Down the Rabbit Hole: The Deep, Dark Internet

Souti Dutta
By Souti Dutta

July 7, 2017

Nearly 3 billion people access the Internet on a daily basis. A majority of Internet users stay busy with activities such as social media, education, entertainment, sports and news; unaware that these only make up a limited part of the internet called the Surface Web or Clearnet. The Surface Web is the readily available segment of the World Wide Web, which is indexed by web search engines such as Google, Yahoo, etc. for the general public to access. Once an interested entity is connected to an ISP they can take advantage of the facility without employing additional software or hardware; a simple browser will does this job. Due to the simplicity the Surface Web exhibits, it becomes susceptible to government surveillance.

What is the Dark Web?

The Dark Web is a smaller portion of the Deep Web, which is exactly the opposite of the Surface Web or Clearnet. The contents that reside under the Dark Web stay hidden, and as it remains out of the reach of standard web crawlers used by Google, Yahoo and others, it is shielded against the standard means of discovery. Contents of the Dark Web also employ special connectivity techniques such as cryptography and encryption to remain concealed.

Who commonly treads these places and for what?

Based on a study done by Dr Gareth Owen, the Dark Web gets about 2 million visits on any given day from all over the world. The researcher further captured and analysed the number of times somebody attempted to visit a hidden service. Now, the Dark Web consists of multiple hidden services ranging from Black Marketplaces, Hacking Services, Whistleblowing to generic Internet services such as email and chat.

Sadly, the statistics from Dr Gareth’s study highlights that a large portion of the visitors on the Dark Web access drug forums and contraband marketplaces, and a significant amount of traffic goes to child abuse sites.

Based on the purposes that drive users to access hidden services in the Dark Web, it is possible to group the popular ones under the following two distinct heads:

  1. Non-Disturbing Hidden Services
    • Black Markets
    • Hacking
    • Anonymity Services
    • Bitcoin Services
    • Whistleblowing
    • Chat
    • Gambling
  2. Non-Disturbing Hidden Services
    • Hitmen for Hire/ Assassination Markets
    • Child Pornography
    • Fetishes and Animal Torture
    • Cannibal Websites
    • Red Rooms
    • Human Experiments
    • Snuff Films

Why should one keep away from these dark virtual alleys and what should one do if they accidentally land on such sites?

There are parts of the Dark Web that are considered to be darker than what ordinary imagination can conjure. Users are going to the depths of the Internet to satisfy their curiosities, unearth the truth behind stories they have heard, or other unlawful purposes.

It is also not unheard of that users accidently end up accessing darker parts of the web. It can be viewing a disturbing video, chatting with an unknown entity, mistakenly sharing personally identifiable information, accessing a specially crafted site, which captures images / video / audio through webcams, or accessing sites and information that are considered illegal in the eyes of the law.

Due to the anonymous and vulnerable nature of the Dark Web, it is best not access it. Although the government does not monitor the dark web, there are several attackers lurking to find innocent victims. If someone accidentally accessed a malicious site hosted on the Dark Web, there will generally be no legal consequences. They can either safely end the session or leave the site by pressing ‘Back’. There is a small catch though. In theory, it is not illegal to ‘just’ browse the Dark Web, but the country from where the activity has been initiated may have some consequences. A country (e.g. North Korea) with more intrusive laws may affect the users negatively if they are caught accessing restricted sites.

Users who are new or unfamiliar with this part of the Internet are encouraged to start their Dark Web journey with the help of sites like the Hidden Wiki. This Wiki page is a collection of links with brief outlines on what the links will lead to.

Why security researchers should monitor what is happening on the dark web?

It is not an unknown fact that the Dark Web is heavily polluted and dominated by abusers. Law enforcements and other government entities of various countries have identified underlying threats and are continuously trying to identify ways to crack the anonymising networks. The goal is to uncover ongoing crimes and the actors that operate on the Dark Web. Further, researchers have agreed to come up with monitoring techniques that will easily identify new malicious Dark Web services as early as possible.

With increased cybercrime rates, malicious actors are found exploiting the anonymous aspects of Dark Web to covertly maintain communication (e.g. CnC, transfer of exfiltrated data etc.). Initial studies have indicated that a majority of cybercrimes will be spawned and operated from the underground, so keeping tabs of the dark web is necessary for security researchers so they are able to anticipate and combat sophisticated threats.

At what rate is the Dark Web growing and what is fuelling this growth?

It is difficult to predict the exact rate at which the Dark Web is growing, because these sites are not indexed. An attempt to index these sites is nearly impossible because a majority of such sites switch addresses and server locations quite frequently and without notice. However, researchers have confirmed that they have observed “slow but steady increase” over a defined period of time along with occasional spikes.

The Dark Web can be considered a place where everything (illegal) is possible, and complete anonymity allows sellers and acquirers to stay buried deep.

Final Words

Dark Web and Deep Web is probably the most interesting cyber-platform that was ever created. Along with insidious and nefarious contents, a vast amount of knowledge and information also comes under the active offerings of the Dark and Deep Web.

It also provides a pure sense of security, privacy, or anonymity, which if wasn’t abused would have been a blessing to the cyber world.

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Souti Dutta