Dark Internet: The Origins of the Dark Web

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The internet is such a multifaceted invention that most of us only ever scratch the surface of its potential. The “surface web” is where most internet users spend their time; websites like Amazon, Google, Wikipedia, and YouTube are accessible. However, the surface web contains about 4 to 5% of the internet’s content. The remaining 95 to 96% of the internet is split between the “deep web” and the “dark web”. Databases, academic archives, and federal documents comprise the deep web – it’s a realm of mostly inaccessible data that keeps the surface web up and running. The dark web, however, truly lives up to its name.

Hackers, black market traders, government organizations, secret societies, political activists, and career criminals populate the dark web. This clandestine section of the internet can only be accessed through “darknets”, special networks that only individuals with the proper software, hardware, or clearance can utilize. If all of this sounds incredibly cryptic and potentially illegal, know that such activities are commonplace on the dark web.

People delve into the dark web for a myriad of reasons; some simply wish to reclaim their privacy. Others have used the dark web to start political movements or trade cryptocurrencies on a massive scale. Then, there are the dark web users who partake in truly startling illegal activities.

What is the dark web? There’s no simple answer to that question. Nevertheless, we’ll share everything we’ve learned about the darkest corners of the internet. 

Before the Internet Was Even a Thing: The Dark Web’s Infancy

The dark web was created by the United States government. Similar to World War II militants that experimented with different radio frequencies, the dark web was designed to be a place where a controlled number of people could communicate and not have to worry about who may be watching or listening. The Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) is part of the United States Department of Defense (DOD).

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In the 1960s, they helped create the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, or ARPANET, a place where people could send massive amounts of information rapidly with little time spent waiting. While originally meant to assist with academic research, the department found that the net could assist with war efforts. There was no email back then, so this fact might feel like it belongs in a time capsule, but the demand for quick information was very real. So real, in fact, that ARPANET ended up assisting the United States during the Cold War.

The public was “let loose” onto the internet in 1991. In that decade, terms like “email,” “surfing the web,” and “chatrooms” entered the cultural lexicon and, eventually, the English language. Even by then, a dark internet had already been established.

In 2002, Tor would change the dark web forever. (This is not to be confused with Tor Publishing, an awesome book publisher that puts out amazing science fiction and fantasy texts year after year.) Basically, Tor is an anti-surveillance software that allows people to be online with less chance of being traced, followed, or seen.

Still used by folks today, Tor is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that believes in a private internet. Tor can clear your cookies so third parties aren’t tracking your activity and encrypt your traffic three times, among other services.

Defining the Dark Web: What’s What?

The term “dark internet” can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. It’s important to note that the dark web does not equal the “deep web.” So, say you go down a rabbit hole of Reddit threads, hitting the hundreds of search results from Google or scrolling through a very long comment thread. You may encounter dark things, but you are not on the dark web. Remember that during your next deep dive.

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Dark websites are definitely a thing. A good indicator for telling what part of the web you’re in can be in a website’s domain name. If it doesn’t end in .com, .co, or in other ways, you’re familiar with, chances are you could be exploring the dark web.

One place on the internet that would be considered part of the deep web as opposed to the dark web would be places like 4chan and 8chan. While those places may have been sources for a lot of controversy and illegal atrocities, they were both considered a part of the regular internet as opposed to being dark internet websites.

It’s important to remember that dark internet browsers also exist. This matters because accessing a webpage on the dark internet through a regular browser like Google or Firefox means you could still be surveilled. That defeats the whole point of being on the dark web in the first place and could lead to trouble.

In looking at how you access the dark web, one must consider the cords that are plugged into their devices. The use of dark fiber cables can grant users a clutter-free web experience for a faster, more discreet web browsing session. Typically these are utilized by businesses, but if someone wanted to go dark, this would be something to consider. Dark fiber pricing is usually done through leasing from service providers. Since dark fiber ensures that a business can have complete control of its entire network infrastructure, it could be worth the price.

Dark Dealings: Bitcoin, Political Activism, and Other Uses For The Dark Web

Billions of users tap into the dark web for every reason one can imagine. Mining and trading cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin is a frequently cited reason for”going dark”. Cryptocurrencies are decentralized, meaning that they don’t belong to one sole entity such as a government agency. Bitcoin and its fellow cryptocurrencies are accessible and even accepted as legal tinder the surface web. However, certain dark web users implement cryptocurrencies to commit tax fraud or fund illegal weapon markets, human-trafficking networks, cartels, and a slew of radical or even dangerous organizations.

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The dark web saw an increase in popularity in 2013 when Edward Snowden leaked classified information through Wikileaks. Surveillance and the National Security Agency (NSA) were hot topics at the time and many folks turned to the dark web in the hope of feeling safe. This fear was heightened in 2018 when net neutrality was repealed.

Activity on the dark internet skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Surprisingly, much of the planning for the January 6 insurrection at the United States Capitol did not use the dark web. Most of it happened in plain sight.

Instead of turning to the dark internet, many people combat this by purchasing VPNs, or virtual private networks, which help enhance one’s privacy online. Sales of VPNs are rising astronomically, so it will be interesting to see how they develop over time.

The Dark Web of Tomorrow

What the dark web ultimately comes down to is privacy and censorship. People deserve their space, but the dark internet has also been a space for harmful or illegal activities. The White House Market was once the largest retailer for drugs and false credit cards until it shut down in October 2021.

With ongoing scandals from ubiquitous internet places like Facebook, which seems to experience a scandal every few months between the Cambridge Analytica scandal and its beef with the Australian government, the dark web can seem like an appealing place to be. Sales of personal data could be on the rise, so it’s good to keep that in the back of your head as you surf and browse.

For Black Lives Matter activists to folks seeking asylum at the United States border, dark internet websites could end up doing some good, much in the same way the dark web helped activists during the Arab Spring. As the internet makes its way into our phones, our refrigerators, our watches, and anywhere else one can imagine, perhaps there will be more efforts to regulate who can access your internet activity. It is possible to be free in a regulated environment. Consider purchasing a VPN or unplug from the internet for a while rather than going, as they say, “full-on dark.”