Dark Web: The Good, Bad and Ugly of This Online Underworld

The Good, Bad and Ugly of This Online Underworld

The dark web is infamous for hosting illegal activities, but there are legitimate uses like combating censorship and protecting individuals

The internet is a vast network of information, but beyond the surface-level web that we all use every day, there lies a hidden world known as the dark web. The initial version of the current dark web first emerged in March 2000 with the introduction of Freenet by Irish student Ian Clarke. Freenet employs a decentralized network of users to enable anonymous online communication. Nonetheless, it was The Onion Router (Tor), a program that was launched on September 20, 2002, that popularized the dark web.

While the dark web has a notorious reputation for hosting illegal activities such as drug trafficking, weapons sales and human trafficking, not everything on the dark web is negative. It also provides a haven for journalists, activists, and individuals seeking anonymity for legitimate reasons. In this article, we will explore the complex and often challenging aspects of the dark web, delving into its good, bad, and ugly sides to provide a comprehensive overview of this enigmatic and intriguing realm.

Open web vs. deep web vs. dark web: What’s the difference and why it matters 

The internet is composed of three main layers: the open web, the deep web and the dark web. The surface web, or the open web, is the most visible and accessible layer of the internet. It can be accessed through commonly used browsers like Chrome, Firefox, Edge or Safari. This very article is a part of the surface web, which can be accessed from anywhere and at any time as long as there is an internet connection and a web browser. However, the surface web only represents a small portion of the entire internet, accounting for just five percent of its information.

The deep web, which constitutes the second layer of the internet, consists of content that is not indexed by search engines. This includes web pages and websites that may contain password-protected content, resources personalized for individual users and private forums. Examples of deep web content include online banking, cloud storage and private social media pages and profiles. The deep web accounts for approximately 95 percent of the internet’s content. 

Within the deep web lies the dark web, which comprises hidden sites and can only be accessed through specialized networks like Tor. Tor is an open-source privacy browser that offers confidentiality and anonymity by routing messages through a network of interconnected Tor relays. As the message passes from one node, or a configured computer in the network, to another, it becomes encrypted, ensuring that each relay only has knowledge of the machine that sent the message and the machine to which it is being sent.

Like the open web, the dark web is a small part of the internet, accounting for approximately 5 percent of its content.

A breeding ground for illegal activities: The dark side of the dark web

While the deep web is often used for legitimate purposes such as private forums and research databases, the dark web has a reputation for hosting illegal activities, such as drug trafficking, extortion and cyber fraud. This is because the dark web offers a level of anonymity that attracts those who seek to operate beyond the reach of law enforcement. ​

In 2015, Daniel Moore and Thomas Rid from King’s College London conducted a study on the dark web by examining the content of 2,723 active websites over a period of five weeks, revealing that 57% of these websites contained illegal material.

One of the most infamous activities on the dark web is the existence of assassination markets. These markets operate via crowdfunding, allowing users to pay for the assassination of a specific target, usually high-profile individuals such as politicians, celebrities or businessmen. While some of these markets may seem credible and functional, most are likely scams to defraud users and steal their money or personal information for identity theft or other illegal activities. 

The prevalence of illegal activities on the dark web underscores the importance of exercising caution when accessing the platform With its hidden infrastructure and untraceable transactions, the dark web presents a unique challenge to law enforcement agencies worldwide. 

The positive part of the dark web: Legitimate uses and tools for combating censorship

Despite its reputation as a breeding ground for illicit activities, the dark web also has its fair share of legitimate uses. The dark web provides tools for combating censorship and protecting individuals from persecution for their beliefs or actions. It also serves as a secure and anonymous platform for legitimate organizations like WikiLeaks to share information and avoid retaliation. . Initially, the organization utilized the Tor network to receive data, which enabled the whistleblowers to remain anonymous and avoid potential retaliation from governments and powerful entities.

Another Tor-based service that is widely used by media organizations, including The New Yorker and The Guardian, is SecureDrop. This service allows journalists and whistleblowers to securely exchange content without fear of their identities being revealed or their communications being intercepted by third parties.

According to Human Rights Watch, Tor has also been used by Chinese dissidents to bypass internet censorship and access blocked websites. In countries where internet freedom is restricted, such as China, Tor has become a crucial tool for evading government surveillance and censorship. Overall, while the dark web does have a seedy underbelly, it also has its positive aspects and should not be dismissed entirely.

Tips to safely browse the dark web

Given that the dark web is a hotspot for cybercriminals who engage in illegal activities, such as identity theft, hacking and fraud, you have to stay extra vigilant when browsing it. Here are several important steps you should take to safely browse the dark web: 

First and foremost, use a secure and anonymous browser such as Tor, and always use a virtual private network (VPN) to protect your IP address. Choose a reliable VPN service that does not keep logs of your online activity and has strong encryption protocols. Also, while Tor can provide anonymity and privacy, it is not foolproof. Some exit nodes on the Tor network can be compromised, exposing your online activity to potential attackers. Therefore, it is advisable to use Tor with caution and not to rely solely on it for protection.

Secondly, be cautious of any links or downloads and avoid clicking on anything that looks suspicious, such as those that claim to offer free or discounted products, services or software. These could be scams and phishing sites that are prevalent on the dark web. 

It is also important to never give out any personal information or engage in any illegal activity on the dark web. Use common sense and exercise caution when interacting with other users, and always verify the credibility of any websites or vendors before making any purchases or sharing any sensitive information. 

In conclusion, the dark web is a double-edged sword that presents opportunities and dangers to internet users. The anonymous browsing and secure communication features it offers have proven crucial for individuals and organizations fighting against oppressive regimes, censorship and discrimination. On the flip side, it is also home to a thriving criminal underworld, where illicit activities such as drug trafficking, money laundering, and cybercrime are rampant. Users must exercise caution when navigating the dark web, as even seemingly innocuous activities can have serious legal and financial repercussions. Ultimately, the dark web serves as a reminder of technology’s dual nature and the responsibility to use it ethically.

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Header image courtesy of Pexels


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