I was listening to a Reply All podcast the other day and part of the conversation touched upon the Dark Web. Yes, I am an avid podcast listener, and yes I am guilty of speaking too much about podcast content in casual conversation. If you are not listening to podcasts, I strongly advise you too. They can dramatic, intellectually stimulating, engaging, and humorous. Reply All is a podcast that combines all of these characteristics in one. Anyways, this episode spoke about how the producer of Reply All had his Uber account hacked by data breaches at Adobe and Tumblr. The hacker then sold the producer’s Adobe and Tumblr credentials on the Dark Web. Since the producer did not change his login or password across platforms, the person who bought his account credentials logged into his Uber and changed his setting so he could not access his own account. The story is very interesting and eye opening. After finishing the episode, I was interested in reading more about the Dark Web. I had heard about it in passing conversation, but really did not know what it is. In this post, I will explore what the Dark Web is and what people do on it.
The Dark Web is the word wide web that lives on darknets, which are computer networks that are built on top of other networks. Darknets take the form of P2P networks used for file sharing and connections. Basically, the Dark Web is a group of hidden networks on the internet that are invisible to search engines. Users must run software and have specific CPU configurations to access the Dark Web. The software allows the user to remain anonymous. As you can imagine this leads to suspicious activity such as the exchange of sensitive and illegal information or products. Tor is one of the most widely used software to create anonymity and access the Dark Web. It is a free software that makes it difficult for anyone to track internet activity such as what websites you visit, instant messages, and posts.
You may be asking yourself “what happens on the Dark Web?” The answer in short is a lot of illegal activity. Many black markets are run on the Dark Web. The Silk Road was one of the first darknet black markets used to sell drugs. Users could access the Silk Road and use bitcoins to buy drugs. The website quickly grew a large seller and buyer network. The website was launched in 2011 and shut down in 2013. The founder Ross William Ulbricht was arrested on October of 2013 and was sentenced to life in prison for money laundering, computer hacking, and conspiracy to traffic narcotics. The FBI seized over 170,000 bitcoins equal to over $30 million. Still today, there are many black markets used for selling drugs and weapons on the Dark Web. The shutting down of the Silk Road and arrest of the founder has not led to a decline in these illegal markets. A recent study by Carnegie Melon shows that black markets on the Dark Web are moving over $ 100 million dollars of illegal substances annually.
Do you have a Coachella user account? If so, your credentials may be being sold on the Dark Web. Recently, on February 22nd, a data trader claimed to be selling over 950,000 user accounts for the Coachella website for $300. Luckily, the data does not include purchasing information. However, with a username, password, and email a hacker can access other platforms that have similar credentials. This is what happened to the producer of Reply All. Whoever buys the data could access your Uber or Gmail account. Pretty, scary. If you do have a Coachella account, I advise that you change your usernames and passwords. To better protect yourself going forward, you can use password manager software to generate unique logins for the websites that you use. There are plenty of free password managers. If you are interested you can look at reviews in this PC Magazine article.
Social media exists on the Dark Web. Users can access networking platforms where you can add friends, join groups, and interact in forums. Blackbook was one of the first Dark Web social networks. It was deemed the “Facebook of Tor”. Users could join groups to speak about hacking, selling drugs, or cryptography. They can upload pictures and create profiles. Unlike Facebook, Blackbook is uncensored. When I read about the content that was being shared on Blackbook I was horrified. I am grateful that Facebook has censorship because I do not want to be exposed to what was being shared on the Blackbook. I will spare you all and not speak about what is being shared. If you are interested, you can do your own research. Similar to the Silk Road, Blackbook was shut down. However, numerous other social media still exist on the Dark Web.
The “dark” in Dark Web is very accurate in describing these groups of networks. This post only explored the black markets, data sharing, and social media on the Dark Web. Users also engage in creating botnet servers, phishing and scams, and recruiting for extremist groups. Although, I found writing this blogpost interesting, I was also very disturbed. There have been attempts to completely shut down the networks that exist on the Dark Web, but when one website gets shut down more pop up in there wake.