By: John Merrell – Columnist
We have always ventured to take new technology to its fullest; to exploit it for both altruistic reasons and personal gain. Gunpowder, for example, can be used to delight children with brilliant fireworks displays, or to overthrow empires and toss the world into chaos. The Internet is no different.
The sheer size of the Internet is a mystery to the average user. A vast majority of websites are not indexed by standard search engines such as Google or Bing and are thus inaccessible, even if you copy and paste the address in the search bar.
This hidden area of the Internet is called the deep web.
Mike Bergman, the founder of BrightPlanet and the man who coined the term “deep web” said that “searching on the Internet today can be compared to dragging a net across the surface of the ocean: a great deal may be caught in the net, but there is a wealth of information that is deep and therefore missed.”
So, how do you get down there into the trove of hidden websites, and what should you expect? Well, first things first: you need to download the Onion Router, or Tor. Tor functions just like any other browser you’ve used before, but it encrypts all of your activity. Using a Tor browser makes it very difficult for people to discern where you are located and lets you operate with anonymity.
This lets governments, spies, political dissidents and the like communicate in rough areas of the world and spread news, information and plans without being caught.
But like anything that has been shrouded in mystery, it has been abused by a few. Online market places for drugs, passports and art have sprung up selling wares from around the world.
The Silk Road was one of the earliest purveyors of online illicit drugs, operated in a way much like how Amazon does today. Sellers set up an account, list pictures, prices and what country they originate from. You pay for your purchase in bitcoins, a kind of fiat money spawned on the Internet that further reduces the chances of getting caught with another layer of encryption.
The most bizzare phenomenon associated with this system is that users leave reviews of the seller, holding the seller to complete the deal honestly in the black market.
Authorities are chasing shadows in the dark web. What started as a form of military communication has blossomed into a full-on black market place. The Silk Road was the first of these marketplaces to fall to the might of the U.S. government, but its closing spawned The Silk Road 2.0 a couple of weeks later.
Last month they caught the individual running 2.0 and within hours a 3.0 version was running on different servers, serving a loyal group of buyers.
It seems the harder you try to kill something the faster it comes back, like a hydra in Greek mythology.
The Silk Road series of websites are but one of many, and most of them are here stay.