Business Unusual

Everything you need to know about the dark web, but were too afraid to ask

You may have not heard of it, or if you have, you heard the horror stories.

The recent closure of two illegal online marketplaces for selling contraband has put the dark web back in the spotlight.

For most who have never or would never use it, it may seem obvious to simply call for the entire thing to be shut down. But the dark web is not only impossible to shut down, it has very real value, albeit that it is a haven for criminal activity too.

What is it?

There are three parts of the web that are relevant to this explanation. The visible web, the deep web and the dark web. Sometimes they get different names and are divided into more sections but these are the basic blocks.

The Visible Web Any site that is public and indexed by a search engine is part of the visible or surface web. There are over 14 billion pages indexed and publicly available and it is growing all the time.

When you talk about the web you typically mean the visible web.

The Deep Web You may see some sites refer to the deep and dark web as the same thing, but the deep web is effectively any page that is not indexed or that requires a direct link to access or needs a password. Most Facebook posts and pictures are considered the deep web as are company records and any cloud documents that are not specifically public. Estimates vary about its size, because it is not indexed, but generally it is believed to be much bigger than the visible web and growing even faster as almost everything we do now gets stored online.

The Dark Web It requires an anonymous connection to access with the most common means to do so using software called The Onion Router or simply Tor as its acronym. The name comes from how traffic is sent across the web. When a site on the visible web is accessed by a user, a request is sent to access the page using a public IP address and the response sent back to your IP address. The request is sent via the internet and can be intercepted and read. As both the origin and destination is included in the message, you can be tracked online.

The Tor browser prevents that by encrypting the request and sending it via multiple destinations with only the next one in the sequence able to be unencrypted by the receiving router which then forwards it to the next address.

Imagine a letter with an address placed and sealed inside another letter with a different address. If someone were to open the letter they could see where the letter came from and who it is addressed to, but they will not know if the sender is the original sender or if the next destination is the final one. All traffic is sent this way across public servers but is in effect completely anonymous. To compromise it would require so much effort, that it is hardly worth it.

Who would create such a seemingly evil tool you might wonder - the US Navy. The internet was developed by the US Department of Defence initially as a way to share information more efficiently among their forces. The principles of routing traffic through multiple routers was developed to allow the navy to send its messages through public servers securely.

The code was released to the public a year after its launch in part because the more people use it the less likely the traffic generated by the military will be detected in the mix. While it is free for anyone to use, it continues to receive funding by the US Government, although there are likely some politicians who may not like that.

There have been illegal marketplaces like Silk Road in the past, but the shutdown of Alphabay suggests it was far larger. Ongoing police work across countries is the best defence with the Dutch run Hansa being run for over a month by Dutch police in order to track who was using the site. The shutdown of Alphabay was coordinated to allow records of those that used the Alphabay marketplace who then flocked to Hansa to also be tracked before shutting down the Hansa site too. Despite the significant bust, there are and will be others to take their place.

There are other real benefits to the dark web which balance the potential downside.

For those operating in oppressive countries or who wish to more securely report on crimes and corruption to the press or humanitarian organisations, the dark web offers the safety to do so. Many large publications maintain secure digital drop boxes that allow people to provide evidence that can’t be traced back to them.

For many the attempts by many governments and even corporations to monitor your every move online is reason enough to choose to opt for using the tools to communicate and browse sites anonymously.

A fair warning though that the dark web, while providing anonymity, is not without risk for those who wish to use it. The odds of scams and potential malware being offered as innocuous or desirable content is very real with those affected even less likely to report their misfortune as authorities are likely to be suspicious of their motives as much as they may be sympathetic for their their loss.

If you do wish to learn more, and you should, visit the Tor project website and first become familiar with the project and what it can and can’t do.

702 welcomes all comments that are constructive, contribute to discussions in a meaningful manner and take stories forward.

However, we will NOT condone the following:

  • Racism (including offensive comments based on ethnicity and nationality)
  • Sexism
  • Homophobia
  • Religious intolerance
  • Cyber bullying
  • Hate speech
  • Derogatory language
  • Comments inciting violence.

We ask that your comments remain relevant to the articles they appear on and do not include general banter or conversation as this dilutes the effectiveness of the comments section.

We strive to make the 702 community a safe and welcoming space for all.

702 reserves the right to: 1) remove any comments that do not follow the above guidelines; and, 2) ban users who repeatedly infringe the rules.

Should you find any comments upsetting or offensive you can also flag them and we will assess it against our guidelines.

702 is constantly reviewing its comments policy in order to create an environment conducive to constructive conversations.

Read More
This sport requires you to run, drive and fight all while remaining seated

This sport requires you to run, drive and fight all while remaining seated

eSports are more than just a game now and may even be an Olympic sport by 2024.

Great ideas, wrong time

Great ideas, wrong time

The iPhone, Ebay and Facebook, we all know these killer applications but what about their very similar predecessors that flopped.

The world of business is changing, here is what you need to know.

The world of business is changing, here is what you need to know.

Companies, institutions and principles, nothing is safe from the impact of the 4th industrial revolution.

What 30 years of data tells us about the past and future of the super wealthy

What 30 years of data tells us about the past and future of the super wealthy

Changes to the Forbes Rich List is like a financial history of the world, reflecting economic booms and busts.

The Alibaba Group does not see itself as a company but an economy

The Alibaba Group does not see itself as a company but an economy

Alibaba founder Jack Ma says the future is his biggest competitor and he wants young entrepreneurs to help him succeed.

If a minimum wage is a good idea, what about a maximum?

If a minimum wage is a good idea, what about a maximum?

Salary caps are not new, but wage gaps have never been this big, perhaps this is how could we address it.

Popular articles
So what exactly is radical economic transformation?

So what exactly is radical economic transformation?

Wits associate professor of economics Christopher Malikane speaks to Azania Mosaka about the term that is being bandied about.

Getting to know MP, Dr Makhosi Khoza

Getting to know MP, Dr Makhosi Khoza

Dr Khoza is admired by South Africans for her role in the SABC inquiry as a ANC member of parliament.

10 sexting tips on how to keep things spicy (and safe)

10 sexting tips on how to keep things spicy (and safe)

Interested in sexting but worried about the risks? Dr Eve has created a guideline to help you 'sext' in a fun and responsible way.

It's not the end of the road... Top tips to improve your matric

It's not the end of the road... Top tips to improve your matric

"Recognise that it’s not the end, it’s the beginning." Expert advise for school-leavers who want to improve their results.

Who is Advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi?

Who is Advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi?

The EFF lawyer stole the show during the state capture report court battle.

3 easy questions could bag you R2000!

3 easy questions could bag you R2000!

WIN R2000! But only if you can prove you're a whiz of the MTN Biz Quiz by answering the following three questions...

Blesserfinder: Matching you with a sugar daddy near you

Blesserfinder: Matching you with a sugar daddy near you

Is social trend Blesserfinder, where girls are allegedly matching up with rich 'benefactors' in exchange for sex, a real thing?