Accessing the dark web: How to surf the internet's underbelly
Most of us are dependent upon the internet nowadays, and millennials are the first generation to have never lived without it. We’re experiencing a digital renaissance; a time when information has never been more accessible or freely-available. Yet the world wide web, as we know it, is under threat. It’s important to remember that the sites 90 per cent of us browse are just the tip of a vast, murky iceberg of data which lies beneath the surface. I’m talking about the shadowy underground world of the dark web. Many internet users are obsessed with the idea of accessing the dark web; but what precisely is it?
These are the uncharted and lawless regions of cyberspace, where anything is for sale, everything has a price, and plenty of it is highly illegal. But what is the dark web? How can you access it? And is it safe to use? The answers bear close analysis.
For starters, you can’t access sites on the dark web using a conventional browser like Safari or Chrome, since many of them require specific software or special authorisation. Many of these sites use overlay networks to hide from search engines. And because these closed systems are not visible to those scrutinising them from the outside, it’s almost impossible to be tracked while using it, which means that the dark web is usually used by groups of people who are looking to remain clandestine while browsing. Furthermore, because these sites haven’t been indexed by search engines, they can only be accessed exclusively by those who already know the address of the site.
The way to access these sites is to employ the use of specific software, such as Tor, Freenet and I2P. These are programs which run internet traffic through an overlay network consisting of thousands of connected nodes, which help conceal a user’s IP address. These layers of encryption, which are nestled like the layers of an onion, allow net users to browse off-limit sites with impunity.
So what kind of sites are available on these services? Because of the nature of dark web browsers, most sites on there look pretty old and badly-designed, like something more from the mid-nineties than 2017. But hey, it’s hardly surprising that the look of the site isn’t a grave concern when the administrators don’t want their sites to be found.
Some of what constitutes the dark web is weirdly mundane, from bitcoin transactions, to auctions for everyday items. But, dig a little deeper, and you’ll eventually stumble upon more spurious stock, including heavy military ordinance from surplus sites, most of which have had their serial numbers filed off in order to avoid their being traced; in fact, everything from grenade launchers, to bazookas and bomb components are available for a price. Narcotics are sold in bulk, and you can anonymously order large supplies of PCP, meth, crack, and heroin, among other, more obscure compounds and substances.
Many users have claimed that the dark web is a hotbed for secret pedophile rings; a nexus for the distribution of child pornography. There are also allegedly scores of sites specifically geared towards sharing images of rape, torture, gore and violence, and the so-called “red rooms”, interactive livestreams where a prisoner (usually depicted as an “ISIS terrorist) is abused and mutilated by captors, while those watching the stream have the power to decide his fate. There are also reports that the dark web is the easiest place to hire hitmen and assassins.
Let’s bust a few of these myths off the bat. First of, and depressingly enough, it’s possible to find torture, rape, child pornography and violence on the surface web just as much as the dark web, and pedophilia is just as reviled on the dark web as it is on the surface web.
Furthermore, the hitmen-for-hire found on the dark web are usually overpriced and fraudulent. Eileen Ormsby, author of Silk Road (a book which examines the dark web) states, “There is absolutely no reason a so-called hitman would carry out a hit if someone is willing to send them the advance costs for free. The consensus of contributors to dark web forums was that these services are either scams or undercover law enforcement agencies.”
On the subject of red rooms, Ormsby is also sceptical, believing them to be mostly mythical. Although there is child pornography circulating the dark web, it is as rare as it is on the surface, and the only kind of footage resembling the Red Room game (that law enforcement is aware of and has made public) is the multi-part recorded home movie Daisy's Destruction - a sickening recording depicting the genuine torture and sexual assault of underage girls by notorious online pedophile Peter Scully, who has since been apprehended and imprisoned for life. Although snuff of this kind does exist, and is repugnant and evil in every sense, it’s quite simply not what the dark web is for, and videos of this nature are reviled and actively pushed to the margins.
So there you have it; the deep web is a mostly a clandestine marketplace for sale of drugs, weapons, stolen goods and a hotbed for fraud paraphernalia. Love it or loathe it, it’s clearly here to stay, and as the prospect of the internet falling under governmental or corporate control looms ever closer, we may find we might actually need it in the near future.