In the last couple of installments in this series we’ve looked at what the dark web is, how it got started and some of the political & economic ideology behind it.
Now it’s time to understand the basics of the technology behind it. What makes the dark web tick and how is it that vast numbers of people can buy, sell and communicate undetected?
The Key Elements that Make the Dark web Work
TOR – TOR is a web browser which is an acronym for The Onion Router
It got its name from the fact that it is multi-layered, just like an onion. What do we mean by multilayered? Well first let’s take a look at how the real internet works, and then compare TOR.
In a standard web connection there are three parties – you, the server (host on which the web page/file is stored) and your internet service provider (ISP). This is a simple connection and if you were to communicate or engage in any illegal activity it would be a piece of cake for interested parties to trace – all they would have to do is access the host server and obtain your IP address or contact the ISP, and your identity could be revealed.
TOR is a different kettle of fish. It’s a super-proxy whereby you go through multiple proxy servers (4 is standard) and some of the data is retrieved through one, while some is retrieved through others. The chances of the authorities being able to trace a data packet are very slim indeed.
It’s worth mentioning that all dark web domain names are beyond the reach of Google and major search engines. They are typically a random series of letters and numbers followed by the domain extension .onion and have to be accessed using TOR.
Some directories do exist such as The Hidden Wiki, of which there are several versions. It is not uncommon for a .onion website to go down for a period of time while changing servers or being busted by federal agents.
Bitcoin – The Digital Currency Nobody Owns or Controls
For those wishing to buy and sell on the dark web, Bitcoin is the answer.
When Bitcoin first rose to fame, some people believed it was going to create a worldwide revolution in the financial system, collapse the establishment and enslave humanity. This has not occurred, although some diehards are holding out hope yet.
How exactly Bitcoin got started and by who nobody knows. It is a digital currency which is generated and released by a computer program authored by a rebel-genius who goes under the handle Satoshi Nakamoto.
It isn’t difficult to guess that Mr (or Mrs) Nakamoto may be Japanese, but then again it may be a teenager in his mothers basement sporting a neck beard. Nobody has ever figured it out, but plenty of conspiracy theories abound for those who wish to look further into the subject.
How Bitcoin works in theory is simple enough: the program issues new “coins” which are divided up into tiny fractions and bought by people who wish to use Bitcoin. It is, much like other currencies, backed by absolutely nothing of inherent value, but works because other people have faith that at some point someone will trade them a good or service in exchange for bitcoin.
Bitcoin is completely de-centralized and is not under the control of any bank, government or institution. Everyone who uses Bitcoin has a copy of “the ledger” and can see every transaction which takes place, although they can not see the name of a user, just an account number and transaction amount.
You can use a different account number for every transaction, so it is very difficult indeed to prove that the same person engaged in say two transactions on dates x and y.
If this boggles your mind – this video may make things simpler. You’re not alone in feeling that Bitcoin is slightly overwhelming – but then again so is the current money system we operate in, isn’t it? Just switch on CNBC and try to make sense of what is going on, and you’ll soon realize Bitcoin is really no worse and probably a lot safer.
Various Other Dark web Anonymity Services
Of course when such a thing as the dark web takes root, the people using it find ways to enhance their security and anonymity even further.
A whole host of services has arisen surrounding the dark web from fake ID services to freight forwarding and anonymous, discreet parcel delivery services. There’s even something called a Bitcoin laundry service which mixes bitcoins from different wallets together and distributes them randomly back to your wallet, making them even harder to trace.
These services aim to provide an extra layer of protection in the areas where dark web users are vulnerable – eg if you have some suspicious smelling produce posted to your home, the UPS guy is not going to do you any favours if the FBI follow him to your doorstep, whereas a discreet shipping service stakes its entire reputation and future as a business on making sure no such thing happens. Some even send a parcel to multiple locations to lose any tails before delivering to your doorstep.
These extra services can of course be paid for in Bitcoin, like everything else on the dark web.
Those are the key elements of the dark web and how it works. We hope you’ve found it enlightening.
In the next installment we’ll cover some of the major sites on the dark web and look into the downfall of the most infamous of them all – Silkroad, and look at how Ross Ulbricht got himself put in prison for the rest of his life after banking tens of millions of dollars (some estimates think $80million is accurate) in bitcoin.
Until then, happy web browsing, and don’t do anything that will lead to your home being raided!