Dark Web Being Used for Less Hidden Activity Than Previously Thought

unregulated web less nefarious than believed

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

Surprisingly little of the dark web involves hidden online activity, Science Alert reported. It seems as though it’s a misunderstood portion of the internet, more than anything. The dark web is an uncensored, anonymous part of the internet.

Internet network concept, city with digital network
Not indexed by the conventional search engines of the regular internet, the dark web is a part of the internet that is not regulated and not directly traced to your home IP address. Photo By NicoElNino / Shutterstock

According to Science Alert, the dark web isn’t nearly as nefarious as some may make it seem. “A new study led by cybersecurity researcher Eric Jardine from Virginia Tech suggests that only a small fraction of the dark web is being used to access hidden sites—and, in this case, the hidden activity isn’t even necessarily illicit activity,” the article said.

“In the study, Jardine and his team analyzed data from the Tor network, generally considered to be the largest and most popular network enabling anonymous, private access to the uncensored web.”

The article pointed out that the “deep web” is simply the part of the internet that isn’t indexed in regular search engines, and the dark web is an uncensored, unfiltered part of that.

Imperfect Dark

Even though the dark web is a place where illegal internet activity sometimes happens—from drug deals to virus trading—it’s also attractive to people who merely want privacy or who find the regulations of the surface web too strict.

“This is especially true if they are living in an environment where free speech is suppressed and speaking against a government or religion is punished,” said Dr. Jennifer Golbeck, Professor in the College of Information Studies and Director of the Social Intelligence Lab at the University of Maryland, College Park. “The dark web is called ‘dark’ because it’s not accessible from regular browsers and it’s not indexed by search engines.”

Dr. Golbeck said getting to the dark web requires the Tor browser that Science Alert mentioned. “Tor” stands for “The Onion Router” and was first developed by the U.S. Navy. Instead of connecting you directly to a webpage you wish to access, Tor routes your browsing through intermediate servers instead.

“This gives you a great deal of privacy with respect to your web searching habits, since no one can trace a request back to you,” she said. “Your home IP address is only known by the first server in the chain.”

Pros and “Coins

The dark web is a double-edged sword. Dr. Golbeck said that the privacy and anonymity of the dark web does sometimes attract ne’er-do-wells and criminals whose enterprises may shock normal web users—especially when it comes to its marketplaces.

“One of the major activities that you can do on the dark web is to buy things, and you can buy pretty much anything,” she said. “You can buy stolen credit card numbers, stolen login information, drugs, guns, pornography, computer viruses, and the services of people who will help you do more of these illegal things. You can hire hackers, currency traders, and hitmen.”

Part of the reason that people can do this without being caught by the police is due to the rise of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. Cryptocurrencies are an invented currency not tied to any government or company, which are recorded in public ledgers and maintained by volunteers. Their buyers and sellers are anonymous, but the cryptocurrencies can be pretty volatile, much like buying a stock.

“You can easily buy Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies with regular money, you can trade it on exchanges, and you can use it to buy things on the dark web,” Dr. Golbeck said. “The important feature is that two people can exchange money securely, without knowing personal information about the other person.”

However, on the bright side, Dr. Golbeck said that plenty of credit bureaus and credit card companies now offer dark web monitoring that looks for your personal information on the dark web and alerts you if it’s been compromised—and now it seems that less of the dark web is used for illicit purposes than was previously believed.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily

Dr. Jennifer Golbeck contributed to this article. Dr. Golbeck is a Professor in the College of Information Studies and Director of the Social Intelligence Lab at the University of Maryland, College Park. She received an AB in Economics and an SB and SM in Computer Science at the University of Chicago, as well as a PhD in Computer Science from the University of Maryland, College Park.