The internet has, in its storied history, been compared to many things: a river; a superhighway; and, perhaps most famously, a series of tubes. But as it turns out, the most apt comparison of all just might be an iceberg.
Like the mighty floes that break off from glaciers, only 10% of the network we call “the internet” is visible to the general public. Hidden below the virtual waterline lies a tangled and secretive network known as the Deep Web. Unindexed by search engines, and accessible only with special browsers such as The Onion Router (Tor), the Deep Web is made up of peer-to-peer connections, which allow users to share files directly (and secretly).
The Deep Web has a strong appeal to privacy advocates, who have taken advantage of the lack of tracking to shield their anonymity from advertisers and officials alike. Whistleblower Edward Snowden used the Deep Web to collect much of the information that carried him into a worldwide controversy, and journalists around the world are coming to rely on it as a more secure alternative to the public web when searching for sensitive or dangerous information.
But the secretive nature of the network has also made it a haven for criminals of various stripes, trafficking in everything from illegal drugs to stolen credit cards to child pornography. The Silk Road, an online marketplace driven by internet currency bitcoin, dominated headlines in 2013 when authorities succeeding in shutting it down. The site had a reputation as the internet’s go-to destination for illicit drug sales (including thousands of listings for heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamines), and its demise spawned both a crowd-sourced documentary from actor Alex Winter and a bevy of successors eager to capitalize on the fall of their better-known sibling.
Companies such as AT&T, eager to review, track, and control activity within its fuzzy borders, are working tirelessly to bring light to the corners of the Deep Web. Government officials and law enforcement agencies, concerned about piracy, illegal trafficking, and leaks, are in the strange position of attempting to police the same wild and wooly netherworld they rely on for their own clandestine operations. But scandals, secrets, and skulkers will always find their way to the shadowiest parts of the Web, and while the future of the Deep Web may be as murky as its labyrinthine tangles, it’s sure to remain a part of internet lore for years to come.
Thank you to our friends at DynamoSpanish.com for the Spanish translation.
Transcript: Everything You Wanted to Know About Tor & The Deep Web
You may think that the internet is a huge resource of information, but in fact what most of us see is just one link in a very long chain of underground websites and unseen content.
What is the Deep Web?
Put simply, it is the part of the internet that is hidden from view.
- Surface Web
- 4% of WWW content
- Also known as the ‘Visible Web’, it is content that can be found using search engines such as Google or Yahoo. It is under constant surveillance by the government.
- Deep Web
- 96% of WWW content
- Also known as the ‘Invisible Web’, it is the content that cannot be indexed by search engines. And it is hard to keep track of.
The Deep Web is estimated to be at least 500x the size of the Surface Web.
How do you access it?
When using the Surface Web, you access data directly from the source.
This direct approach tracks the information downloaded, from where and when it was accessed, and your exact location.
Information on the Deep Web cannot be accessed directly. This is because data is not held on any single page, but rather in databases, which makes it difficult for search engines to index.
Files are shared through any number of computers connected to the internet that hold the information you need. This is known as peer-to-peer networking.
In order to access the Deep Web, you need to use a dedicated browser. TOR (The Onion Router) is the most commonly used, but other options such as I2P and Freenet offer an alternative solution.
This method of sharing encrypted data makes it difficult for your location, and the kind of information you access, to be tracked or monitored.
Is it legal?
Yes. You use it as you would any other internet browser. Many people are now beginning to use TOR as a way to maintain their privacy whilst online.
- Who else uses it:
- Police and crime units
- Edward Snowden
- Julian Assange
Due to the anonymity that TOR offers, the Deep Web has also become a popular nesting ground for criminal activity. This includes things such as:
- Weapons trading
- Child pornography
- Hit men for hire*
*Though there are groups on the Deep Web claiming to offer this service, there has been no legitimate proof of their existence.
The influence of Bitcoin
The Silk Road became one such popular website on the Deep Web. Known also as the “eBay of drugs”, it is a place to buy and sell things – but mainly illegal drugs.
This was made possible by the use of Bitcoin, a virtual currency that makes use of the encrypted peer-to-peer system.
Bitcoin allows users to conduct business transactions anonymously. This has allowed some users of the currency to engage in illegal activity.
- First Bitcoin traded
- JAN – Silk Road founded by the user ‘Dread Pirate Roberts’
- FEB – Bitcoin triples in value
- JUN – US senate investigates link between Bitcoin and Silk Road
- NOV – Bitcoin loses over 90% of its value
- OCT – FBI locate and arrest the person accused of being the ‘Dread Pirate Roberts’. Silk Road is shut down.
- NOV – Silk Road 2.0 founded
Bitcoin triples in value*
*Bitcoin is known to be a volatile currency, even though its value has on average constantly increased since its inception, it is prone to large fluctuations in perceived value.
Over $1 billion worth of goods were sold on Silk Road before it was shut down.
There may be a wealth of information out there in the Deep Web, but you should be careful about what you look for. Just like Alice – the deeper you go, the more trouble you could find yourself in.
- Theres a Secret Internet for Drug Dealers Assassins and Pedophiles – businessinsider.com
- Who Uses Tor – torproject.org
- The Disturbing World of the Deep Web – dailymail.co.uk
- What Is the Deep Web – news.discovery.com
- FAQ – bitcoin.org
- Silk Road Users Arrested – huffingtonpost.com
- Silk Road 2 – wired.co.uk
- Alternatives to Tor – alternativeto.net
- P2P – techterms.com
- Invisible Web – websearch.about.com