What Goes On In The Dark Web?

What Goes On In The Dark Web?


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The Dark Web is the portion of the Internet that can only be accessed on Darknet and it requires specific software, configurations or authorisation to access.

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

Created in the mid 1990s by US military researchers and was used by intelligence officers to share files anonymously. That initial platform was called 'Tor', which stands for 'The Onion Router'. They introduced it to the public to make it harder for outsiders to distinguish what was a government file and what was simply data being sent by an everyday citizen. In summary, the more people using it, the more "noise" there is, disguising the government message trail.

Tor is a critical part of the Dark Web and hosts around 30,000 of the network's hidden sites. To access the Dark Web, you’ll need an anonymised proxy network. The two most popular tools in this particular toolbox are Tor and I2P. You can find a thorough breakdown of the differences between the two networks here, but for the purpose of this guide we’ll go with Tor as it’s the most widely used.

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.

If the Internet is an online world of towns and cities, then the Dark Web is the red-light districts, the hideouts of criminals and all the other dark alleys and criminal enterprises that exist the underground economy. The Dark Web is only a small part of the Deep Web, as the Deep Web is the portion of the Internet not indexed by Web search engines. 

The Dark Web has a sinister, even foreboding, reputation for good reason.

People go to the Dark Web to anonymously buy illegal narcotics, sell stolen goods and there are libraries of pirated books and stolen music on the Dark Web and to even to see child pornography, and many terrorists use the Dark Web to hide and organise their activities. Nevertheless, the Dark Web is growing and before long it will change the Internet as we know it.

Fundamentally, the Dark Web is comprised of small peer-to-peer networks and larger and growing networks like Tor, Freenet and I2P. The Tor portion of the Dark Web requires someone to download free software to be used as a browser.

Tor simply directs Internet traffic through a free, worldwide, volunteer overlay network. Round and around your signal goes in thousands of relays in an unknown sequence. This conceals your IP address and location.

The Dark Web then is certainly used by many different people including criminals, but it is increasingly also being used by individuals in countries that ban access to certain parts of the Internet, or that even hunt down and arrest people who say certain things or communicate with political dissidents.

The notorious NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden is a big fan and says: “Without Tor, the streets of the Internet become like the streets of a very heavily surveiled city. With Tor, we have private spaces and private lives, where we can choose who we want to associate with and how”.

The Dark Web is also being used by people in freer nations who simply have grown tired of their Internet traffic being watched and monetised by corporations. Some people would also rather not have their Google searches used against them in the future.

Many aren’t interested in criminal behaviour, but just have a penchant for privacy from government surveillance or the corporate world.

When you log on to a Dark Web site, you quickly notice that there are no pop-up ads following you from website to website. You’ll see websites, even of the criminal variety, that many reports say are very reliable because they have user ratings. If some vendor isn’t reliable, their rating plummets. So the marketplace, illegal as it might be, is regulating itself.

This system cuts out what many don’t like about retailers on the open Internet. Also, in an online world that is more and more dominated by a few tech firms with once unfathomable power and that are almost all located in one congressional district in California, this new and growing anonymous marketplace dispenses their clout and power. It does this by making people much harder to profile and monetise.

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 simple 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 organised and entered into a collective of algorithms that comprise the search engine. If a website is not indexed 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 browse

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 benefited 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 & 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 use 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 in 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 organisations
  • 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.

Why Do Normal Websites Use The Deep Web?

What the above points 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

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:

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” specialises 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 variety 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 or just a few dollars, 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.

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.

Bitcoin is the favourite 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.

Manufacturing illicit substance. Ricin is a deadly poison that can swiftly kill people. Yet Ricin can be purchased in mass quantities. Despite the closure of some dear web markets specilaing in the poisonous substance, Ricin can still be found throughout the Dark Web along with a host of other deadly chemicals.

Forged Documents: 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. And individuals are using printing technology to create counterfeit money, card skimmer apparatuses and more.

Miniature, pocket-sized electro-magnetic 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. Some 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 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 genuine plastic explosives available on the Dark Net in mass quantities.

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, 'magic mushrooms', LSD, cocaine, crack, meth and more. Pharmaceuticals are also abundantly available with many consumers swapping up prescription medicines for pennies on the dollar. Common examples include painkillers, Ritalin, Adderall, and Amphetamines.

