But research has shown that the dark web is perhaps not as dark as many of us imagine. Yes, one can certainly go to this place and acquire a handful of illegal substances, and yes, if a person so chooses they can scour the dark web and find images that most of the world would find repellent, but let’s just say you won’t find hitmen for hire all over the dark web nor as much video violence than we might have thought.
The question is, who on Earth came up with the idea of the dark web?
I’ve been through this in other shows so we’ll make it short, and we are talking about what the dark web actually is.
You see, the internet as most of us know it, the bit you are using right now, is only a small part of the web. Sources don’t agree on how much, but it’s said the part of the web that we can access using ordinary browsers is only about 10 percent of the entire thing. You can also find sources that say it’s four percent or even one percent.
Still, it’s thought there are about 1.8billion active websites on the net, although, again, you can find sources that give a different number – much higher sometimes. This doesn’t of course mean that the rest of the web is the dark web and full of dark marketplaces. What it means is that the rest of the web, which we call the deep web, is used by private companies, governments, etc. It is invisible to you.
Well, it is if you can’t hack into it or are not actively, legally, using it. Think about your email, online banking, company servers, these aren’t exactly searchable on the web. So of course the deep web is way bigger than the navigable web.
Ok, you understand that. So, what about the dark web?
Well, this is a place within the deep web that is also hidden but can be accessed using something called the Tor browser. You can use this browser along with a VPN(a virtual private network) to access the dark web. You might do this if you are an activist and want anonymity, such as people that criticize governments whose modus operandi shows no mercy for political dissidents.
But you might also enter the dark web so you can access what is sometimes called “Darksites.” This is where you might find someone selling serotonin-enhancing pills by the bagful or ounces of white powder. Also, it’s a place where you might find hackers for hire or someone to chat with you about your strange predilection for drinking your own blood by the wine glass.
As we said, the dark web might not be as demonic as movies or some politicians depict, but you can read stories in the British press about how the young generation now buy their illicit substances there more than in the street these days. Also, how some people were arrested by the FBI for distributing images that 99.9 percent of viewers would find disturbing.
Ok, you get the picture, why would anyone in their right mind have created it in the first place?
Well, to answer that we must look to the U.S.military. Let’s remember that the Internet itself was a by-product of military technologies, as was much of the technology we take for granted today.
It was in the mid-1990s that the U.S. wanted their intelligence operatives to have a place, a virtual place, where they could communicate with total anonymity. They started working on something called TOR, an acronym that stands for The Onion Router.
But why give this to the people? Wasn’t that just madness?
According to the BBC, the military did this because if more people were using it then it would be harder to spot the activity of operatives among all the other noise. Foreign Policy dives even deeper into the history of the dark web, and here we will summarize.
In 1969 a student at the University of California sent a message between computers connected by ARPANET. This was the beginning of the web as we know it, and it was developed by the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. In the next few years, more computers started connecting with each other on secret networks, and these were sometimes called “darknets.”
This might not sound like much to you, but it was a breakthrough in secret encrypted communications. Then we see the Internet explode in the ensuing decades, only part of this Internet is a haven for illegal activity. In the 1990s we saw a lot of illegal filesharing, and we are told this set off a tsunami of darknet activity. The people sharing the files were using datahavens that couldn’t be shut down by the authorities.
The dark web in a Nutshell
So even before the dark web as we know it today, there was still a hidden part of the Internet. Then in March 2000, we saw the release of something called Freenet. This was a place you could access with anonymity and get your hands on files, legal or illegal. “Freenet is near-perfect anarchy,” the Irish creator proudly told the New York Times. You see, it wasn’t all about sharing and distributing dodgy content, but some people felt that there should be a place on the Internet free from censorship and the prying eyes of the government.
