The hidden internet
Should you be worried by the so-called ‘dark web’? It turns out there’s not as much to fear as you might think
There’s a divide on the internet between the web we know and love and the so-called ‘dark web’, a collection of sites that aren’t indexed by search engines. You may already have heard of it; the dark web was the home of the notorious Silk Road, a site which sold various illicit goods before a high-profile FBI investigation shut it down in 2013. More recent activities have seen two further criminal marketplaces shuttered, but they’re unlikely to be the last. So should you be concerned about the dark web?
It’s important to understand what the dark web actually is. The term can refer to any online content that can’t be found by conventional means, which can mean private databases or hidden folders, but it’s often applied to sites only available when running your internet traffic through The Onion Router, or Tor. Tor is usually used for privacy, since it anonymises your internet traffic and conceals your location online.
The concept of Tor isn’t illegal, and the service itself is not responsible for criminal activity, but it’s not hard to see why it could be attractive to those skirting the law. Individual machines on the Tor network can be set up as secret sites. Those who want in need the address – generally a jumble of letters and numbers – and this can change frequently. Transactions also usually take place using currencies such as Bitcoin, which are themselves built on protecting privacy.
However, the dark web isn’t – as some corners of the media may suggest – a hive of scum and villainy and nothing else. And correlation is not causation; the use of privacy tools does not make you a criminal. It’s next to impossible to stumble onto something you shouldn’t on the Tor network. The vast majority of its users simply use it to anonymise their web traffic – and as more and more governments decide to snoop on their citizens (including in the US and the UK), the importance of privacy tools is only going to rise.
The web had criminal marketplaces before Tor, and it’ll have them after. It is not the tools that are the problem – it is the users.