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 website says that it refuses to sell to terrorist groups. SWAT-style body armour 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 armour 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 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. 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.

The Future of the Dark Web

Popular website Gizmodo released an article 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 Bryan 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 where they claimed they had made great strides in growth and progress.

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.

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.

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, favoured 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 lacklustre 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 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, it is 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 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.

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.

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 programmes 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 enquiring parts.

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.

  • Bloggers
  • Government Agencies
  • Criminals
  • Whistleblowers
  • Journalists
  • Activists
  • 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 endeavours 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 that Tor 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. However, there are many drawbacks of Tor that must be fully understood before using the service:-

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 criminal 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 thus in a strategic position to “capture: traffic not utilising end-to-end style encryption SSL technology.

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 tunnelling 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-generation 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 cyber security 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.

What Europe Can Do To Catch Dark Web Criminals

Europe is ready to get serious about fighting crime schemes hatched on the dark web, the infamous home of hackers, paedophiles, terrorists, and other undesirables. Representatives of 28 countries met in The Hague to discuss “how best countries can work together with Europol’s recently established dedicated Dark Web team, and pursue its aim of fighting crime on the Dark Web,” according to an EU press release.

According to the release, the meeting resulted in the creation of a Dark Web investigation team, which will “share information, provide operational support and expertise in different crime areas, and develop tools and approaches to conducting Dark Web investigations.” While the press release emphasised the determination of EU countries to clean up the Dark Web, it was a bit short on detail.

Currently, it’s probably unrealistic to expect a press release announcing the establishment of the investigative unit to describe in depth the methods and tactics to be used, but it's a fact that tracking down criminals on the Dark Web is extremely difficult. Exact numbers are very hard to come by, but sites that report on the dark web indicate that there are several hundred arrests made each year. Considering the size of the Dark Web, which is thought to be nine times larger than the surface web, and given the fact that much of it is dedicated to criminal activity, that could be considered a very small number.

It's the fluid nature of the Dark Web, the fact that it cannot be indexed or searched in the same way the surface web is, that all aspects of it are anonymous, that sites disappear as quickly as they appear, that makes tracking down criminals so difficult.

Relying on criminals' mistakes is not how Europol, or any other agency, will be able to back up that enthusiastic tweet. The only way is to proactively search out dark web criminals, and establish patterns of behaviour and links to activities on the surface web.

The only way to do that search is by utilising specialised software and systems that can scan the dark web and collect this information. Part of that specialisation is the requirement that systems be robust enough to scan dozens, if not hundreds of Dark Web sources and develop a profile that can be analysed. That analysis entails looking for connections and threads that can lead to the possible identity of cyber-criminals. For example, a thorough search of a Dark Web transactions can lead to the identity of a server where a Dark Web criminal converts cryptocurrency into regular money. Cyber criminals eventually have to do that if they want to buy non-virtual products, or they could try to move the money into a bank account somewhere.

The bottom line is that in many cases, criminals leave strong identifiers that help in the process of tracking them down, and a good analysis system will take advantage of that.

That kind of advanced analysis system can make those connections even in the wake of the advanced tools hackers use today, which makes it even harder than it has been to track them down. Teams employing advanced analytics can more quickly and efficiently take advantage of investigations that have already been done in previous cases, which can provide insight into the patterns of behaviour of hacking gangs, and help authorities track them down more efficiently.

The more the Dark Web is monitored, and the more its secrets are unearthed, the more its data can be analysed, making it more likely that criminals will be caught, sooner rather than later.

Hackers aren't going anywhere; indeed, incident after incident shows that they are only getting more active, deploying more tools and more sophisticated tools. According to the EU’s own figures, more of that criminal activity than ever is taking place through the Dark Net. Yet the EU believes that, “the golden age of Dark Web marketplace is over. Operations such as these highlight the capability of law enforcement to counter encryption and anonymity of Dark Web market places.

“Police no longer only takes down such illegal marketplaces, they also chase down the criminals buying and selling illegal goods through such sites,” Europol says.

References:   

Alphr:    Forbes:   TEDX /  YouTube:    Infosecurity Magazine:  TheNewStack:    

US Congress:     History.com:   Digital.com:  Visual Capitalist:     Europol:     Europol

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