When most of us think of the internet, we imagine day-to-day activities like watching a video, checking the news or booking a vacation online. However, under the surface lies a shadowy corner of the web where terrorists, criminals, and whistleblowers lurk.
The Deep Web has been heralded by many as the last bastion of internet privacy in an increasingly intrusive age, while others consider it one of the evilest places on the internet.
INSIDE THE DEEP WEB
The Deep Web refers to any website that cannot be readily accessed through any conventional search engine such as Google or Yahoo! Search The reason for this is because the content has not been indexed by the search engine in question.
In layman’s terms, the Deep Web is just another ‘level’ of the internet. Residing below the “surface,” it is the deepest level of the internet.
Web Indexing Explained
Indexing is best explained through contemporary search engine Google and its robust, high-performance system of indexing. Google’s indexing methods rely largely on a process referred to as “crawling,” which is akin to a virtual spider crawling amongst the multitude of pages on a website that is readily accessed by clicked links.
A cursory scan is implemented, thus rendering the pages’ content to a format that can be sent to Google’s massive index servers, at which point the data is contextually organized and entered into a collective of algorithms that comprise the search engine.
If a website is not indexec by a search engine, it can only be accessed by navigating directly to the URL via a link or typing in the exact web address in to a web browser.
WHO BENEFITS FROM THE DEEP WEB?
There is a wide range of people that benefit from the Deep Web’s capability to allow anonymous use and communication. Listed below are individuals or groups who have benefitted from the Deep Web in the past and whom also continue to benefit from its existence today.
- Journalists and Whistleblowers
- Political Protesters, and Anti-Censorship Advocacy Groups
- Residents of Oppressive Political Regimes
Journalists and Whistleblowers
Former military, government, and corporate employees are coming together en masse to report widespread (and largely unknown) corruption within their respective fields. Working in conjunction with investigative reporters, these individuals can communicate top-secret and classified information to the media to expose corruption under a modicum of protection.
Political Protesters, and Anti-Censorship Advocacy Groups
Anonymity is of paramount importance for these figures, who utilize the Dark Web as an application to conduct communication measures safely and privately.
Residents of Oppressive Political Regimes
Citizens living in countries ruled by oppressive regimes often do not have ready access to news, information, and critically important data pertaining to the health and sustainability of society as a collective whole. The Deep Web offers members of society living under oppressive political regimes a relatively safe way to garner crucial information for their own needs, in addition to exporting it out of the country.
WHAT’S ON THE DEEP WEB?
The hidden world of the Deep Web contains a plethora of data, information, and a wealth of possibilities, including but not limited to the following:
- The internal sites of major companies, associations, and trade organizations
- The school, college, and university intranet systems
- Access to online databases
- Password-protected websites with members-only access
- Paywall enshrouded pages
- Timed access pages such as those found on online test-taking sites
- Circumventing paywalls for blocked digital content
- An individual’s personal account for social media, email, banking, and more
WHY DO WEBSITES USE THE DEEP WEB?
What the above all have in common is that their information is not intended for public consumption. The owners of the content may go to great lengths to render the information inaccessible by ensuring it doesn’t show up in internet browser search results.
It is worth noting that the Deep Web is not always illegal and there are plenty of activities taking place that are entirely within the context of the law. Activities such as those listed below are commonplace on the Deep Web, with a membership often comprised of in-the-know internet users well-versed in accessing the Deep Web.
- Social Media, Blogging, Text and Voice Chat
- International tournament-style games such as Chess and Backgammon
- Survivalist-type, end-of-world groups
- Book clubs, fan clubs, video game clubs
- Hidden Answers – a popular Deep Web version of Yahoo Answers
- Public records and certificates, library system indexes
- Communicating via encrypted use to ensure privacy and protection
- Karaoke and Singing Competitions
- Conspiracy theorist groups and preferred “home” bases
- Computer and technology skills classes and courses
INSIDE THE DARK WEB
Known throughout the world as the Dark Net, the Dark Internet, or most commonly, the Dark Web, this corner of the internet lies within the deepest points of the internet abyss.
