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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: The Dark Side of the Web

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As the internet continued to grow in the mid-to-late 1990s it would come to transform society on

a global scale. The biggest change came in the form of instant communication. As long

as you had an internet connection you could talk to anyone on earth, assuming, of course,

they were also connected to the internet. And around the millennium-shift you had over

350 million connected people to choose from. The thing is, the internet was not designed

with things like anonymity and privacy in mind so everything you do and say online can

and, in many cases, will be tracked, recorded, and traceable back to you. Some people are

very concerned about their privacy and in the mid 1990s one such group of people was

the United States federal government. A team of computer scientists and mathematicians

working for a branch of the US Navy known as the Naval Research Laboratory, abbreviated as NRL,

began development of a new technology known as onion routing. Onion routing would allow for anonymous

bi-directional communication where the source and destination cannot be determined by a mid-point.

This is accomplish by creating something known as an overlay network. An overlay network

is simply a network that is built on top of another network, in this case the internet.

So instead of using the normal unencrypted internet, also known as the surface web, your

traffic goes trough an overlay network. Now, there are many different types of overlay

networks but a network using onion routing technology would be classified as a darknet.

A darknet can only be accessed via specific software and/or authorization. In case that

was hard to follow, all you you need to know is that people working for the US government

created a system which would allow for anonymous communication over the internet.

However, the people over at NRL soon realized a major limitation.

ROGER DINGLEDINE: ...the United States government can't simply

run an anonymity system for everybody and then use it themselves only because then

every time a connection came from it people would say "Oh, it's another CIA agent looking at my website!"

if those are the only people using the network. So you need to have

other people using the network so that they blend together.

So what he's saying is that for the network to be truly anonymous it has to be available

to everyone and not just the US government. So the NRL was forced to release their onion

routing technology to the public. The technology was eventually released under an open source

license and became TOR. TOR stands for The Onion Router and is the software you need

to download to be able to access this network of onion routers. Today, millions of people

across the globe use TOR for a multitude of purposes. Everything from innocent daily browsing

to criminal activities. And while it is the most popular, TOR is but one among numerous

darknets. Together they all make up the dark web. Subsequently, the dark web forms a small

part of the deep web. The deep web is everything on the web that can not be indexed by search engines.

It's nothing like the dark web as most of us use the deep web all the time.

If you visit this link, you will find an unlisted YouTube video on my channel. This can be classified

as deep web content. I know it's a bit anticlimactic but, yeah, this video exist on the deep web

simply because no search engine can find it. Other examples of deep web content includes

online banking, Netflix, web mail, dynamic pages, databases, and everything that's password-

or paywall-protected. As you can imagine, the deep web has a lot more content than the surface web.

How much more? Well, we don't know because by its very nature it's near-impossible to determine.

A paper from 2001 estimated that the deep web is 500 times the size of

the surface web but, then again, that estimation is over a decade old. All we can say for certain

is that deep web content accounts for the vast majority of the content on the world wide web.

So, to summarize. The surface web is content that can be indexed by search engines.

The deep web is content that can not be indexed by search engines. And the dark web is a fraction of the

deep web consisting of numerous darknets which require specific software and/or authorization to access

Okay, we know what's on the surface web and we know what's on the deep web.

But what do we find on the dark web? More specifically, the darknet known as TOR.

As mentioned, you can use TOR for almost anything. Browsing the web, checking your email, posting

on forums, instant messaging, watching YouTube videos, you name it. But the dark web aspect

comes in the form of hidden services. A hidden service is essentially a website that can

only be accessed via TOR and the address for a hidden service will always end in .onion.

So if I attempt to access this hidden service using Google Chrome, nothing happens. It will

only connect using specialized software such as the TOR browser. This is the dark web.

Well, one site on the dark web. This specific site is known as The Hidden Wiki and attempts

to list as many publicly known hidden services as possible. Facebook operates a hidden service.

The search engine DuckDuckGo is another. But this is about as far as I will go because

there is definitely a darker side to the dark web. Anonymity attracts a vast variety of

people and can be used for both licit and illicit purposes.

In October of 2013, the FBI took down the online drug marketplace known as Silk Road.

