The recent Ashley Madison hack brought discussion of the Dark Web back into the mainstream when the hackers posted the stolen data via Tor. Tor software is used to anonymize the web address via a series of encryption layers and redirections that make network analysis difficult and obscure the users’ location. Tor actually is an acronym for The Onion Router and it operates in multiple layers akin to the layers of an onion as it is peeled back. Tor is used for both licit and illicit purposes and once again is a demonstration of the two-sides of a technology.
Wired defined the Dark Web as a collection of publically visible websites with hidden IP addresses making it difficult to know where they are hosted or why. The Dark Web is not indexed by conventional search engines. The content contained in it can be found but not as easily as a simple Google search, it requires knowledge of the website addresses or the application of specialized webcrawlers. Dr. Gareth Owen has an interesting discussion of Hidden Services on YouTube. The bulk of hidden services are criminal in nature. The Dark Web is used for sharing of child pornography, illegal drugs, money laundering, and various criminal activities. The Dark Web hosts illicit marketplaces for carders and hackers for hire. The legitimate uses include communications with individuals in countries with repressive regimes and lack of free speech.
The Dark Web is not impervious to law enforcement. In November 2014, Operation Onymous demonstrated that international law enforcement had some ability to penetrate Tor. There are legitimate needs for anonymity when using the Internet. The challenge is in balancing the rights to free speech and privacy with the legitimate interests of law enforcement to fight crime, particularly the heinous crime of child sexual exploitation. Circling back to Ashley Madison, the hack was criminal and the result is a loss of privacy for millions. As Carolyn Schrader points out, illicitly obtained data can now be the launch point for multiple other cybercrimes. Balancing privacy with security was never easy, it is now even more difficult in the cyber age.
Greenberg, A. (2014 11–19). Hacker Lexicon: What Is the Dark Web? Retrieved August 25, 2015, from http://www.wired.com/2014/11/hacker-lexicon-whats-dark-web/
media.ccc.de. (n.d.). Dr Gareth Owen: Tor: Hidden Services and Deanonymisation. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-oTEoLB-ses&feature=youtu.be&t=1998
Meet The Dread Pirate Roberts, The Man Behind Booming Black Market Drug Website Silk Road. (n.d.). Retrieved August 25, 2015, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/andygreenberg/2013/08/14/meet-the-dread-pirate-roberts-the-man-behind-booming-black-market-drug-website-silk-road/