Dark web

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This article is about darknet websites. For the part of the Internet not accessible by traditional search engines, see deep web.

The dark web is the World Wide Web content that exists on darknets, overlay networks which use the public Internet but which require specific software, configurations or authorization to access.[1][2] The dark web forms a small part of the deep web, the part of the Web not indexed by search engines, although sometimes the term "deep web" is mistakenly used to refer specifically to the dark web.[3][4][5][6][7]

The darknets which constitute the dark web include small, friend-to-friend peer-to-peer networks, as well as large, popular networks like Freenet, I2P, and Tor, operated by public organizations and individuals. Users of the dark web refer to the regular web as the Clearnet due to its unencrypted nature.[8] The Tor dark web may be referred to as onionland,[9] a reference to the network's top level domain suffix .onion and the traffic anonymization technique of onion routing.

Terminology[edit]

The dark web has often been confused with the deep web, the parts of the web not searched by search engines. This confusion dates to at least 2009.[10] Since then, especially in reporting on Silk Road, the two terms have often been conflated,[11][12][13] despite recommendations that they be distinguished.[5][14][15][16]

Content[edit]

Web based Hidden Services in January 2015[17]
Category Percentage
Gambling
0.4
Guns
1.4
Chat
2.2
New
(Not yet indexed)
2.2
Abuse
2.2
Books
2.5
Directory
2.5
Blog
2.75
Porn
2.75
Hosting
3.5
Hacking
4.25
Search
4.25
Anonymity
4.5
Forum
4.75
Counterfeit
5.2
Whistleblower
5.2
Wiki
5.2
Mail
5.7
Bitcoin
6.2
Fraud
9
Market
9
Drugs
15.4
Web based Hidden Services in February 2016[18][19]
Category Percentage
Violence
0.3
Arms
0.8
Social
1.2
Hacking
1.8
Illegitimate pornography
2.3
Nexus
2.3
Extremism
2.7
Unknown
3.0
Other illicit
3.8
Finance
6.3
Drugs
8.1
Other
19.6
None
47.7

A December 2014 study by Gareth Owen from the University of Portsmouth found that the most commonly requested type of content on Tor was child pornography, followed by black markets, while the individual sites with the highest traffic were dedicated to botnet operations (see attached metric).[20] Many whistleblowing sites maintain a presence[21] as well as political discussion forums.[22] Sites associated with Bitcoin, fraud related services and mail order services are some of the most prolific.[20] To counter the trend of controversial content, the artist collective Cybertwee held a bake sale on an onion site.[23]

A more recent February 2016 study from researchers at King's College London gives the following breakdown of content by an alternative category set, highlighting the illicit use of .onion services:[24][25]

Botnets[edit]

Botnets are often structured with their command and control servers based on a censorship resistant hidden service, creating a large amount of bot related traffic.[20][26]

Bitcoin services[edit]

Bitcoin services such as tumblers are often available on Tor, and some – such as Grams – offer darknet market integration.[27][28] A research study undertaken by Jean-Loup Richet, a research fellow at ESSEC, and carried out with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, highlighted new trends in the use of Bitcoin tumblers for money laundering purposes. A common approach was to use a digital currency exchanger service which converted Bitcoin into an online game currency (such as gold coins in World of Warcraft) that will later be converted back into money.[29][30]

Darknet markets[edit]

Main article: Darknet market

Commercial darknet markets, which mediate transactions for illegal drugs and other goods, attracted significant media coverage starting with the popularity of Silk Road and its subsequent seizure by legal authorities.[31] Other markets sell software exploits[32] and weapons.[33]

Hacking groups and services[edit]

Many hackers sell their services there individually or as a part of groups.[34] Such groups include hackforum, Trojanforge, Mazafaka, dark0de and the TheRealDeal darknet market.[35] Some have been known to track and extort apparent pedophiles.[36]

Fraud services[edit]

Main article: Carding (fraud)

There are numerous carding forums, as well as fraud and counterfeiting services.[37] Many such sites are scams themselves.[38]

Hoaxes and unverified content[edit]

Main article: Hoax

There are reports of crowdfunded assassinations and hitmen for hire,[33][39] however these are believed to be exclusively scams.[40][41] The creator of Silk Road was arrested by Homeland Security investigations (HSI) for his site and allegedly hiring a hitman to kill six people, although the charges were later dropped.[42][43]

There is an urban legend that one can find live murder on the dark web. The term "Red Room" has been coined based on the Japanese animation and urban legend of the same name. However the evidence points towards all reported instances being hoaxes.[44][45]

