July 25, 2017

The Dark Web is one of the most controversial tech topics to date. Although there is a lot of concern and negativity around the subject, it is simultaneously fascinating, unpredictable and ominous. No matter which way you look at it, the Dark Web is a unique piece of our digital world that cannot be ignored.  

With so many dimensions and topics within the Dark Web, I decided to talk to our senior developer, Vatche, as part of my research. With years of experience in web development and his association with 2600 (The Hackers Quarterly), I knew Vatche would be able to shed some light on the Dark Web (pun).  

“To start,” Vatche explains, “the internet is a vast connection of machines and it’s crawled by search engines to make it easy to find something (needle) online (haystack). I have heard that hackers refer to the web as you know it as the ‘surface web’, for the record I have never made that distinction.”

Unbeknownst to most people, the surface web is exactly as it sounds; the mere surface of a much larger digital ocean with layers beneath it that can only be accessed with specific browsers, constantly changing URLs and even a special currency. Vatche notes that “unless you know to go there, you wouldn’t just stumble upon it. It’s strategically hidden from the public eye.”

The deeper you go beneath the surface, the more security and hidden content you’ll come across; that is, if you’re using the right browser.

“An important thing to note,” Vatche says, “is that you cannot access the Dark Web without a ‘TOR browser,’ otherwise known as a ‘The Onion Router.’” It’s called an Onion Router because it passes the data through multiple layers of encryption, sending the user through multiple nodes until the user ends at their desired destination.

“This TOR browser,” Vatche continues, “allows the user to visit a website completely anonymously without the chance of being traced or tracked. The websites you access in the Dark Web are intentionally hidden from the public (e.g. the government, law enforcement, etc.), and some are part of a criminal enterprise, which is why you want to tread carefully when visiting them – and using a TOR browser can give you that anonymity.”

The Dark Web sits at the very bottom level of the digital ocean; “it’s unfortunately synonymous with the corruption - it’s the dark alley of the internet,” says Vatche. “People go there to move around the internet unnoticed, sometimes for illegal reasons.”

At first glance, the Dark Web is a place where human vices have gotten the best of society. However, there is also a powerful and relevant backstory built around the deep web. “Many things that happen in consumer technology are built from a hacker culture,” Vatche reveals. “Take a look at music, for example. We wouldn’t have iTunes, SoundCloud, Spotify, Pandora or any other music streaming company if Napster didn’t hack into the music-sharing industry. Even though Napster has criminal connotations, it was actually the gateway for an extremely successful dimension of music sharing that we’d never seen before. The idea of getting one song instead of a whole album changed the way we sold and listened to music.”

In the dictionary, “hacking” is defined as “using a computer to gain unauthorized access to data in a system.” Hackers are typically associated with criminals, viruses and illegal intentions; however, Vatche provided a unique perspective on this term. “The core principal of a hacker is curiosity, someone who must know ‘what would happen if…’ hackers are more like scientists than criminals. A criminal breaks in to a safe to steal what is inside, a hacker breaks in to a safe to see how the safe works. I don’t know what’s next for The Dark Web, but I do know that this passion for digital tweaking and repurposing will never die.”

The deep web is an endlessly fascinating topic with many dimensions and unchartered territories that are constantly changing. As of early this month, one of the Dark Web’s major markets was seized by the global police in an attempt to wrangle in some of the illicit activity happing beneath the surface.  Even though it is flooded with negative, crooked implications, it is another example of how far our technology has developed, and will continue to develop, by testing limits and pushing boundaries.

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