The Dark Web Encompasses Both Criminal & Legal Activities

The Dark Web Encompasses Both Criminal & Legal Activities


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The term Dark Web does sound ominous and it is that part of the Internet that comprises numerous hidden sites cannot be accessed through the usual web browsers.

In 2023 the Dark Web has on average over 2.5 million daily visitors and it’s estimated that more than half of those visitors have participated in illegal activities. And what is alarming is that in April 2023, daily Dark Web visitors rose by 200,000 to reach 2.7 million.

The Dark Web, sometimes called the Dark Net, is a collection of encrypted content that is not indexed by conventional search engines like Google and Microsoft Bing.  It requires a special browser, like the Tor Browser, to access the content.  It's content includes large databases of data, often used for illegal activities.

As with the early Internet, the Dark Web has a reputation as a haven for illegal activities and is frequently implicated in illicit and criminal activity. While the Dark Web has played a hand in illegal and unethical transactions, it also provides a social outlet for people who may otherwise be persecuted for their identities or political beliefs. It also gives legal authorities the additional tools they need to apprehend the perpetrators of unethical activities.

The Dark Web market has recently been growing at an alarming rate, due to increased demand for illicit goods and services by its users.

With technology itself becoming more accessible worldwide, there has been an inevitable increase in Dark Web activity. What was once a small, mysterious part of the Internet has now become a force to be reckoned with. The Dark Web in 2022 grew more diverse, extensive, and powerful than in previous years. It has been gaining massive attention worldwide, and it is estimated that there are more users than ever.

Background

The Dark Web first officially appeared in the early 2000s along with the creation of Freenet, which was developed by Ian Clarke to secure users against government intervention and cyber attacks. The system, which is still available today, allows users to express themselves freely without being tracked online.

The Dark Net is part of the biggest global system, the Internet that holds information about everything, and almost everyone and the Internet comes in layers: visible, deep, and dark. And some layers have exponentially more data than others.

The Internet has become more complex by the day, but it’s also intimidating. With so much you don’t know and cannot control, it’s normal to feel anxious, especially when you run into news and reports about the Dark Web. You instinctively associate this ominous name with illicit goods and hidden services.

The US Naval Research Laboratory funded a project called The Onion Router (TOR). TOR offered intelligence sources a way to communicate easily and safely, especially in hostile areas where personal safety is key. It is now one of the most common browsers used to access the Dark Web, using databases to help people make their way around and find the information they need.

Understanding the Dark Web

As its name implies, the Dark Web is a secret network that exists underground. It's made up of a series of websites that are hidden from the general public. This means they aren't accessible through traditional search engines, such as Google.

Traditional search engines return results because they contain indexes of links to websites. These are ranked based on keywords and relevancy. The Dark Web, on the other hand, uses information that isn't available on these other search engines, such as content from individual accounts, such as email,social media, banking, along with personal and professional databases, and documents, legal and medical.

Also called the Darknet, the Dark Web is much like the broader web was in its early days during the late 20th century. There is a lot of material about getting it working, and not very much to do once one gets there.

A lot of the content on the Dark Web is very amateurish. On the other hand, it is much easier for individuals to start sites and get attention. Tech giants and large media organisations have very little influence on the Dark Web.

History of the Dark Web

In the 1970s, shortly after the creation of the Internet forerunner, ARPANET was developed by the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a number of isolated, secretive networks begin to appear, giving rise to the term Darknet. 

In the 1980s, a series of problems with storing sensitive or illegal photos, videos, and data began to surface, causing a number of “data havens” to spring up, the informational equivalent of tax havens in the Caribbean. As part of the dot com bubble in the late 1990s, Napster spawned a series of peer-to-peer networks like Gnutella, Freenet, and Kazaa, that operated with decentralised data hubs for trade and distribution of copyrighted music and movie files.

TOR, which is an acronym for its original project name, The Onion Routing project, was developed in the mid-1990s by United States Naval Research Laboratory as a way of protecting US intelligence communications online. But it also has another natural constituency, those wanting to browse the Darknet.

The Dark Web was originally used by the United States Department of Defense to communicate anonymously, and it has now become a hub for users wishing to remain anonymous around the world. People use the Dark Web for both legal and illegal purposes. It uses a technology called "onion routing," which protects users from surveillance and tracking through a random path of encrypted servers.

When users access a site through Tor, their information is routed through thousands of relay points that cover the user's tracks and make their browsing virtually impossible to trace. So, the US Naval Research Laboratory funded a project called The Onion Router (TOR). TOR offered intelligence sources a way to communicate easily and safely, especially in hostile areas where personal safety is key.

It is now one of the most common browsers used to access the dark web, using databases to help people make their way around and find the information they need.

The rise of crypto currencies increased the popularity of the Dark Web, especially for cyber criminals. That's because digital currencies often provide a great deal of anonymity for people who buy and sell on the Dark Web. Because of its association with certain illicit activities, there have been calls for regulation of the Dark Web. For instance, the G20 and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) have both called for crypto-currency companies to provide information on buyers and sellers in transactions conducted online. 

This is especially true when helping law enforcement track criminal organisations and illicit activities.