Accessing the Dark Web requires a certain degree of savvy internet prowess, with a required list of steps that must be taken to not only enter this enshrouded world while maintaining the utmost privacy.
How to Access The Dark Web
In an effort to maintain privacy, Dark World visitors commonly utilize specialized anonymity software such as Tor to mask their identity. Traditionally, when an internet user visits any site that exists on the world wide web, they are tracked via their Internet Protocol (IP) address.
In stark contrast, surfing the Dark Web is an entirely different matter altogether, with masking software used to render a personal computer anonymous while masking identity, location, IP address, and more.
Who Uses The Dark Web?
The Dark Web has historically been a realm that has been accessed by a small minority of internet users. Out of the billions of internet users accessing the internet on an everyday basis, Dark Web use remains around3 percent.
While usage of the Dark Web may seemingly be minuscule, the network’s individuals, businesses, and various trafficking organizations have rendered it a highly powerful force that has resulted in countless internet users desperately wanting to access the Dark Web and to ultimately become a part of its anonymous user base.
What is Available on The Dark Web?
The Dark Web remains incredibly attractive to internet users for a wide range of reasons. The enshrouded nature and complex methodology required to access this world have effectively made it a secret world, full of salacious activity, black markets, sights, and perks limited to a select few.
Listed below is a sampling of the many things to be found using Dark Web links:
Credit card numbers
Stolen credit card numbers are a big business on the Dark Web. Typically sold in bulk lots of a hundred or more, credit card numbers can be had at low prices and ready for the most illicit of uses.
Popular Dark Website “Fake Documents” specializes in selling top-notch replica documents from every nation in the world. A United States passport can be had for as little as 1,000dollars.
Every strain, potency, and type of Marijuana can be found on the Dark Web. Meanwhile, prices are often lower than those typically found in the “regular” market.
Traditional internet browsers such as Google can amass up to a million daily hits for “how to buy marijuana on the Deep Web,” indicating a mammoth interest in entering the hidden world.
On the Dark Web, it is very easy to procure stolen/hacked accounts to popular websites and services such as Netflix, Spotify, Uber, and PayPal
Commonly stolen accounts include Netflix at just one dollar, hacked Uber accounts for the purposes of evading law enforcement, Spotify accounts for pennies on the dollar, and PayPal accounts that buyers can empty out at will.
Bitcoin Lottery Tickets
Bitcoin is the singular currency used on the Dark Web and is favored by users for its anonymity. The cryptocurrency is often used for gambling and other similarly illicit activities, and bitcoins are widely used today in conjunction with a cottage industry of bitcoin lottery tickets.
Fake coupons offering savings ranging from fifty cents to substantial discounts exceeding twenty percent off are a booming business on the Dark Web. The counterfeit coupons are used at businesses such as Home Depot, Lowes, and other major companies to fraudulently obtain major discounts via seemingly legitimate bar code printing on coupons.
Recently, a magnate of the counterfeit coupon industry on the Dark Web was indicted by the Federal Government for stealing more than one million dollars via fraudulent coupons.
Fake College Degrees
Any name and any institution are for sale on the Dark Web. Whether you are interested in purchasing a degree in your name from Harvard, Yale, or Stanford, these official looking documents can be quickly and cheaply had.
Ricin and other poisons
Recently popularized by its presence on the mega-hit TV show Breaking Bad, Ricin is a deadly poison that can swiftly kill people.
Recently available for purchase at a site on the Dark Web called Black Market Reloaded, Ricin could be purchased in mass quantities.
Black Market Reloaded has since been shut down, with its operator sent to federal prison for his part in manufacturing the illicit substance.
Despite the closure of Black Market Reloaded, Ricin can still be found throughout the Dark Web along with a host of other deadly chemicals.
3D printing services
Business Insider recently reported the story of entrepreneurial-minded individuals using printing technology to create counterfeit money, card skimmer apparatuses and more. As printing technology continues to advance, many individuals are taking advantage of it by creating official-looking documents that can be used in a vast array of mediums.
A Pocket-style EMP Generator
Selling miniature, pocket-sized electromagnetic pulse generator devices are a popular market on the Dark Web in China. Capable of “frying” nearby electronic devices and rendering them dead, the applications for this tool are endless. Savvy users have gone as far as using the generator to add mass amounts of credits to slot machines at casinos and gambling halls to cheat their way to guaranteed winnings.
