The Dark Side of the Internet: Exposed

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Enter the shadowy part of the web where the Ashley Madison hackers released all…

In this modern era the internet is a common staple in people’s lives. In 2015 the internet can be used for almost anything, from grocery shopping to learning about nuclear physics, however, what a lot of people do not know is that there’s a darker and deeper side of the internet, namely the dark web.explicando-a-deep-web

Dark Web dictionary definition:

  1. The Dark Web, often confusingly referred to as the Deep Web or the Darknet is the World Wide Web content that exists on darknet, networks which overlay the public Internet and require specific software, configurations or authorization to access.
  2. The Dark Web is a term that refers specifically to 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.

It is stated that the internet can be likened to an iceberg; the tip of the iceberg is everything you can see and browse using the surface web but the vast majority of internet information and data is located ‘below the water’ on the deep or dark web.

The difference between the surface web and the deep web

The difference between the surface web and the deep web

In order to access the dark web users need to use what is called an onion browser. Through a series of encryption techniques an onion browser allows the user to hide his/her IP address which keeps them anonymous. The Tor onion browser, which was first created by the U.S. navy, was used during the Arab Spring by a variety of Arab journalists and activists, the anonymous protocol meant that the ruling government dictatorships were not able to stop activists because they did not know who they were.  Although the term anonymous sounds eerie and secretive, onion browsers are used because it ensures that users internet browsing is private, search engines such as Google Chrome, Internet Explorer and Firefox are able to track users browsing habits. Many theorists have suggested that there is absolutely no privacy on the surface web and most claim that what internet browsers and search engines such as Google do is an invasion of privacy, which is difficult to deny.

The NSA sees all and hears all

The NSA sees all and hears all

Each and every day when we access the internet, our browsing history and data is sold by the likes of Google to advertisers for the highest price, ever wondered why 10 minutes after you’ve been searching for an Xbox an advertisement offering the best prices on Xbox’s pops up via Facebook? Well now you know.

Furthermore, the revelations revealed by whistle blower Edward Snowden established how governments were also snooping in on the behaviour of their citizens. The American Nation Security Agency (NSA) and Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) tracked and kept files on all of their citizens internet browsing data, they also tapped into the private phone calls of citizens as well as the phone calls of the President of France and the Chancellor of Germany. In addition, before the Snowden files were revealed the head of the NSA, James Clapper, lied under oath when he answered no to the question ‘does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of US citizens?’ In a functioning democracy it is essential that every citizen has the right to privacy, however, privacy is simply not feasible on the surface web and this is the reason we have the dark web and browsers which allow internet users to remain hidden. For the record, the only way Edward Snowden was able to tell the world about the shady practices of many western governments was by using encryption methods to contact journalists anonymously. Journalists, whistle blowers and any member of the public can encrypt their emails so that it makes it extremely difficult and often impossible for governments to read the information inside.

Online privacy, does it matter to you?

Online privacy, does it matter to you?

Good sides of the dark web

Whistle blower Edward Snowden was the key to the public finding out about government snooping

Whistle blower Edward Snowden was the key to the public finding out about government snooping

As aforementioned, the dark web is accessed by journalists, whistle blowers and activists in order for them to remain anonymous when discussing cases involving government cover ups etc. In an age where almost everything is done via a computer it is fundamentally important to democracy and society that privacy still exists. The notion that ‘if you’ve got nothing to hide then you’ve got nothing to fear’ is irrelevant as the right to privacy is a basic human right, even if you do not wish to fulfill that right it doesn’t mean you should be able to prohibit somebody else from using that same basic human right. Giving the power of your own privacy to someone else should be an extremely worrying thought regardless of the intentions of the person, company or government seeking to gain access to your privacy.

Alan Pearce, a journalist and author who specializes in the deep web said: “Journalism has been transformed by the Internet and the Internet has opened journalists to levels of surveillance that would have horrified George Orwell. Intelligence agencies and law enforcement want access to your notes, contacts and sources. They watch everything you do online. They know who you talk to, where you go and what you read. They can even predict your future movements. And they want to know about your next story long before you type the last full-stop. Journalists are prime targets in cyber-space – the emerging battleground – targets in the sights of “democratic” governments and not just those of the repressive regimes.

WikiLeaks are another organisation that regularly use the deep web and the anonymity it produces in order to share and discuss information with their sources in private. WikiLeaks were able to leak footage which displayed American soldiers in Iraq seemingly murder innocent civilians in cold blood and bragging about it to each other. Two Reuters journalists were later found to be among the dead. Footage like this would not have been released to the public if it wasn’t for the dark web and the browsers which make it possible for users to be anonymous.

Bad sides of the dark web

Whilst anonymity helps protect whistle blowers and encourages journalists to shine lights onto dark places it also creates criminal behavior. Littered throughout the dark web are thousands upon thousands of websites that show the deplorable depths that the human civilization has ventured into. Child porn, gore, snuff films, torture flicks, live murder and rape films and other deeply unpleasant kinds of socially unacceptable ‘entertainment’ are regularly watched and enjoyed by users on the deep web. Hackers patrol the deep web like bull dogs waiting for unsuspecting victims with low level computer security to walk into their lair. Hackers on the deep web possess the ability to hack into your computer, control your webcam, steal all your details and make your life a living hell. It is possible to access information on how to make bombs whilst there are also black markets selling illegal drugs and guns. People who visit these websites without going to prison employ certain precautions to avoid being tracked, they essentially build a barrier of protection around their internet identity. Furthermore, the cryptocurrency known as Bitcoin is used which does not offer a ‘money trail’ like using a credit card would.  Anonymity deems it near impossible to track down the people who access this type of material for their viewing pleasure and although law enforcement do attempt to shut down these malevolent websites, websites on the deep web have been likened to the hydra; if you cut one of the heads off, three immediately grow back.

The Silk Road homepage before it was shut down by the FBI

The Silk Road homepage before it was shut down by the FBI

For example, the U.S. government successfully managed to shutdown Silk Road. Silk Road was known as the eBay of the dark web, it was a place where users could anonymously buy and sell illegal items such as class A drugs and weapons from pistols to AK47 machine guns. Silk Road made over $1 billion between February of 2011 and July of 2013. Through a series of detective work (it has been claimed that the FBI had under cover detectives acting as drug king pins) the FBI managed to successfully shut down Silk Road and arrest the man deemed to be the creator of the website, Ross Ulbricht. Although many unanswered questions have been left such as why didn’t the FBI go after child porn websites or sites where innocent victims are filmed being tortured and killed which progresses into the film being sold to the highest bidder. It is paramount that other black markets have simply taken the place of Silk Road. Furthermore, there are serious questions as to why Ulbricht has been given life imprisonment but we will not go into them at this time.

Ross Ulbricht

Ross Ulbricht

Many places on the dark web are deeply disturbing, many of the sites on there are easily vile enough to make one physically sick and question humanity, however, the internet is just a reflection of society, crime exists and it always will exist. Yes, onion browsers, due to their anonymity, hide criminals but unfortunately there will always be criminal behaviour in human society. The dark web is used to protect against mass surveillance, it is an impossible task to control the deep web, encryption and privacy is the only way to protect our communications in this modern age of technology.

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