Wednesday, January 11, 2017

What is the Dark Web?



We often hear the word "Dark Web" being thrown around in articles and conversations, but do you really know what is it or what it does? This blog post aims to take away some of the mysteriousness that surrounds it and showcase what really is

THE DARK WEB

Many may not know, but it was actually created by the US government. In the mid 1990s, US military researchers created a technology that allowed intelligence operatives to exchange information completely anonymously. They called it 'Tor', which stands for 'The Onion Router'.
As part of their strategy for secrecy, they released Tor into the public domain for anyone to use. Their reasoning was simple: the more people using the system, the harder it would be to separate the government's own messages from the general noise. You can't be anonymous on your own.
Tor spread widely and today, is a critical part of the so-called 'dark web': a network of untraceable online activity and hidden websites, of which Tor hosts approximately 30,000. And that anonymity has attracted a huge range of people; all who want to keep their activities hidden.

How does the Dark Web work?
The deep web is a term that refers to sites and pages unavailable to the general public and not indexed by traditional search engines, like corporate intranet sites, private social media posts, and pages with nofollow search tags.

Above the deep web hovers the clearnet, the traditional internet and mobile web used by billions of people around the world. "The clearnet is secure, and encryption is used to move secure data from place to place all the time. SSL guards passwords and protects credit card information during e-commerce transactions"(Corera, BBC). But the very nature of the clear internet is that anonymity is rare. Computer and mobile IP addresses are constantly logged and easily traced. Cookies help web marketers track online activity and analyze behavior.

What differentiates the so-called Dark Web is the method by which sites are accessed. The Dark Web, or darknet, is a network of sites with encrypted content, accessible only with a secure suite of secure-browsing tools, like Tor. "Tor -- an acronym for the onion router -- is a package of open-source security tools written for a customized version of the Mozilla Firefox browser, compatible with Windows, OS X, and Linux. The software encrypts user traffic and passes the IP address through the complex of Tor nodes" (Lamo, Quora).

These 'onion layers' help protect the user's anonymity and provide access to similarly protected websites. These sites range from forums to wiki pages to blogs and function much like clearnet sites. Dark Web domains frequently employ non-memorable, hashed URLs with the .onion top level domain. These sites block inbound traffic from all non-secure internet connections. (Patterson, ZDNet)

"Personal and work computers often house mission-critical data, like sensitive files, passwords, and health records. Because Tor can be used and the Dark Web can be accessed on a traditional home PC, security professionals rely on additional security tools like the Tails operating system. Tails is a Linux distribution that can be installed on and run from a portable flash drive. By accessing the Dark Web via Tails, user behavior is never logged locally, and it is significantly more challenging for malicious software to harm the host PC."
Source: Patterson, Dan. "How the Dark Web Works." ZDNet. ZDNet, 12 Oct. 2016. Web. 16 Feb. 2017. <http://www.zdnet.com/article/how-the-dark-web-works/>.

Image result for edward snowden

One example of such people are whistle blowers. One of the most recent and perhaps most famous figures to do this is Edward Snowden, pictured above. A former contractor for the CIA, Snowden used Tor to pass unauthorized classified information on to the media that detailed the scale of internet and phone surveillance undertaken by American intelligence agencies. Without access to Tor, that information might not have become public. Whistle-blowers are able to pass their information on to journalists through the anonymity of Tor. There are also websites like Global Leaks which use Tor technology, enabling whistle-blowers to upload their information anonymously without fear of censorship or retribution.
Source: Lamo, Adrian. "What Is the Deep/dark Web and How Do You Access It?" Quora, 31 Jan. 2017. Web. 17 Feb. 2017. <https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-deep-dark-web-and-how-do-you-access-it>.

Another such example are activists. Syrian activist, Reem Al Assil was one of the first people to use Tor during the Syrian uprising. She claims it protected her from the country’s secret police as she was able to deny being involved in anti-government activity. Tor was instrumental in the Arab Spring, enabling activists to organise demonstrations and disseminate information, anonymously. According to the Tor Network, the system has been used all over the Middle East and Africa to undermine repressive regimes.
Source: Corera, Gordon. "BBC IWonder - What Is the Dark Web and Is It a Threat?" BBC News. BBC, n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2017. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/z9j6nbk>.

However, people also use the Dark Web for illicit activities, such as organizing terrorist activities, drug trading, and even contracted assassinations. The anonymity provided by the Dark Web is perfect for people that are breaking the law because it is extremely difficult for law enforcement agencies to discover and track these activities.

Do the pros outweigh the cons? Some experts believe that internet anonymity is vital for people living in countries where you can be arrested, tortured, and killed for the things you do online. This is why the US government was instrumental in developing the technology, and why the US State Department continued to fund Tor over the years. However, others believe that it is not enough; the amount of illegal activities are way too frequent and too dangerous and thus the Dark Web should be shut down completely.

The Dark Web is an amazing piece of technology that is capable of doing lots of good, yet it will also reveal the most twisted and perhaps sickening aspects of human nature. It is up to you to have a viewpoint on it and decide whether the pros outweigh the cons.

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