Murder for hire/Assassination
Murder for hire is perhaps the most famed notion associated with the Dark Web. According to reports, there are legions of contract killers available for hire hiding within the murky depths of the Dark Web.
However, there is a large collective insisting that hitmen do not truly exist on the Dark Web and that anyone foolish enough to employ the services of these types of individuals is merely setting themselves up in a trap to be arrested for conspiracy to murder.
Whether you believe in the existence of contract killers or consider it a hoax, there exists a very real community on the Dark Web with a plethora of individuals claiming they can kill for money. Whether that individual is a teenage prankster or a serious killer is a question which remains unknown.
If Ricin and cocaine aren’t enough to quell your thirst for illicit compounds, you may be surprised to hear about the existence of authentic C4 plastic explosives available on the Dark Net in mass quantities.
Social Security Numbers
A site on the Dark Web called Black Bank offers what they call “fresh” social security numbers featuring credit scores topping out over 750 at affordable prices and with free shipping.
Drugs are a booming market on the Dark Web. Home to every drug imaginable, the Dark Web offers consumers marijuana, heroin, ecstasy, shrooms, LSD, cocaine, crack, meth and more.
Pharmaceuticals are also abundantly available with many consumers swapping up prescription meds for pennies on the dollar. Common examples include painkillers, Ritalin, Adderall, and Dextroamphetamine.
Frighteningly enough, the Dark Web features a website called the Armory where consumers can readily purchase weapons such as replica AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, IED missiles, and more. Despite their terrifying product list, The Armory insists that it refuses to sell to terrorist groups.
SWAT-style body armor
SWAT-style body armor is in common use during military campaigns and is rarely found outside that specific application. On the Armory site, consumers can pick and choose from gun and weapons packages complete with SWAT-grade armor for the ultimate in protection.
Even Uranium Ore can allegedly be sourced on the Dark Web. For those not in the know, Uranium Ore is a chemical, that once refined, can be made into atomic material at the weapons-grade level.
Hacked Government Data
Hacked government data is a big business on the Dark Web with many consumers looking to purchase lists of thousands of emails, social security numbers, and a host of other sensitive data.
Luxury Goods Counterfeit and Replica Market
The counterfeit market on the Dark Web is massive. Any replica of any brand can be found from Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Prada, Tag Heuer, Rolex, Gucci and far more. Consumers seeking a designer handbag, watch, or other luxury items can procure replicas for incredibly low prices.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE DEEP WEB AND THE DARK WEB
Deep Web and Dark Web are understood by many to be interchangeable terms that both describe a host of illicit online activities. However, this is untrue and many activists have fought to stop the tandem use of the terms and to bring to light the distinct ways in which each concept exists in the online world today.
Here is a table comparing both platforms along with the surface web, which is the internet most of us use daily.
|THE SURFACE WEB||THE DEEP WEB||THE DARK WEB|
|How to Access||Traditional search engine||Requires password, encryption, or specialty software||Requires Tor Project or similar to view|
|Includes||All indexed web pages||All unindexed webpages||Subset of unindexed webpages inside the deep web|
|Size||Approximately 4.47 billion pages||Massive, likely 4-5x larger than the Surface web||A subset of the Deep Web, but unmeasurable in size|
|Uses||Email, social media, video, legitimate business websites, etc.||Usually used for legit purposes that require anonymity||Sometimes used for illegal activities|
|Who uses it?||Anyone with an internet connection||Whistleblowers, journalists, etc.||Hackers, sellers & buyers of illegal merchandise|
|Can be browsed anonymously?||No, nearly all activity can be seen by your ISP.||Usually, especially if you use a VPN to access.||With precautions, yes.|
THE FUTURE OF THE DARK WEB
Popular website Gizmodo released an article this March titled “The Dark Web is Disappearing.” The author, Bryan Menegus, starts off by stating that the Dark Web is now mostly full of useless garbage and that Tor is on its way to obscurity.