However, the Dark Web is not the only place where illegal activities take place on the Internet. Many cyber criminals operate on the surface web and the Deep Web as well. However, the Dark Web does offer a higher degree of anonymity and is therefore a more attractive option for those looking to engage in illegal activities.

The Dark Web is a small, hidden part of the Internet with strong ties to illegal activities and should be approached with caution. It's important to be aware of the risks and to understand that just because something is on the Dark Web doesn't make it legal. Be sure to protect yourself by staying informed.

Legal Access To The Dark Web

Despite what the name implies, it isn't illegal to access the Dark Web. It actually provides individuals with privacy and anonymity that traditional websites don't offer to individuals. For example, people can go on the Dark Web and post their thoughts about political activity without any fear of being reprimanded by government officials and other groups.

You can access the Dark Web by installing specific, anonymous browsers, such as TOR. Once installed, the browser works the same way traditional ones do. But it can be a little difficult to access information because it doesn't use an index to locate the desired information.

The Dark Web is an anonymous, encrypted network that sends traffic through nodes around the world, obscuring a user’s online footprint. The individual's IP address is protected, making it very difficult for anyone to trace any part of the connection. This is achieved by encrypting traffic in multiple layers and bouncing it through a network of random computers, each of which removes a layer of encryption before bouncing it on to the next device.

This is how the information gets anonymised as it's passed randomly, so you can’t identify the source, the destination, or the contents as they are encrypted with multiple layers. The rise of crypto currencies increased the popularity of the Dark Web, especially for cyber criminals. That's because digital currencies often provide a great deal of anonymity for people who buy and sell on the Dark Web.

The term Dark Web refers to encrypted online content that is not indexed by conventional search engines. Accessing the Dark Web can only be done using specific browsers, such as TOR Browser.

There is a great deal of privacy and anonymity that comes with using the Dark Web compared to traditional websites. As such, most of the attention is placed on online marketplaces for drugs, exchanges for stolen data, and other illegal activities when people think of the Dark Web.

Despite this, there are often very legitimate reasons why people choose to use the Dark Web, including political dissidents and people who want to keep certain information private.

The Dark Web refers to sites that are not indexed and only accessible via specialised web browsers. Significantly smaller than the tiny surface web, the Dark Web is considered a part of the Deep Web. Using our ocean and iceberg visual, the Dark Web would be the bottom tip of the submerged iceberg.

The Dark Web, however, is a very concealed portion of the Deep Web that few will ever interact with or even see. In other words, the Deep Web covers everything under the surface that's still accessible with the right software, including the Dark Web.

Through the Dark Web, private computer networks can communicate and conduct business anonymously without divulging identifying information, such as a user's location.

The reputation of the Dark Web has often been linked to criminal intent or illegal content, and "trading" sites where users can purchase illicit goods or services. However, legal parties have made use of this framework as well. When it comes to Dark Web safety, the Deep Web dangers are very different from Dark Web dangers. Illegal cyber activity cannot necessarily be stumbled upon easily but tends to be much more extreme and threatening if you do seek it out.

Legal Uses Of The Dark Web

While using the Dark Web may seem suspect on the surface, it is perfectly legal, and there are many legitimate uses of Tor and anonymous browsing. For example, in countries where government surveillance may be used to spy on and oppress political dissidents, the Dark Web is often a place for communication that avoids government censorship and scrutiny.
 
Despite these added layers of security, users should still be cautious using the Dark Web and take proper security measures, such as periodically updating their security software, browsing with a robust VPN, and avoiding the use of a standard email address.

Illegal Uses Of The Dark Web

Given its anonymous nature, the Dark Web is also used for illicit and even illegal purposes and this includes the buying and selling of illegal drugs, weapons, passwords, and stolen identities, as well as the trading of illegal pornography and other potentially harmful materials.

Several sites hosting illegal material have been discovered by government agencies and shut down in recent years, including Silk Road, AlphaBay, and Hansa.
 
The Dark Web's anonymity has also led to cyber security threats and various data breaches over the last few decades.

Illegal Pornography

The type of content that has the most popularity on the Dark Web is illegal pornography, more specifically, child pornography. About 80% of its web traffic is related to accessing child pornography despite it being difficult to find even on the Dark Web. A notable example is a website called Lolita City, which has since been taken down, contained over 100 GB of illegal child pornographic media and had about 15,000 members.

Conclusion

Whereas the Dark Web is most well-known for hosting illicit economic trade, it has become clear that the Dark Web also holds some profoundly serious national security implications that will affect most nations throughout the globe.

The proliferation of cyber and kinetic weapons, the facilitation of terrorism, intelligence gathering, extortion, malicious services-for-hire all of these illicit activities are occurring on the Dark Web, and the evidence put forth in this paper suggests that these activities may occur at increasing rates in the coming future.

Image: Eightshot Studio

Kaspersky:   Futurist Speaker:    

Investopedia:   Cyberhoot:    

Wikipedia:  Aura:  Investopedia:    

Tulane University:   Norton:    

Phishnet:  Forbes:  LMG Security:    

Avast:   Small Wars Journal

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