The Dark Web is the hidden underground of the internet where pedophiles exchange illicit material, guns and drugs are bought and sold, and stolen data finds a marketplace. The infamous case of confessed U.K. child abuser Richard Huckle is shining a rare light on this secretive area of the worldwide web, but in reality, the Dark Web has been around for many years.
The part of the internet that most people are familiar with – the part that can be accessed with Google searches and with standard browsers like Chrome and Safari – is called the Surface Web. The Dark Web occupies a subset of the internet called the Deep Web, a hidden and encrypted network.
It’s not a new idea. As mentioned in the New Straits Times, the “Invisible Web” was first coined as a phrase to describe the hidden parts of the internet as far back as 1994. Mike Bergman, a computer scientist, wrote about it in his study The Deep Web: Surfacing Hidden Value, which was published in 2001.
What is the Dark Web?
The Dark Web was created as a place on the web where activists could share material privately. It began with a sort of political statement against online surveillance.
Websites on the Dark Web hide their IP addresses using a variety of software tools. That means the websites can’t be found by regular browsers like Google Chrome. Users have to be able to hide their own identity to gain access. The internet being what it is, the Dark Web quickly became a marketplace for all things illicit, including drugs and child pornography. However, the Dark Web also hosts political and other discussions where people simply want to maintain their privacy.
The Silk Road was a famous – and now defunct, according to The Business Insider – illicit marketplace where anyone could buy anything from guns to drugs and much more. Payments on the Dark Web are typically made in alternative currencies like Bitcoin.
Much of the Dark Web uses a network called TOR – The Onion Router – and a corresponding browser called TOR as well. The browser can be downloaded from a website fairly easily, along with other software that ensures anonymity. What TOR hosts is a series of websites where anything you can’t get above board is for sale, including all kinds of illegal pornographic material of the worst kinds, guns, and other weapons. You can buy computer viruses – even take out a hit on someone.
While downloading the software is relatively easy, users still need an introduction from an existing member to gain access to much of the most explicit material.
How dark is the Dark Web?
How dark does it get on the Dark Web? As black as night. As reported by the BBC, infamous British pedophile Richard Huckle, who has admitted to more than 70 charges related to sex crimes against Malaysian children, used the Dark Web to brag about his exploits.
The Dark Web is where Huckle shared images, video and stories of his sexual abuse. Huckle operated online through a website on the Dark Web called The Love Zone or TLZ. In fact, Huckle went so far as to write a manual on how to commit pedophile with poor children in underprivileged countries. It was found on his laptop ready to publish on the Dark Web, along with more than 20,000 images.
The Dark Web is home to virtually anything for sale. As reported in the Gainesville Sun, just last week a 14-year old Florida teenager admitted to arranging and paying for fake bomb threats against his school via the Dark Web just to see what would happen and to get out of school. Each of the three fraudulent bomb threats involved a major response from authorities and disruptions at the school and in the community when concerned parents arrived on the scene. It’s not the first time bomb threats have been made via the Dark Web.
The Dark Web is also a marketplace for stolen and hacked data. Hacked data from 65 million Tumblr accounts was up for sale on the Dark Web last month, according to Vice.
Trolling the Dark Web for crooks
Authorities are becoming more and more savvy on how to both access and use the Dark Web to catch people like Huckle, who was captured by Australian agents using TLZ to lure him in.
As reported in The Standard, a drug dealing prison librarian in the U.K. used the Dark Web to order a Glock 19mm pistol and have it delivered to his home along with 100 rounds of ammunition. Luckily, the party he bought from was actually a U.S. federal agent and it resulted in a raid on his home instead.
Forbes reported on the demise of Sheep Marketplace, one of the Dark Web’s illicit marketplaces that specialized in drug purchases using Bitcoin. In a tangled story, two Florida men were eventually charged with stealing 54,000 Bitcoins from Sheep Marketplace and U.S. federal authorities seized $4.5 million.
Hidden from the usual constraints of any lawful society, the Dark Web is a secretive place where the forces of the law are hurrying to catch up.
[Image by Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH/Shutterstock]