The article has been written by Anshumi Maloo.

It has been published by Rachit Garg.

Abstract

The dark web is a portion of the Internet that is typically used by users to carry out some activity in a covert manner without leaving any traces. It has become a hotspot for illegal activities such as child pornography, arms trafficking, drug trafficking, and onion cloning, among others. The main reason for these activities is the anonymity afforded by this platform. It is also used by governments around the world for the sake of confidentiality. Dark web markets are websites that facilitate the trading of illegal products, primarily via the use of Bitcoin. Because dark web markets are unregulated and provide no user security, police raids and frauds routinely result in huge losses for marketplace participants. However, the ambiguity hasn’t stopped the growth of dark web markets. 

The Dark Web

When most people think of the internet, they think of the Surface Web, which is indexed by traditional search engines like Google or YouTube. However, the Surface Web, which most of us use daily, accounts for less than 5% of the internet. Any action you participate in on the Surface Web may – and almost certainly is – be monitored. The Internet is massive, with millions of web pages, databases, and servers operating around the clock. However, the so-called “visible” Internet sites that can be accessed using search engines such as Google and YouTube are only at the top of the fingerprint. There are numerous words associated with the non-visible Web, but it’s important to understand how they vary if you want to go off the main thoroughfare.

Below the Surface Net, where daily normal personal and corporate contacts occur, is the Deep Web, which sounds sinister but is simply the online destination for protected information such as medical records, bank accounts, government databases, and private communications, to mention a few. Normally, a person cannot access information kept on the Deep Web without a password or authorization. The Deep Web accounts for around 96 percent of all internet traffic. The Dark Web exists only in a tiny portion of the Deep Web.

The dark web is a secret network of internet sites that can only be accessed using a specialized web browser. It is used to keep online activity secret and anonymous, which may be useful in both legal and criminal uses. While some people use it to avoid government restrictions, it has also been used for extremely criminal behaviour. The term “dark web” refers to websites that are not indexed and can only be accessed using specialist web browsers.

Private computer networks can interact and do business anonymously over the dark web without disclosing identifying information, such as a user’s location. Due to its unencrypted nature, users of the dark web refer to the ordinary web as Clearnet.

The dark web’s reputation has frequently been connected to criminal intent or unauthorized data, as well as “trading” sites where users may acquire illicit products or services. However, legal parties have also made benefited from this paradigm. The Dark Web, commonly known as Darknet websites, is only accessible via networks designed expressly for the Dark Web, such as Tor (“The Onion Routing” project). Tor browsers and Tor-accessible sites are popular among darknet users and are distinguished by the name “.onion.” Tor browsers establish encrypted entry points and channels for the user, allowing them to be anonymous in their Dark Web searches and actions.

Breaking down the path of the dark web’s foundation exposes two important layers that contribute to its anonymity:

  • There is no indexing of web pages by surface web search engines. Google and other prominent search engines are unable to locate or display results for pages on the dark web.
  • Due to its one-of-a-kind registry operator, it is inaccessible to standard browsers. It is also obscured by different network security mechanisms like firewalls and end-to-end encryption.

The dark web has drawn many people who would otherwise be jeopardized if they revealed their identities online. Victims of abuse and persecution, whistle-blowers, and political dissidents have all used these secret sites. However, these advantages may readily be extended to individuals who choose to operate outside of the restrictions of the law in more openly unlawful ways.

Benefits of the use of the Dark Web

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User Anonymity

The darknet encryption system transmits users’ data via a large number of intermediary servers, protecting users’ identities and ensuring anonymity. Only a later node in the scheme, which leads to the exit node, may decode the sent information. Because of the complexity of the system, it is nearly difficult to replicate the node path and decode the information layer by layer. Due to the high level of encryption, websites are unable to monitor their users’ geolocation and IP addresses, and users are unable to obtain this information about the host.

Untraceable sites and services

On the Dark web, cybercrime and hacking services for financial institutions and banks are also available. Attempts have been made to monitor this behavior through different government and private groups. Carding forums, PayPal and Bitcoin trading websites, as well as fraud and counterfeiting businesses, flourish. The most basic pattern of content on the dark web is illegal pornography, especially child pornography. Sites employ advanced systems of guidance, forums, and community governance.  Numerous companies, including virtually every major newspaper, Facebook, and even the US Central Intelligence Agency, have a hidden website on Tor (CIA). This is because a Tor website shows a (sometimes symbolic) dedication to privacy. For example, the New York Times and the CIA are both seeking to enhance contact with virtual walk-ins who can give sensitive information.

On the other hand, the same privacy and anonymity that protect tyrants and targeted ads can serve as a springboard for criminality on the dark web. Arms trafficking, drug sales, and the distribution of exploitative content—often involving children—such as pornography and pictures of violence and other forms of abuse—are among the most common illegal operations. Websites promote the language of neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other extreme organizations. 