He illustrates this claims via comprehensive search probes conducted by Onionscan to query a database of upwards of thirty thousand Tor sites. Onionscan’s findings showed that only a little over four thousand sites (15%) were actually online and operating.
The lack of sites has led many, including Menegus, to believe that Tor and its counterparts are on the way to obscurity, with an increasing number of users ditching the services and its many drawbacks. The idea that Tor is headed towards obscurity in stark contrast to a press release that they released just last month where they claimed they had made great strides in growth and progress.
Former Dark Web Service Giants
These opposing statements can make it impossible to accurately gauge what’s really going on. However, we can predict Tor’s possible demise by looking at the untimely disappearances of two associated services: SIGAINT and Freedom Hosting II. If these two giant companies failed and disappeared, Tor can very well be headed towards the same downward path.
The Fate of Freedom Hosting II
Freedom Hosting II’s fate was sealed when it was accused of hosting child pornography sites. An activist or activist group hacked Freedom Hosting II, and the site crashed in a short time, taking over ten thousand hosted websites with it.
The Fate of SIGAINT
SIGAINT was a player on the Dark Web as well and was considered to be among the most popular and ubiquitous dark web email servers, favored by many individuals with an array of illicit interests.
Despite its immense popularity, SIGAINT had a shoddy performance record and was intermittently available, creating widespread frustration amongst users. The lackluster performance of SIGAINT went on for months and finally culminated in a period of downtime from which it never returned. With its demise, SIGAINT took with it millions of email correspondence that has been rendered lost forever.
Since SIGAINT’s disappearance from the Dark Web, other companies have taken its place and are lauded by users for providing the kind of consistent, reliable service that SIGAINT lacked.
The tandem loss of SIGAINT and Freedom Hosting II sent waves around the Dark Web community and has led many to speculate that Tor may very well shut down its operation and be replaced with a more viable contender without the many drawbacks found in using Tor.
THE DEEP WEB TODAY
The Deep Web will always exist, as it is merely a “locale” within the internet that holds all the hidden content that isn’t crawled by Google and similar web search engines.
While the Dark Web is highly associated with illicit, illegal, and immoral activities, itis often more generic in nature and is loosely defined by its collective of hidden sites, accessed by various individuals, many of them with innocuous reasons such as maintaining privacy, security, and safety.
Browsing the Deep Web is now easier than ever.
The Tor web browser is one of the leading ways to access the Deep Web today. Many users are now also Tor along with VPN tunnels for heightened security and privacy.
There are also a number of Tor-style plug-ins that can be used with major web browsers. It’s worth noting that using Tor or a Tor-style plug-in is something necessary to access the deep and dark web.
WHAT IS THE TOR PROJECT?
Tor is software that provides individuals the ability to communicate anonymously. The name Tor is actually an acronym derived from its original namesake: “The Onion Router.” Users herald Tor browsers as the ultimate means to travel through the expansive internet anonymously.
FREEDOM AND PRIVACY WITHIN THE TOR PROJECT
Tor makes it difficult to track a person’s online presence and comprehensively provides a cover for the purposes of visiting websites, dark web links, making online posts, sending instant messages, and nearly all other forms of electronic communication.
As such, Tor users proclaim that their freedoms are upheld in a way that is incomparable to traditional programs with their tracking and modicum of data surveillance. It is worth noting, however, that Tor does not completely resolve anonymity issues on the net by erasing a user’s surfing footprint. Rather, it functions to reduce the possibility for various sites to track a user’s actions and send crucial information back to the inquiring parts.
WHO USES THE TOR PROJECT
Tor is used by an enormous aggregate of people and their individual interests. Below is a list of web users who may use the Tor Project online.
- Government Agencies
- Dark Web Users
Today, Tor’s user base is comprised of chatters, bloggers, social media posters, and other individuals with perfectly benign interests who wish to surf the net in a secure and wholly private fashion.
However, there is definitely a more illicit population of Tor users who use the cloaking capacities of Tor to hide their criminal and illegal endeavors and illegitimate enterprises.
Tor users aren’t simply defined by dual populations of illicit and licit users, as there are plenty of groups worth mentioning who comprise the user base. Law enforcement agencies can be regularly found on Tor, as well as “hacktivism” groups various governmental agencies, whistleblowers, and informants.
