We often hear about the term ‘Dark Web’ being linked to terrorist plots, drugs and ammunition deals or child pornography. However, beyond this it’s actually difficult to fully decipher what goes in the Dark Web.
The Dark Web is a part of the existing internet that we use. It requires special software to access, which only hackers usually have. Once inside, web sites and other services can be accessed through a browser in much the same way as a usual internet website. It refers to a collection of particular websites that are publicly available but do not reveal the IP addresses of their servers they run on, making it extremely difficult to know who the brains behind these websites are. Users also cannot find these websites using regular search engines. A classic example of a huge forest where no one knows what is hiding in which corner. Activities are going on, but you have to find it yourself. And if you are a regular, you would know where you need to go.
Because of the Dark Web’s anonymity, it’s been the playground for groups wanting to stay hidden online from governments and law enforcement agencies. Usually whistleblowers use the Dark Web to communicate with journos to supply highly sensitive information. But more frequently, the Dark Web has been used by paedophile groups, terrorists and criminals to keep their dealings secret.
These websites hide their identities using ‘Tor’, an encryption tool known for its end-user-hiding properties. Tor can be used spoof location as well, while running the website with the same effect. In short, it is a tunnelling software which helps keep an identity a secret or anonymous you on the web.
Tor provides secrecy and anonymity by passing messages through a network of connected Tor relays, which are specially configured computers. As the message hops from one node to another, it is encrypted in a way that each relay only knows about the machine that sent the message and the machine it is being sent to — that’s all, no more information is known about the origin.
It will be a mistake if you think that Tor is totally anonymous. A website can still find out information about the person accessing it using the shared information such as the usernames or email IDs. Those wanting to stay completely anonymous have to use special ‘anonymity services’ to hide their identity in these cases — and that’s where the hackers have an upper hand.
Services on the Dark Web wouldn’t have been possible if there wasn’t a way to pay for them. This is where Bitcoin comes into play. Bitcoin is a crypto currency or a digital payment system developed by a group of programmers. The system is peer-to-peer and transactions take place between users directly, without an intermediary. These transactions are verified by network nodes and recorded in a public distributed ledger called the blockchain.
Although the Dark Web users makes law enforcement agencies’ jobs much more difficult, they play a key role in bringing down sites and arresting illegal users and the people behind them. The most famous case was the arrest of Ross Ulbricht, the person behind the most well known of the drug markets, Silk Road.
It is very clear that we still have a long way to go until the government, law enforcement or the courts settle on what are appropriate uses of surveillance both on and offline, and making it difficult to work out who is behind the sites. Users also cannot find these websites using casual search engines....