Last week, we talked about what the Dark Web is and the fact that it consists of untraceable, unsearchable websites that you need specific software, settings, approval and/or authority to access. Now, let’s focus on what is really happening on the dark web.
What Is It Used For?
Just like so many inventions before it, the original purpose of the Internet has long been forgotten. Initially, the World Wide Web was designed as a space where ideas could be exchanged freely without being polluted or restricted by governments or states: it was meant to be a censor-free zone. The American government launched the dark web as a tool for spies, enabling agents to exchange information in the safest way: anonymously. Ironically, the dark web’s primary function is that of which the Internet was originally designed for – anonymity. Unfortunately, as the name suggests, where there is light, darkness will follow and the dark web is being taken advantage of and used for fraudulent activity.
The dark web contains a large amount of illicit ecommerce and trade, hosted on “cryptomarkets”:
- Drugs of all kinds (from soft to hard)
- All sorts of weapons (knives, guns, stolen military gear, etc)
- Stolen data like credit card details or other vital personal information (a result of data breaches, scams, phishing campaigns etc)
- Stolen intellectual property, designs and counterfeits
- Software designed for malicious purpose (malware designed to target specific businesses or industries, etc)
Whilst criminal activities occur on the dark web, it’s nowhere near as secretive as often depicted. Cryptomarkets boringly work in a very similar way to any online store and ecommerce platform: users can browse different .onion websites to look for the best deal, they can use filters within those websites (prices, vendor rating, shipment availability…) and just as in real life, dark web sellers take care of their reputation, use ads and even have sales period – often aligned to the same time frame as non-fraudulent stores. Some websites also feature customer services, and just like traditional online retailers, dark web sellers are subject to review by their customers. Even with criminal activities, crooks are flagged and not welcomed into cryptomarkets.
As well as what is listed above, the dark web is also home to:
- Pornography (child porn and extreme pornography)
- Terrorism and extremists’ websites
- Spam and phishing campaigns
- Doxxing and investigation services
- Hit men services
- Hacking services
- Insider threat services
It’s important, however, to remember that, although these activities and types of websites are available on the dark web, sadly you can also easily access them on the surface web too, with no need for any type of encryption.
Even though the dark web is mainly used for criminal activities, there are also positive aspects to the dark web that are vital for a large number of users as they couldn’t exist outside the Tor network. The first, often forgotten use of the dark web, is to get around a national firewall (like China’s, for example) which prevents citizens from freely browse the Internet: the dark web is used as a tool for free-speech when closed and totalitarian societies restrict any sort of communication with the outside world and censor their people. The second is the capacity for whistle-blowers to anonymously upload classified information to media without being concerned about putting their security in jeopardy: the notorious WikiLeaks’ website is hosted on the dark web.
Why aren’t the authorities doing anything?
One of the most popular myths about the dark web is that it is impenetrable. But numerous success stories indicate that the police and various law enforcement agencies are active on the Tor network, and can take down websites and even convict criminals whenever they want to. A study conducted in 2015 indicated that, since 2011, more than 300 people have been arrested for their illegal use of the dark web.
Just like in real life, having undercover police in the dark web is a very efficient strategy which has led to a number of arrests for illicit activities and criminal behaviour.
Because the dark web is not all shady and fraudulent, this explain why it can’t be simply “shut down” by the police as some wrongly assume it should be.
Bitcoins and the dark web
Being untraceable and anonymous are features that go hand in hand: most of the dark web trade is done using Bitcoins, since the virtual currency is untraceable. Popular blogs, forums and websites discussing bitcoins on the surface web are often hot spots for chatting about .onion website content, since the two topics and communities are closely aligned.
Whilst the dark web does have some fantastic purposes, it is unfortunate that it is being taken advantage of by criminals around the world. No matter which part of the web you are surfing on, remember to always remain extremely cautious – and never reveal your personal information to anyone.