The Other Side of the Internet, The Dark Web

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_Upside_Down_-_Public_Library_(exterior)

For some reason, I imagined the Dark Web to be the Upside Down from Stranger Things

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.

Deep-Web-Dark-Web-differences

 

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.

Screen-Shot-2015-08-11-at-4.15.00-PM-482x432

Total sales volume over time for the seven major Dark Web drug markets.

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.  blackbook1When 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.

tumblr_mt7w1zcvFW1s2ms9do1_500

I wanted to end on a happy, fun note.  Here’s a puppy!

6 comments

  1. Really interesting post! I first heard about the dark web from some freshman year roommates, and one of them even showed me Tor, which he had installed on his laptop (I think it was more out of curiosity’s sake than anything else). Last summer, I listened to an audiobook (not quite a podcast, but pretty close) that postulated that in the future, literary critics will look back on Dark web poetry and literature as some of our generation’s most defining works; it’s really wild to think about how much really is on the Dark Web. I am also very, VERY guilty of using the same passwords across many of my online accounts. I know I shouldn’t, but I just keep telling myself that my information couldn’t possibly get hacked. Here’s hoping!

  2. duffyfallon · ·

    Great post. I’ve always been curious/intrigued by the Dark Web – it’s referred to pretty often, but I feel like few people actually understand what it is/the purpose it serves. It’s pretty wild to think that all the illegal activity you speak to in this post happens openly and freely on the dark web networks – it points to both the sophistication of the technology (hidden networks) and of the users themselves. It’s a shame that it’s only used for ‘dark’ purposes – given today’s climate around privacy and data security, you’d think that this kind of technology/private networks would be embraced by every day internet users for a more general (normal) purpose.

  3. Great post. Alot of privacy folks suggest using the Dark Web by default, to keep governments and companies from collecting data and spying/ tracking your usage.

  4. Ciaran_Cleary · ·

    Very informative post, I have watched a couple documentaries and read some articles on it, but I still am unaware of how to maneuver around in it and who all is using it. Do you think there are some positives of the darknet? Do you think it will at some point become more mainstream or as certain aspects of it become mainstream it will continue to go darker and darker. I always think about the darknet and police and how much more sketchy stuff is going on the darknet than on the streets. Will be interesting to see how it is policed moving forward.

  5. DanKaplan · ·

    Nice post! I heard about the Dark Web back in high school and I would be willing to bet that the internet is so big and so vast that there are many things on there we would never want to see. It makes me wonder in some of these countries that can’t afford basic necessities (water, housing, etc.) how they find a way to have a cell phone or upload videos to the internet. The amount of illegal activity on the Dark Web was surprising to me. It makes me wonder how the government finds a balance between persecuting illegal activity on the Internet and providing privacy for users.

  6. talkingtroy · ·

    I like Prof Kane’s advice especially considering current legislation to allow the selling of internet history but feel like I wouldn’t want to tell people I was on the dark web because they would think I was either a criminal or a conspiracy theorist (was 9-11 an inside job?!?). I would be curious to see if there has been a correlation between certain crime rates and the rise of the dark web as crime moved from the streets to the web. Great post!

%d bloggers like this: