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The Dark Side of the Internet

The term Dark Web is evocative. It conjures up images of hitmen, illegal drugs, and pedophilia. One imagines a place where the dark side of human nature flourishes away from the eyes – and laws – of society at large.

Today’s infographic, from Cartwright King Solicitors, cuts through the mystique and provides an entertaining and practical overview of the Deep Web and the Dark Web.

Dark Web

Layers (Part 1)

Much like the ocean, the internet is divided into defined layers.

The internet most people are familiar with is called the Surface Web. Websites in this layer tend to be indexed by search engines and can be easily accessed using standard browsers. Believe it or not, this familiar part of the web only comprises less than 10% of the total data on the internet.

The next layer down, we encounter the largest portion on the internet – the Deep Web. Basically, this is the layer of the internet that is quasi-accessible and not indexed by search engines. It contains medical records, government documents, and other, mostly innocuous information that is password protected, encrypted, or simply not hyperlinked. To reach beyond this layer of the internet, users need to use Tor or a similar technology.

Layers (Part 2)

Tor, which stands for “The Onion Router”, is how the majority of people anonymously access the Dark Web. Tor directs internet traffic through complex layers of relays to conceal a user’s location and identity (hence the onion analogy).

How Tor Browser Works

In 2004, Tor was released as an open source software. This allowed the Dark Web to grow as people could anonymously access websites.

Since anonymity is sacrosanct in the deep reaches of the Internet, transactions are typically conducted using cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin or Ethereum. People making purchases in Dark Web markets are (understandably) concerned with privacy, so they often use a series of methods to transfer funds. Below is a common transaction flow on the Dark Web.

typical darknet transaction bitcoin

Tumblers are used as an extra step to ensure privacy. A conventional equivalent would be moving funds through banks located in countries with strict bank-secrecy laws (e.g. Cayman Islands, Panama).

What’s Going on Down There?

The concept of the Dark Web isn’t vastly different from the Surface Web. There are message boards (e.g. 8chan, nntpchan), places you can buy things (e.g. Alphabay, Hansa), and blogs (e.g. OnionNews, Deep Web Radio). The rules, or rather a lack thereof, is what makes the Dark Web unique.

Anything that is illegal to sell (or discuss) on the Surface Web is available in the Dark Web. Personal information, drugs, weapons, malware, DDoS attacks, hacking services, fake accounts for social media, and contract killing services are all available for sale.

The Dark Web is full of criminal activity, but it’s also place where dissidents and whistle-blowers can anonymously share information. In countries with restrictive internet surveillance, the Dark Web may be the only place to safely voice criticisms against government and other powerful entities.

Measuring in the Dark

Many .onion sites are only up temporarily, so determining the true size of the Dark Web is nearly impossible. That said, Intelliagg and Darksum recently attempted to map out the Tor-based Dark Web by using a script to crawl reachable sites. They found 29,532 websites; however, 54% of them disappeared during the course of their research. Another recent study found that 87% of Dark Web sites don’t link to any other sites.

It is more accurate to view the darkweb as a set of largely isolated dark silos.

Graph Theoretic Properties of the Dark-web

Recent changes to Tor, such as 50-character hidden service URLs, have made the Dark Web an even more untraceable place, so we may never fully know what lies beneath the surface of the internet. Based on the parts we have seen, perhaps that’s for the best.

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