What is the dark web?

surface web

The internet that most people use is accessible through Google Chrome or Bing. Last week I bought a jumbo box of dog biscuits on Amazon. The internet I used is the “surface web” or the “transparent web.” Check the weather, read WordStirs–you’ve used this web, I’m sure.

deep web

There is also a “deep” web that requires passwords or additional software for access. Want to look at medical records? You need to sign up for access, then use a password–it’s protected from the general population. Companies, universities, some online databases, bank accounts–they’re deep-web protected.

dark web

Then there’s the dark web.

Shadowy, creepy, anonymous. Illegal activity. It’s all true. Here are the basics:

First, only a small percent (around 3%) of the billions of internet users are accessing the dark web.

Second, there are no search engines for the dark web. No Chrome or Bing or Yahoo. If you’re there, you’re connecting directly with a site.

Except you’re not.

Because who you are–your IP address, identity, location, etc–is hidden through a software known as Tor.

Tor

Tor (The Onion Router) is software that was developed by a nonprofit, funded mostly by the U.S. government, for the purpose of having anonymity on the internet. Tor uses “onion routing” or multiple levels of access to conceal the user and his or her activity.

The U.S. uses Tor as a go-around to censorship in authoritarian countries.

Tor is popular with the journalists and activists in countries like China with restrictions on the Internet and expression. It was used during the Arab Spring to empower protestors, for example.

Tor is used by whistleblowers as a safe way to hand over information to journalists. Edward Snowden used Tor in this way. Tor is helpful for domestic-violence victims who are concerned about stalking. But it’s also used by drug dealers, gun sellers, pornography distributors and more.

Tor has helped sites like the Silk Road to become huge, Amazon-like marketplaces for illegal substances.

Silk Road

Silk Road was a site where you could go to purchase a stolen identity, illegal drugs, guns or porn–as long as you used the Tor software you could access the dark web site. Pretty much anything you wanted could be found in scrolling pictures and user-review format similar to online giants like Amazon.

founder Ross Ulbricht

Ulbricht founded the site after earning a degree in physics from the University of Texas and a Masters in Engineering from Pennsylvania State University. He was a Libertarian that believed each person could decide what substances they wanted to put into their bodies. Purchases were made using bitcoin, and shipments were delivered through the U.S. postal service.

An FBI investigation brought Ulbricht and the Silk Road site down. He was charged for attempted murder for trying to assassinate a business adversary that threatened the company, along with money laundering, computer hacking and drug trafficking. The attempted murder charge was dropped, but he was found guilty to the other offenses and sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Silk Road 2

New Silk Road sites have been started and discovered by the FBI since Ulbricht’s original marketplace was shut down.

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