German police arrest Dark Web market admin in rare break
On 8th June, the German police arrested the alleged administrator of a Dark Web marketplace from where a gun was purchased and used for the July 2016 shootings in Munich. This marked a rare break for the authorities who have not quite succeeded in clamping down on Dark Web websites. We take you on an introductory trip through this dark underbelly of the internet.
DISCLAIMER: This timeline is meant as a guide to the Dark Web. It is not meant to encourage or endorse illegal or immoral behaviour in any form.
Understanding the internet: the surface, deep, and the dark web
The "surface web" we all know accounts for only 4% of the internet. The rest is what is called the Deep Web - a repository of data and websites which cannot be indexed by traditional search engines like Google. While the Deep Web houses the Dark Web, it also contains mostly mundane information in the form of databases and "staging" versions of websites.
What can you find on the Deep Web?
"Staging" versions of websites are pages which exist so we can check stories before setting them live, and therefore are blocked from being indexed by search engines. Almost every internet page has a staging copy in the Deep Web, along with databases, webmail pages etc.
What is the Dark Web?
The Dark Web refers to a collection of websites, mostly illegal, which can neither be indexed by traditional search engines like Google, nor be accessed using traditional browsers like Chrome. This is because most of these websites are hidden using the Tor encryption tool, and can only be accessed using the free-to-use Tor browser. Due to encryption, users can visit Dark Web websites anonymously.
What is Tor?
Tor, developed by the United States Naval Research Laboratory in the mid-1990s, directs internet traffic through a free, worldwide, volunteer overlay network consisting of thousands of relays to conceal a users' location and internet activity from surveillance. The Tor browser can be downloaded from: https://www.torproject.org/download/download-easy.html.en
The dark underbelly of the internet
The Dark Web hosts a variety of websites from online black markets (like the infamous Silk Route) to child pornography websites. Since the advent of bitcoins, the Dark Web has grown in popularity due to its unregulated markets. Using bitcoins, any user can anonymously purchase drugs, firearms, explosives, hitmen, forged papers, counterfeit currency, human organs, sex slaves and so on.
How to find your way in the Dark Web
Since the Dark Web websites cannot be indexed by search engines, prior knowledge of addresses you want to visit is required. Websites like Reddit and http://thehiddenwiki.org/ offer consolidated lists of Dark Web websites, although these addresses might change from time to time.
How is the Dark Web used?
Since goods can be transacted anonymously through the Dark Web's unregulated markets, lots of illegal transactions are carried on through the Dark Web. It can also be used by people living in closed-off, totalitarian societies to communicate with the outside world. Whistleblowers like Julian Assange and Edward Snowden also use the Dark Web due to the security and anonymity offered by Tor encryption.