Silk road and the darknet market

Silk Road, launched in February 2011 by Ross Ulbricht under the alias “Dread Pirate Roberts,” was the first pioneering marketplace to employ both Tor and Bitcoin escrow. Gawker published an article on the site in June 2011, resulting in “Internet buzz” and a spike in website traffic. This prompted Senator Chuck Schumer to put political pressure on the US DEA and Department of Justice to shut it down, which they ultimately did in October 2013 following a prolonged investigation. While the use of data anonymization technologies aids in the protection of users’ personally identifiable information (PII), these techniques are also utilized by entities seeking to engage in unlawful and criminal activities.

The Silk Road was founded in response to a desire to link illicit drug suppliers and interested consumers online while safeguarding their identities and transactions using anonymization techniques.

The combination of dark web services and cryptocurrency has led to predictions of an increase in crime. Bitcoin is one of the most often utilized coins on dark web marketplaces because of its versatility. People can use Bitcoin to conceal their goals as well as their identities. A typical technique was to utilize a digital currency conversion service to convert Bitcoin into online gaming currency, which was then turned back into money. Bitcoin has become a popular commodity for consumers to defraud companies due to its importance in the digital domain.

Over the last five years, the combination of an encrypted network that is hidden from the majority of the nation and a transactional currency that is practically untraceable by law enforcement officials has resulted in a tiny but considerable bazaar of illicit merchants selling unlawful products. 

Many of them are powered by Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies like Monero. The most popular goods are recreational and medicinal drugs, followed by stolen and counterfeit papers such as IDs, credit cards, and bank credentials. Some websites provide services related to hacking and technical crime, such as malware, distributed denial of service attacks, and hackers for hire. A large percentage of them sell a combination of these and other items, such as pornography and counterfeit goods.

Transactions in darknet markets are anonymous. These markets exist on the Tor network to guarantee security and anonymity to both consumers and darknet suppliers. To dissuade fraudsters, the site operator holds the cash in escrow. The only exposed link in the chain is the actual shipment of the items via the postal system. The basis of darknet marketplaces is the sale of illegal drugs. Darknet markets provide a diverse range of goods and services. Some marketplaces may not offer weapons or poisons, but they do sell stolen information, unlawful services such as hacking for hire, pornographic content, and other items.

Since the closure of the Silk Road, other decentralized markets have emerged, making it more difficult to shut down a darknet market by targeting a single batch of servers. Sellers have even set up their online stores on the dark web, letting clients buy straight from them. While there is a danger of a shutdown, these single-vendor sites are viewed as a lower priority by law enforcement when compared to bigger markets. 

Although enforcement operations continue to target darknet marketplaces and the delivery of illegal items, these markets continue to develop owing to technical challenges in tracing down customers and vendors.

Crimes associated with the Dark Web 

Trade of Illegal drugs

Although individual crypto markets generally tend to have a quite brief lifestyles span, the arena as an entire has survived numerous challenges, which include going out scams and regulation enforcement takedowns. At the same time, even though the scale of the drug exchange through crypto markets remains very small as compared to offline exchange, transactions have tripled for the reason that the take-down of Silk Road and sales have doubled.

The Internet has supplied possibilities for drug marketers to create new enterprise fashions and faucets into a brand-new purchaser base whilst lowering a few of the risks related to offline markets (e.g violence), and introducing new risks (e.g postal interception, scams).

 Revenue and transactions

The range of transactions of illicit drugs at the crypto markets has tripled, with sales doubling, on account that Silk Road was closed down in 2013. This is regardless of numerous regulation enforcement interventions and goes out scams through online marketplaces, that have brought about declining ranges of acceptance as true among buyers and vendors, and much less self-belief in crypto markets. For online markets, the principal drugs offered are normally related to leisure or ‘party’ use (e.g. cannabis, ecstasy, MDMA). A feasible reason behind the variations among ‘online’ and ‘offline markets’ can be that crypto market purchases normally require detailed planning, which might not match each day’s use of established customers of heroin, for example.

Vendors and buyers

The majority of buyers appear to be leisure drug customers who’ve used drugs previously. They are drawn to the crypto markets to buy drugs due to a perceived growth in safety, stepped forward first-rate and variety, and simplicity and pace of delivery. Crypto markets are ruled via way of means by companies who tend to focus on drugs only, that’s specifically the case for Dutch companies. Share of companies via way of means of sort of merchandise vendors have creatively adjusted their behavior to keep away from detection, consisting of adjustments in delivery practices.

