In the deepest corners of the dark web, anything goes. These are sites that cannot be found using typical search browsers like Google and Yahoo and are usually not accessed via a standard operating system like Microsoft or Apple. Instead, individuals access these sites using The Onion Router (TOR) browser and a hidden operating system (e.g. Tails) booted from a USB or CD.
TOR isn’t secret, in fact TOR is widely used by a diverse range of groups including criminals, non-criminals, NGOS, journalists, security researchers and government authorities alike who need to browse anonymously for a number of reasons. It is the security in numbers that can protect a TOR user’s anonymity and freedom from censorship.
For those interested in using TOR though – beware. TOR is not banned, which means that authorities, like the NSA, may be gaining good intelligence on TOR users. For user’s who are not security savvy, the government may even know what they are visiting.
TOR is a free utility that anyone can download and configure. The TOR website offers clear instructions on how to do this. Once set-up, the user connects to a series of encrypted TOR servers (which are also physically located in a secure location) before they connect to the destination site. As the connection is encrypted at each node, it is not possible to detect where the original request came from through traffic packet analysis alone. However, it is possible for Internet Security Provider’s (ISP’s) to distinguish TOR traffic from regular traffic– they just won’t know what you are accessing. Even if authorities took over a hidden dark web server or set-up a dark web honeypot to lure users, it will be difficult for them to identify the users (but not impossible*).
Despite the risks of being caught – the use of TOR in accessing the dark web is increasing. On the dark web, users can purchase personal credentials, illegal drugs and weapons. They can also hire hitmen, order DDos or other attacks and plan criminal/terrorist activities. The dark web is also full of some of the most terrifying web content shared by disturbed minds. Silk Road may have been closed down but it can easily be replaced. It is a continual struggle of power between criminals and authorities.