On June 25, 2015, a creepy indie game Sad Satan was reviewed by Youtubers Obscure Horror Corner which they claimed to have found via the dark web. Various inconsistencies in the channel's reporting cast doubt on the reported version of events.[46]

Phishing and scams[edit]

Phishing via cloned websites and other scam sites are numerous,[47][48] with darknet markets often advertised with fraudulent urls.[49][50]

Puzzles[edit]

Puzzles such as Cicada 3301 and successors will sometimes use hidden services in order to more anonymously provide clues, often increasing speculation as to the identity of their creators.[51]

Illegal and ethically disputed pornography[edit]

There is regular law enforcement action against sites distributing child pornography[52][53] – often via compromising the site by distributing malware to the users.[54][55] Sites use complex systems of guides, forums and community regulation.[56]

Other content includes sexualised torture and killing of animals[57] and revenge porn.[58]

Terrorism[edit]

There are at least some real and fraudulent websites claiming to be used by ISIL, including a fake one seized in Operation Onymous.[59] In the wake of the November 2015 Paris attacks an actual such site was hacked by an Anonymous affiliated hacker group GhostSec and replaced with an advert for Prozac.[60]

Commentary[edit]

Although much of the dark web is innocuous, some prosecutors and government agencies, among others, are concerned that it is a haven for criminal activity.[61] In 2014, journalist Jamie Bartlett in his book The Dark Net used the dark net and dark web to describe a range of underground and emergent sub cultures, including social media racists, cam girls, self harm communities, darknet drug markets, cryptoanarchists and transhumanists.[62]

Specialist news sites such as DeepDotWeb[63][64] and All Things Vice[65] provide news coverage and practical information about dark web sites and services. The Hidden Wiki and its mirrors and forks hold some of the largest directories of content at any given time.

Popular sources of dark web .onion links include Pastebin, YouTube, Twitter, Reddit and other Internet forums.[66] Specialist companies with Darksum and Recorded Future track dark web cybercrime goings on for law enforcement purposes.[67]

In 2015 it was announced that Interpol now offers a dedicated dark web training program featuring technical information on Tor, cybersecurity and simulated darknet market take downs.[68]

In October 2013 the UK's National Crime Agency and GCHQ announced the formation of a 'Joint Operations Cell' to focus on cybercrime.[69] In November 2015 this team would be tasked with tackling child exploitation on the dark web as well as other cybercrime.[70]

In popular culture[edit]

  • The dark web is a key plot element in Lee Child's novel Make Me (2015).[71]
  • Character Lucas Goodwin uses the dark web to find a hacker in the American television series House of Cards (2013).[72]
  • The dark web is a major plot element in the German techno-thriller film Who Am I (2014).[73] The film also visualizes secret darknet chatrooms with rundown subways in which masked people exchange messages.[74][75]
  • Killer.com (2015) is a novel by Kenneth G. Eade about a cyber bullying mob who hires a killer for hire over the darknet for an anonymous murder.[76][77]
  • CSI: Cyber (2015) follows the work of Mary Aiken inspired Special Agent in Charge Avery Ryan, who leads an FBI division tasked with working on the dark web, investigating everything from online baby auctions ("Kidnapping 2.0"), to the disabling of roller-coaster safeguards ("CMND:\CRASH"), the world of black market weaponry ("Ghost in the Machine"), the death of those using a transport app ("Killer En Route"), and a design flaw in a printer ("Fire Code").
  • Thomas Pynchon's Bleeding Edge dives deep into the dark web to untangle a conspiratorial plot linked to the bombing of the twin towers.
  • The 2016 game titled "Welcome to the Game" is entirely based on the deep/dark web.[78]
  • The dark web is a key plot point in the 2016 movie "Nerve", which is based upon a YA novel of the same name by Jeanne Ryan.[79][dubious ]
  • In the episode "eps2.3_logic-b0mb.hc" (ep. 5 of season 2) of the drama–thriller television series Mr. Robot the protagonist Elliot is supposed to be repairing a Tor hidden site which turns out to be a darknet market called "Midland City" styled after the Silk Road for the sale of guns, sex trafficked women, rocket launchers, drugs and hitmen for hire. When he learns about this his conscience shows. Later he is dragged out of bed and beaten up by two goons and reminded by Ray, the site's administrator, that he was told not to look at the site's content.[80][81]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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Further reading[edit]