What we are trying to say is that long before Tor, people were trying to create room on the internet where people could operate without being surveilled. Then in 2002, we got Tor to protect those American operatives, but it only took a few years for sites accessible through Tor to become filled with copyrighted material from Hollywood movies to versions of Microsoft Office. It became a trading ground for illicit material, and people loved it because they could go there with the assurance that they wouldn’t get arrested.
The era of Bitcoin!
Imagine buying stolen goods on the streets but having the superpower to become invisible! Things heated up in 2009 when a guy that called himself Satoshi Nakamoto mined the first “Bitcoin”, a virtual currency that was untraceable. Now you can launder cash, spend your Bitcoin, inside the darknet. It was a marriage made in heaven.
In 2011 we saw the first modern darknet marketplace in the Silk Road, named after ancient trading routes in Asia. There you could find an array of legal and illegal goods and services, but it only lasted short of two years and the creator was eventually sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Traffic on the dark web!
But as Wired pointed out in 2015, it’s not as if everyone using Tor is accessing the dark web. In fact, the number is quite small, and though you can find illegal things there, you can also find them on the regular web. Most people sharing illegal images or videos use the normal web, not the dark web.
According to Wired, whose writer researched the dark web for a number of years, yes you can find depravity there, but it’s also full of doctors giving advice they might not give out in the open. It’s a place where people can talk and not worry about their careers, where others can talk about a disease they have that they dare not talk about out in the open, and as we said, it’s used by a lot of people who need to discuss issues in a country that would likely lock them up for discussing those issues.
Governments role to anonymize Tor users
This includes some people inside the USA who would rather not have their words watched. Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden famously said that the government was working hard to anonymize Tor users, but it wasn’t always successful.
We also know that the FBI has had some success finding criminal activity there, but these usually sting operations, not just pinpointing a person after a share or sale. We say this because some of you might be asking why the government hasn’t gone to greater lengths to close this all down.
There are many reasons, but one is that it is still useful in terms of the greater good. Two is that the governments of the world have shown that when things get murky in the dark web then authorities will swoop. It is not impenetrable; you might have some anonymity, but you are not a ghost, you are merely wearing a sheet over your head.
The USA funding to the dark web!
The U.S. government itself supports the dark web and funds it, because as we said, it is useful. At the same time, it’s not easy to takedown a decentralized network. There isn’t an off switch. This network is spread across the globe and protected by strong cryptography. It’s almost like ether, or a living, breathing entity whose plexus of veins are threaded throughout the world.
You might also ask yourself what would happen if somehow Tor wasn’t available if somehow part of the dark web was blacked out?
Would the darkness all disappear? No, it wouldn’t, it would appear somewhere else. The government has shut down darknet sites, and rightly so, but more will just pop up. The government could try and get rid of the Tor browser, but as we said, it has no reason for doing this.
China’s Succession on blocking the Tor browser!
China actually has been successful in blocking the Tor browser, but other governments have failed. This is what Motherboard says about blocking the browser, “Governments can block access to VPN services by blocking access from IP addresses linked to VPN providers.
Blocking Tor is more complex, and requires identifying and blocking the destination nodes traffic travel through rather than the URL or IP address.” Most other governments that allow, more or less, free speech, agree that of the 2.5 million Tor users very few of them are doing nefarious things on the dark web.
Believe it or not, sellers in the dark we agreed in 2018 to stop selling the powerful and deadly opioid Fentanyl. Many operators agreed that it was just too dangerous, and perhaps they also knew that it would no doubt bring unwanted attention to their market places.
In conclusion, the dark web like any street in any town does contain some rather unethical people, but for the most part, what you see there are just innocent folks protecting their identity. It would be crazy for any government to try and close the entire park just because some guys sell their substances there at night right at the back corner, but if things get too bad you can be assured someone will go after them.
Meanwhile, the rest of the people that use this park for late-night anonymous chats can do so without harassment. However the Dark Web started, it’s here to stay- which means that you better have some serious protection against anyone who’s looking to exploit it for nefarious purposes.