For those who are tech- and Internet-savvy, the “Dark Web” is a term that they’re likely to be familiar with. However, for those who go online to perform routine tasks such as browsing, checking email and logging on to social media, this particular section of the Internet may be an unknown.
PC Advisor explains the Dark Web this way, “A collection of websites that are publicly visible, but hide the IP addresses of the servers that run them. Thus they can be visited by any Web user, but it is very difficult to work out who is behind the sites. And you cannot find these sites using search engines.”
In other words, sites hosted on the Dark Web can’t be found using Google, Yahoo or any other search engine that most Internet users are familiar with. This is because many of the Dark Web domains are encrypted using the Tor network, which helps mitigate the tracking that occurs on the open Web.
“Tor's hidden services let users publish web sites and other services without needing to reveal the location of the site,” the Tor Project website wrote. “Using Tor protects you against a common form of Internet surveillance known as ‘traffic analysis.’ Traffic analysis can be used to infer who is talking to whom over a public network. Knowing the source and destination of your Internet traffic allows others to track your behavior and interests.”
While having a measure of anonymity is something that many people online would probably enjoy, the Dark Web has also been used for clandestine and illegal activity.
The Silk Road and the Dark Web
Originally, The Silk Road was the name of a trade route used throughout Asia in ancient times, and commerce along that route contributed to the building of many civilizations in the region. However, in modern times, The Silk Road was a site hosted on the Dark Web that was used to buy and sell drugs and other illegal contraband. Launched in 2011, the online black market was the first of its kind, but it operated similarly to legal Web marketplaces such as Amazon and eBay.
Two and a half years later, the FBI shut down the website and arrested its founder, Ross William Ulbricht. The former administrators of the original site launched a new venture, Silk Road 2.0, a month after Ulbricht’s arrest. A year later, that site was shut down as well.
There have been other sites similar to Silk Road on the Dark Web, such as Agora, which voluntarily ceased its operations over security concerns. At present, it’s difficult to ascertain just how many sites exist on the Dark Web, but it appears to be a haven for illegal activity. The Dark Web has even sparked a documentary called “Deep Web,” which helps explain what this corner of the Internet is and how it is used, and also covers the trial of Ross Ulbricht, who was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole in May 2015.
The Dark Web is both fascinating and scary, and highlights the depths that people will go to to conduct criminal activity and avoid detection by law enforcement. To learn more, Wired magazine wrote an in-depth and thorough expose on the Silk Road and the Dark Web entitled, “The Untold Story of Silk Road.” It has been broken up into two parts, which you can read here and here.