The website had been in operation since the beginning of 2011 with a total revenue estimated

at $1.2 billion. News about the Silk Road website brought the dark web out of the dark

and right into public eye. This graph shows daily traffic over the TOR network before

Silk Road was mentioned in mainstream media. This is after. Only a few months after Silk

Road had been taken down ex-administrators of the site launched Silk Road 2.0.

However, in late 2014, the FBI arrested the admins and the second marketplace was taken down as well.

A few hours after that, Silk Road 3.0 was launched and the seemingly endless

spiral continues. And keep in mind that Silk Road was just one website among many.

You can find numerous others just like it, selling every illegal drug you can imagine and more.

The FBI also claimed that the owner of the Silk Road website had attempted to have six people

killed by using deep web murder-for-hire services. While the assassinations themselves are unlikely

to have occurred, these websites can definitely be found on the dark web. The problem is a

lack of evidence. Anyone can set up a darknet website claiming anything for any reason.

Especially if there's money involved. One such website was recently hacked and several

emails by the admins would suggest the website is indeed a scam set up to make money.

One message reads: "We receive orders to kill people from all over the world, however our

site is fake and we dont have any hitmen. We forward the orders to police departments

where the targets are located." And in yet another email they bluntly state:

"...this website is to scam criminals of their money."

Then again, this supposed hack could've been faked as well so there's no way to be absolutely certain.

Unfortunately, the dark web has some much more depraved and gruesome extremes.

Many websites contain various forms of sexualized torture and killing of animals and child pornography

sites are a huge problem on the dark web. A site known as Lolita City which has now been

taken down contained over 100 GB of photos and videos and had around 15,000 members.

Another website known as Playpen was taken down by the FBI in 2015 which may have been

the largest child pornography site on the entire dark web with over 200,000 members.

There's somewhat of an urban legend known as red rooms. A red room is a livestream of

a person being tortured and/or murdered for the entertainment of others. Supposedly, the

viewers may event interact by typing down instructions. Again there's no evidence of

this ever taking place but the myth persists. Not too long ago, a .onion link appeared on

various forums which take you to a page claiming that a red room-style livestream

would shortly begin. The victims where supposedly captured ISIS terrorists and the soon-to-be-killers

promised hours of torture. Though the first hour would be family friendly. You know, for

all the kids staying up late to watch a person being brutally murdered live on the dark web.

After much morbid anticipation, the livestream went live and viewers where greeted by a plate of bacon.

Mainstream media would have you believe that the surface web is just a thin layer on top

of an enormous criminal underground but it couldn't be further from the truth.

And it's no wonder as they frequently confuse the dark web with the much, much larger deep web.

A recent study from early 2016 found that, out of 2,723 active .onion websites on the TOR

network 1,547 contained illicit content. So that's over half. This includes pornographic material,

drugs, money laundering, cyberterrorism, contract killers, trading of firearms and weapons, etc.

But only 3-6% of all TOR users actually use these hidden services.

So only 3-6% use the dark web. The vast majority exclusively use TOR to protect their privacy and to

browse the surface web anonymously and have never visited a .onion website.

So while there's no question that the dark web contain some of the most horrific content on the entire web,

it's nowhere near as extensive as some make it out to be.

Okay here's a question then...

How do you prevent criminals from using these services while still alowing lawful citizens to protect their privacy?

The answer is simple, you don't.

You can't restrict something that is, by it's very nature, meant to be unrestrictive.

That's the problem with anonymity. Anyone can do or say anything so we have no choice but to take

the good with the bad. Even if law enforcement agencies had the ability to shut the entire network

down completely, they wouldn't. Because the US government need TOR as much as anybody else.

Remember, they created this technology.

And they did not create this technology just so they could release it to the public for free.

It was only released to the public as public usage is an essential part of what

makes TOR anonymous. It takes us right back to this:

ROGER DINGLEDINE: ...the United States government can't simply

run an anonymity system for everybody and then use it themselves only because then every

time a connection came from it people would say "Oh, it's another CIA agent..."

Who do you think funds the TOR project? In 2007, 100% of the TOR project's funding came

from the US government. In 2008, 86%. In 2009, 90%. In 2010, 94%. In 2011, 78%. In 2012, 81%. In 2013, 94%.

A government agent working undercover is as much in need of

online anonymity as a terrorist, pedophile, or whistleblower.

It's everyone or no one. That's the unfortunate truth.

The Description of The Dark Side of the Web