Peeling The Onion: Exploring the Darker Side of the Internet

What if someone tells you that the very first e-commerce transaction which ever took place dealt with marijuana between a couple of students at MIT and Stanford?

Sounds crazy, right?

If you ever travel back to the early 20th century and randomly ask a person what are the most essential things in their life, they would reply by saying food, shelter and a job. But again, if you ask the same question in today’s times, there would be one more addition to it; the Internet. The Internet came in as ARPANET, a project funded by the US Defence Department in the late 1960s which connected a few computers on a single network through packet switching method.

But soon in 1970, two MIT students started to deal drugs on the local ARPANET network of their universities and hence, we can conclude that people have been using the internet for illegal activities since its inception.

But in 1990, things got interesting because a technology called Tor was invented. Now it is obvious to assume that Tor might be created by some black hat hackers or some illegal personnel, but in fact, Tor was developed by US Naval Services and was further developed by DARPA. It was made available to the public in 2002, and this saw a huge rise in activities on the deep web. Even today, the US government provides 80% of the Tor Project funding. Tor acted as a backbone in the development of the dark web and many people started accessing it. Today, the deep web itself comprises 96% of the internet, which means we just surf the remaining 4%. The perfect depiction of this can be observed in the Iceberg Analogy, where the small tip of the iceberg is the surface web which we use daily and the huge part which is underwater known as deep web. The part of the deep web which consists of all illegal activities is called the dark web.

In 2001, a study conducted by UCLA claimed that Dark Web had around 7.5 Petabytes (7500 gigabytes) of information. After the introduction of Tor in 2002, this number increased to 91000 Petabytes (91 x 10^6 GBs). By these statistics, we can determine how Tor affected the dark web.

Now, the question which will strike us is what EXISTS on the dark web?

It is said that you can find everything from AK-47 to Rocket Launcher if you search hard enough. The dark web is full of hackers, journalists, whistle blowers and many more. It has normal folks as well as people alleged to make dolls out of children’s dead bodies. Some people can provide you with fake degrees and can hack into your universities just to alter your grades and a lot more (no, don’t even think of trying it). It is said that you can get a fake degree for 500 dollars with an authentic University certificate from the dark web.

But a survey claimed that the majority of the sites on the dark web dealt with illegal drugs and their trading. One such site was Silk Road named after the famous traditional Silk Route in ancient times. In 2011, Ross Ulbricht started Silk Road as a basic portal to trade cocaine with people within his circle under the alias Dark Pirate Robert. Silk Road mostly dealt with drugs and fraud documents like passports. In 2013, Ulbricht was taken into custody on charges of money laundering, narcotics trafficking and hiring hit men to kill 6 people. He was given a double life sentence and 40 years without parole. At the time of his seizure, he had approximately 170,000 bitcoins in Silk Road and his accounts. Today that many bitcoins is equivalent to 2.8 billion USD. Silk Road was the most infamous site on the dark web at its time. It was also said that Ulbricht didn’t develop the whole site by himself because he had limited programming knowledge and some people say that it was a work of the Illuminati.  Another such site was Besa Mafia, which allowed you to hire Albanian hit men and snipers to do your job. But when people dug around, it was discovered that there was no actual hiring as this site was operated by two young nerdy men in Eastern Europe who had never even seen a real gun. They scammed many people at their time until everyone understood that it was a fake site.

So, the dark web has a variety of content, some of which is better left unexplored. But why do common folks need the dark web? They don’t buy guns or hire snipers; then why do so many people still access it?

The simple answer is privacy. Dark web layers your identity, decrypts your existence and provides you with better privacy as compared to surface web. You are away from fear that your government is still spying you and all your activities. Although many say that accounts can still be hacked on the dark web, usually that happens when you surf the wrong sites. Since the inception of the Internet, users have striven to attain 100% privacy and voice whatever they want, no matter how controversial, out in public without getting tracked. Deep web assures that and hence, there are so many discussion forums on the deep and dark web where people discuss all sorts of topics (both good and bad). When in custody, the infamous Robert Ulbricht said that whatever he has done was not wrong. He said that he provided people with the freedom to shop whatever they want without getting tracked by the government.  So even today most of the people debate on the existence of the deep web. On one hand it provides you with privacy and freedom to explore but on the other, it is misused by many people to do activities only the devil can think of.

Surfing the dark web isn’t illegal, but being at the wrong place can cause you trouble. There are child pornographic sites embedded in links which are there in various places. One-click on this link and next day you wake up to intelligence officers breaking into your house. No one would care that you opened the page out of curiosity and you would be sued. There have been reports of people getting calls from unknown numbers after they have browsed through some forums. Also, in some cases, their webcams are hacked and put on a live stream. There also have been cases of getting followed and seeing pictures of themselves doing daily activities on their system later that day. So, it is suggested that one should be very careful while exploring the dark web and it is instructed not to be too curious because your curiosity would end you up in jail.

Today, millions of people access the dark web just to get the privacy they want. After the seizure of Ulbricht in 2013, many people went against it online because they thought Silk Road made the drug transactions easy and safe as compared to the authentic method of hand to hand dealing in which most of the time the gang would go to war and it would turn out violent.

A lot of people regard the dark web as an underworld, a place where criminals meet and do transactions, which is true, since there are a lot of other activities there as well. But another argument is that it gives people freedom and stops governments from overreaching their boundaries. It keeps people and their ideas safe. The question is how do we stop the parts of the dark web that shouldn’t exist? While this has no solid answer right now, many organizations like the Tor team are working on it.

In a time where all our information is online and all our activities can be tracked by a search or post, it would seem like we need a place like the deep web to keep our freedom and privacy.

The question goes to you, do we need a place like the dark web for privacy reasons, with all the complications involved?  Who knows, even this might be rigged and even the dark web would be under surveillance without anyone finding out.


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