Public Perception of The Tor Project
Recently, The Tor Project sent out a press statement claiming they had a broad population of “normal users” who simply desired the privacy and cybersecurity afforded by Tor and had no inclination towards criminal or illicit activity. Clearly, this was an effort on Tor’s part to defend their services in light of burgeoning interest and awareness of Tor along with the Deep and Dark Webs.
Despite the intermittent public relations attempts thatTor finds itself having to put out, they have nevertheless enjoyed a robust user base that is consistently growing with each passing year. As of 2013, Tor had a user base of just over four million. Today, their user base is estimated at just under six million and is comprised of a wide variety of individuals with a range of interests and intents.
TOR PROJECT LIMITATIONS
However, there are many drawbacks of Tor that must be fully understood before using the service.
- Autonomous system – Also Known as Eavesdropping
- Exit Node Eavesdropping
- Lack of Boundary Traffic Monitoring
Autonomous system – Also Known as Eavesdropping
In the event that an autonomous system is found on dual paths via the client to entry directionality, the autonomous system can then implement statistical correlation upon the entry traffic, in addition to existing pathways.
The resulting harm is the ability to make an inference in regard to the original destination from which the user made communication. Hugely problematic for Tor users, this matter came to a head in 2012, when the Lastor group created and proposed a method of interference via statistical prediction that would remedy the issue.
Exit Node Eavesdropping
The term ‘exit node eavesdropping’ became widely known when a Swedish IT Security Consultant named Dan Egerstad informed news agencies that he had single-handedly intercepted a huge collecting of usernames and passwords for email accounts.
Egerstad accomplished this by monitoring and eavesdropping on Tor’s exit nodes. Tor is incapable of encrypting traffic via exit nodes and target servers, each and every exit node is thusin a strategic position to “capture: traffic not utilizing end-to-end style encryption SSLtechnology.
Exit node eavesdropping doesn’t pose a specific breach of anonymity; however, the intercepted traffic can reveal a wealth of information (e.g., passwords) via data from protocols and payloads.
Lack of Boundary Traffic Monitoring
Similar to most other anonymity networks, Tor does not attempt to protect the monitoring of Tor boundary traffic with respect to incoming and outgoing traffic. It is worth mentioning, however, that Tor does provide a modicum of protection against traffic exposure to data analysis, it makes no further attempt to prevent what’s referred to as end-to-end correlation, also known as traffic confirmation.
Tor’s weaknesses and drawbacks are widely known through its collective user base. Still yet, the number of Tor users surges each year, as it far and wide considered to be among the most powerful and resilient anonymity sites available online.
Tor, along with its competitor Java Anon Proxy, is heralded by users as more robust than fingerprinting procedures on websites in relation to alternative tunneling protocols and much more.
The Tor Project Today
Tor sent out a press statement in early 2017 stating that while the “free and open internet was under attack in 2017… Tor was there to fight for privacy and security every step of the way.” Adding that they had achieved amazing growth over a period of the year, Tor let its user and fan base know that they had released what they proclaimed was a next-gen onion-style service featuring high-tech algorithms along with significantly improved authentication schemes.
Tor Project Updates
Tor also indicated that they released one of the biggest updates to the Tor browser ever, which included a host of significant cybersecurity advances capable of isolating attacks on their software, thus ensuring further protections against not only Tor but also its user base.
Tor explained that this all-new process is referred to as “sandboxing,” and functions via the separation of multiple network processes from the remaining components of a user’s computer, thus thwarting any illicit attempts from others to gain IP address information, documents, files, and other data.
THE FINAL WORD: THE DEEP WEB AND THE DARK WEB
Today, countless internet users try to gain entry into the Deep Web and the Dark Web. Some are looking for something in particular that simply can’t be sourced on the regular internet, others are simply curious.
The Deep Web, the Dark Web, and tools such as Tor hold mass appeal due to their secretive natures. Despite their relatively recent invention, the appeal they hold is as old as time itself. It is human nature to be intrigued by that which we don’t understand or cannot easily access.