipped by vacuum sealing the package in order to make detection more difficult. It doesn’t completely eliminate the chances of detection however it does significantly lower it.
Silk Roads was shut down by the FBI in 2013, however before closure Ulbricht had actually earned a fortune of $28.5 million (26.6 million euro). Although the original has been out of action since 2013, copies of the website have been made with Silk Road 2.0 and Silk Road 3.1 is made. Silk Road 2.0 was shut down but the newer more recent Silk Road 3.1 is still operating online to this day.
Drugs are not the only thing that can be bought on the dark web, you can buy weapons, porn and even hacking services are readily available on the dark web. The supposed elusive hitmen sites are rumored to be popular on the dark web. I’m doubtful that’s actually true, none of the websites I visited worked and the ones that do work are never up for long and the CIA can account for that.
Dark web is good
Although not all of the dark web is doom and gloom, People are actually using it for good as well as evil, I know, shock horror, right?
Journalists are known to frequent the dark web where they contact whistleblowers to exchange information using a number of anonymous email and messaging services. An example of one such website is called SecureDrop, where whistleblowers can securely send sensitive documents to designated recipients without the fear of being censored or retribution.
Edward Snowden, a former contractor for the CIA used TOR to pass unauthorised information to pass unauthorised information on to the media which detailed the scale of internet and phone surveillance undertaken by the American intelligence agencies, without TOR access, that information might not have become public.
Some of the drug and weapons sites like the ones that I mentioned earlier aren’t as bad as they seem. There is an increasing number of sting operations taking place on the dark web as a way to catch criminals on there.
In 2013 1000 alleged pedophiles were identified by Netherlands charity Terre des Hommes thanks to “sweetie” their sophisticated CGI lure that looked and acted like a 10-year-old Filipina girl.
Also in America, in a first sting operation of its kind involving the Drug enforcement administration (DEA), 35 dark web traders were arrested across the country after officials posed as vendors leading the vendors to be caught out. They seized over $23.5 million in narcotic drugs, $3.6 million in gold and cash and more than 100 weapons with a grenade launcher among them.
See? the dark web isn’t starting to sound too bad now, is it? If it wasn’t for the dark web, these criminals would have never been caught.
The Normal side of the Dark Web
I’ve always known that the dark web has an exciting side, but I was actually surprised to find out that it could be very similar to the surface web that we use every day. Normal blogs are surprisingly very common.
I encounter a blog about steam tunnels in Virginia, which is very random but a normal topic.
There is also a blog piece the centered on the American constitution, the author spoke in old English and I couldn’t understand what he was trying to get across though there was nothing illegal or scary to be found.
The content found on the dark web is unlike an onion, despite TOR’s name.
There are many layers to an onion, which you have to peel back reach the core.
With the dark web, what you see is what you get. There are no layers no peel back and examine because everything is there to see with your own eyes.
You want to buy drugs? the dark web has sites for it.
Weapons? the dark web also sells them.
There is no sinister underlying plot to take over the internet that people are led to believe. It’s just a few people trying to make money selling to other criminals anonymously.
Should you be afraid of the dark web?
No, you shouldn’t be.
Unless you’re a criminal that is.