It isn’t hard to see why Ross Ulbricht’s arrest and the take down of the Silk Road have made the dark web extremely popular. The idea of this dark uncharted corner of the internet where hackers and criminals operate, beyond the long arm of the law is fascinating. What secrets does the dark net hold?
The first one is how mundane the deep web is. People often mistakenly use the terms Deep web and the dark net interchangeably. The deep web is anything browsers like Chrome, Safari, Firefox etc cannot access. It is estimated that the surface web, the parts of the web Safari, Chrome etc can access, constitutes only 4% of the internet. What people forget is that the other 96% includes all private networks, company VPNs, government networks, military etc and other protocol data transfers like warez, torrents, encrypted communications along with prehistoric websites, useless data suffering from bit rot [The decay of digital data] etc. Essentially the average person’s boring life on social media and other popular places. The most exciting thing there are the old sites used by the American military, long before internet use became popular, which did not upgrade to the type of websites everyone else was using. Other than that it holds little of any interest and a lot of relics from the internet’s history.
It is the dark net and not the deep web that hosts criminal activities, hidden away in uncharted corners of the deep web. Hollywood might like to show hacking to be an exciting, thrilling activity. Unfortunately real hacking involves bored nerds sitting around for days and weeks letting their programs run while they change a few lines ever so often. The dark Net is very similar, it might seem like an exciting, dangerous, action-packed place but it would bore most people who go there.
Accessing it disappointingly easy, you need to find and download Tor browser or other deep Web search engines, the only risk you face is downloading some malware. Tor browser looks like a Google Chrome rip off, it now allows you to surf the surface web too, the only difference is Tor is roughly 20 times slower. This is because it needs to hide your IP address and uses multiple proxies from around the globe. You stay anonymous but you operate very slowly. Next, you need to find the hidden wiki or other Tor directories. And then comes the hard part.
The shady websites on Tor are extremely hard to access. The hidden wiki gives you links to roughly 220 websites—these links are added and removed frequently so the number varies widely. It’s said the American National Security Agency puts you on their watch list whenever you download Tor. I’d say they shouldn’t bother because you spend half your time trying to find active websites. URLs are frequently changed and the hidden wiki isn’t very good at regularly updating these changes. Only 30 out of the 220 websites actually worked/still existed/hadn’t moved. Like I said before, onion [anonymous host servers] sites have little that would interest the average person. Surface internet has most of what the casual consumer would want, regardless of whether it’s legal or not; for example, access to pornography, marijuana, entertainment etc. What the Deep Web has is material so deviant that almost no casual user would want or tolerate—child pornography, hard drugs, gore pornography, bestiality, illegal passports, stolen account information and assassins for hire etc. Out of the 30 odd sites I visited most offered “Forbidden videos”, drugs, ID cards and assassinations. The seizure of the Silk Road and other market sites like Pandora meant that there were very few trustworthy online markets. A few sites calming to be the successors to the Silk Road and Pandora were up but they struggled to reclaim their former consumer loyalty and several similar sites were now up. The extreme competition often leads to cannibalization on the dark net.
If you’re really determined you’ll go to the many dark Net forums to find more useful links. These websites operate openly in the surface web and you have to wonder why the hidden wiki and these forums those are the only way to access child pornography, dark net markets, assassins, etc. are still left out in open even after the recent crackdown by the American government. What you’ll find on these forums, are 13 years olds pretending they’ve been to the dark net, a surprising amount people complaining that the online assassins are frauds who’ve taken their money, people mocking the people who hired assassins, people offering you links and downloads that contain malware, people trying to steal your personal information and the occasional user who offers you links that aren’t “dead”. Most of these links need you to pay bit coin [digital currency worth 280 US dollars at the time of publication] first for access. Markets are now scarce, so all you’ll find are links to “Hard Candy” which is code for child porn. They say it is harder to find Hard Candy after the Silk Road incident, its horrifying to imaging how much more child porn was around because every second user was tossing links to Captain Planet and Cheese Pizza [CP= Child Porn]. I did not visit those sites but several users told their fellow members that the sites were “Legit”.
The dark net seems to have little to offer a Non-American / European. Users on reddit claim terrorist outfits offer bomb and weapon making instructions, mode of funding, recruitment etc but no one knows how to find them. A few claimed that there were anti-government blogs from the Middle East and China which seems believable enough. I found an Indian kid who made a video about the dark Net and was told that rather ruthlessly that his video was “Vbad” when he asked for feedback. That was about the only Indian connection the dark net seemed to have.
The dark net has next to nothing to offer the casual user except boredom, frustration and dead links. The extreme Anonymity might be useful for someone under an authoritarian regime to speak out but the only other things on offers are illicit substances, child pornography and disturbing accounts of “social experiments” such as keeping homeless people locked up in a room.
The dark net is far less exciting and cool than the media would have you believe, filled with extremely disturbing content and downright sinister people.