The complete effect of the Internet-facilitated drug exchange on the worldwide marketplace for illegal drugs stays inconclusive and unclear. There is proof to signify those crypto markets are fuelling offline markets for illicit drugs, however greater paintings are needed to completely apprehend the quantity to which customers of drugs online are distributing them offline. Finally, there are specific arguments approximately the societal influences of crypto markets. Some have argued that they virtually lessen violence from the drug delivery chain, which may be visible as a high-quality benefit. However, others agree that, via way of means of supplying a new, regularly young, customer base smooth get admission to drug markets, crypto markets have in large part terrible consequences.

Child pornography

According to the report, child pornography drives the greatest traffic to TOR’s hidden sites. It is difficult for the typical user to locate such sites. It is an act in which children are used for sexual arousal and children are abused during sexual actions. It also contains sexual photos of children from pornography. Lolita City, a site with about 15,000 users, has recently been shut down because it included over 100GB of images and videos of child pornography. The FBI shut down PLAYPEN in 2015, which had over 200,000 users and was possibly the largest child pornography site on the whole dark web.

Hiring hitman

The dark web is also a place where hitmen may be hired. It’s a website where you may hire a professional killer. Once, a hacker known as ‘bRpsd’ gained access to BesaMafia’s website and released its information online. Unfriendly Solutions and Hit Men Network are two murder-for-hire organizations. Unfriendly Solution exclusively takes bitcoin payments. The Hit Men Network, which claims to be a trio of contract killers operating in the United States, Canada, and the European Union, offers a referral fee for suggesting them to their known people.

Phishing

When an attacker wants to install malware or obtain sensitive information from the victim, he frequently employs phishing methods or appears to be someone else. An attacker may send you an email that looks to be from a reputable source in this sort of attack. The email will contain a link or an attachment that will allow you to install the virus. In the literature, three forms of phishing have been reported: Spear phishing, Whaling, and Clone phishing. Spear phishing is employed when a specific company is a target. This assault is used to target a huge number of people to obtain critical information. Whaling targets an organization’s senior or C-level leaders. The attackers employ concentrated messaging to deceive the victim. Targets are supplied with a clone or replica of communication they have already received in Clone Phishing. Because this attack is based on a previously viewed message, it may easily target the user.

Is it possible to regulate the Dark Web?

Developing law to handle the evil side of the Dark Web demands knowledge of the advantages and hazards of anonymity and the open internet, making it a difficult task. To begin, accessing proxy servers or anonymity services such as Tor is not necessarily illegal. The authorities, on the other hand, have no method of distinguishing between innocent users and those who exploit anonymity to carry out their malicious plans. 

The second problematic issue is the internet’s international nature, which makes enforcing rules difficult. The internet is not governed by a single country or agency. Certain forms of content, such as photos of child abuse or high-level violence, have a universal agreement that they are banned in all nations. Third, the approach to this issue varies greatly from nation to country. China, for example, has attempted to ban Tor access, while Russia is attempting to deanonymize Tor for political reasons. Because of the many reactions to the Tor project, there is no one method to deal with its complexity. While it is critical to protect users’ anonymity, it is also critical to capture criminal minds who are participating in illegal actions.

Positive side of the Dark Web

  • The most significant advantage of accessing the Dark Web is its anonymity. Not every person who accesses the dark web has malicious intentions. Some users may be worried about their privacy and security. They want that their Internet activities to be kept hidden.
  • The user can find items at a lower cost than on the street. When a user buys a product in bulk, the vendor will give them a discount.
  • We can purchase items that are not available in the market or the country.
  • Another reason people order on the dark web is convenience.
  • Users on the Dark Web strongly share their opinions about products or vendors due to the existence of a strong community.
  • Countries with limited access to the Clear Net make extensive use of the Dark Web (surface web). Russia, China, and many other countries, for example, utilize the dark web more regularly for a variety of reasons.
  • Its search engines and secure email browsers are available.
  • Many countries attempt to contribute to the TOR project. The United States has several regulations that apply to different dark web activities. For example, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) prohibits unauthorized access, computer damage, and trafficking. For political reasons, Russia has attempted to de-anonymize TOR. China attempts to obstruct access to TOR.

Conclusion

The Dark Web, by definition, is anonymous and unable to distinguish between criminals and ordinary users. Enforcement agencies must handle this issue by adopting techniques that protect the typical user’s privacy while unmasking the offender. 

The most efficient method to do this is to “follow the users.” Under sufficient legal permission, government hackers can install deanonymizing software on the PCs of site visitors. If the authorities just close the site, another will spring up in its place. On the other hand, if law enforcement punishes users of an illegal site, subsequent users who are thinking about visiting unlawful sites will be more hesitant to do so due to the danger of being detected.

The argument over the Dark Web is far from over. As policymakers go forward, they must keep a close eye on the growth of the Dark Web and guarantee that law enforcement agencies have the tools and legal backing to properly police the Dark Web. To find a balance between the requirements of privacy-conscious users and the government’s obligation to deter criminal behavior, Dark Web legislation, like any effective policy, must be complex and deliberate.


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