What Is the Dark Web?
There is much mystery and misinformation about the Dark Web and what it is. Many people associate the Dark Web with the selling of drugs, firearms, and other illegal online transactions. Unfortunately, there is black market activity on the Dark Web that makes it difficult for law enforcement to discover and intervene.
However, not everything that exists on its websites is meant for a nefarious purpose. The Dark Web also offers users identification protection when it comes to online surveillance, which some consider essential as a means of circumventing censorship and anonymously sharing information that would otherwise be kept hidden.
Overall, the Dark Web reflects the growing tension between how the internet is used for exchange of information, goods, and services for both lawful and criminal purposes. In addition, the Dark Web reveals the conflicts involving the power of technology, personal privacy, freedom to access information, censorship, and internet regulation.
What the Dark Web Is
The Dark Web (DW) is similar to what many know as the World Wide Web (WWW) in that it is an internet information system. Just like the WWW, the DW is a large group of websites that are visible to the public. The difference is that, due to certain server technology, users and sites on the DW are able to hide their hosting information.
The result is that it’s difficult to determine who is making the site accessible to the public and from where they are doing it. This allows for “anonymous” internet activity and behaviors, unlike the more familiar WWW. With this anonymity, sadly, comes opportunities for cybercrime marketplaces offering illegal goods and services from narcotics to weapons to sex trafficking. It is due to these cybercriminal rings that the Dark Web has a reputation for illicit and unlawful global commerce.
However, some internet users champion the existence of the DW as a way to share and exchange information across the internet with less threat of surveillance and censorship. This view of the DW is more through a lens of personal privacy and protection as a result of greater anonymity.
Importance of IP Address
Websites on the Dark Web utilize software that provides hosting and user anonymity. These tools hide the user’s and/or server’s IP addresses. An internet protocol (IP) address is an identifying number associated with a computer or device as part of a computer network that uses the internet for communication. For example, when you connect to an online network, your IP address is what enables your device to search for and send information on the web. This also means that your internet activity can be identified through your IP address, as it is linked to your device and its location.
An IP address functions in the same way for hosts that run internet servers allowing websites to provide content and services. The IP address identifies the web host and its location. Overall, IP addresses for network providers and internet users are beneficial because they provide stability in online communication. Each computer or device uses known protocols to “talk” to each other and exchange information effectively.
In addition, IP addresses are beneficial for investigations into cybercrime. Though an IP address on its own doesn’t identify a specific cybercriminal with certainty, it does provide law enforcement the ability to track the device and network from which the crime originated. This, in turn, narrows the list of possible criminal users. Therefore, software that interferes with IP addresses on the Dark Web makes it extremely difficult to identify devices, networks, and/or track their locations.
Most sites on the Dark Web utilize Tor software tools to hide IP addresses. Essentially, Tor and other lesser-known systems, use encryption in a sophisticated way for web traffic. The data is then transferred randomly to devices across the globe. As the data is transferred through networks, the encryption is steadily removed until it reaches its destination. This complex system interferes with determining from where the received data was initiated.
This means that when Tor users search websites, their IP address is all but hidden. In addition, a website that utilizes Tor is considered a hidden service and allows access only by Tor users. Therefore, it’s not the sites on the Dark Web that are kept secret or hidden but rather the IP addresses associated with the sites and their users. Unfortunately, this allows for illegal markets to exist on the DW because their online participants use anonymity software, creating difficulty when it comes to investigating and identifying these cybercriminals.
Some advocate for the presence of Dark Web sites as a means of protecting freedom and accessibility of information. The most well-known example of this is WikiLeaks, which was established with Tor hidden service software for anonymous sources to submit classified media or documentation that would otherwise be unknown to the public. WikiLeaks has allowed for international whistleblowing from espionage to government corruption, while also inhibiting the surveillance and censorship of its sources.
Both Dark and Light
There is no doubt that the Dark Web has earned its description and reputation due to illicit and encrypted cybercrimes, many of which are horrific in terms of basic human rights. However, there are instances of lawful activity on the DW working to counter human rights violations and deter cybercrime.
Of course, law enforcement, intelligence agencies, and other authorities utilize a great deal of resources to discover, investigate, and overcome advances in technology and anonymity software that perpetuate criminal activity on the Dark Web. This presents challenges across the globe in matters of jurisdiction and regulation, creating a cycle of cybercriminals burrowing further underground on the DW to avoid detection and potential prosecution.
The lighter side of the Dark Web, in a sense, is that its anonymity offers some protection for those who feel called to expose international corruption and coverups—especially under oppressive governments in which any outspoken dissent may result in dire consequences. International journalists also report benefits to accessing and utilizing anonymous browsers for investigative purposes.
In any case, knowledge is the best start to understand what lurks in shadows. The more accurate exposure of what the Dark Web actually is, the less mystery and misinformation will be associated with it.