Darkweb : the dark side of the net


Darkweb : la face cachée du web - Gatewatcher

Often confused with the deepweb and the darknet, the darkweb never ceases to fuel fantasies. Indeed, it is not uncommon to see the general media making headlines about the illegal activities that take place on the network. However, from a purely pragmatic point of view, the advantage of the darkweb is that it preserves the anonymity of its users, without involving arms trafficking and cybercrime. How do you access it and what kind of content can you find there? Let’s take a look at this network of insiders that is still unknown to the general public.


The differences between deepweb, darknet and darkweb

On the web, there are two levels of navigation, which could be represented by the image of an iceberg. The emerged part of the block of ice, commonly called surface web or visible web, represents between 5 to 10% of the volume of existing websites. This web is the everyday web, whose pages are indexed by classic search engines such as Google, Bing, Qwant, DuckDuckGo or Yahoo. We think for example of blogs, news sites, social networks, e-commerce sites or Wikipedia.

Digging a little deeper, we discover the submerged part of the iceberg called the invisible web or deepweb, which represents 90% to 95% of the total web. How does it differ from the surface web? Its content is not indexed by traditional search engines, notably for reasons related to cybersecurity.

The limbo of the deepweb is a bit like a back room invisible to passers-by from the street. You can find :

  • pages that require a password to access (mailboxes, bank statements, paid services such as VOD or online media subscriptions…)
  • pages voluntarily excluded from search engine indexing, such as those containing a robots.txt file.
  • pages with content deemed insignificant (so they remain at the bottom of the search results)

This type of page has little to do with the image of the darkweb as it is easy to imagine.
However, the deepweb is home to a vast underground world: the darkweb. To access it, Internet users usually go through a darknet. The reason? This type of network is able to encrypt the information in circulation thanks to specific protocols. The IP address of the Internet user then becomes invisible, making his navigation anonymous. However, in some cases, this anonymity is relative.



Accessing the darkweb from a darknet

Accessing the darkweb is much easier than it seems: the Internet user just needs to connect to a darknet. Contrary to what a misuse of language might suggest, there is not one but several darknets, the most famous being GNUnut, Hotspot, Shield, I2P (Invisible Internet Project), Freenet and of course the most famous of them: TOR (The Onion Router), renowned for its ease of use. Originally developed in the 1990s by a US Navy laboratory, TOR was designed to protect sensitive US military data. TOR has since been taken over by an independent organization: the TOR Project. Today, this portal to the dark web has 60,000 sites and about 2.5 million daily users worldwide. It has become so popular that the darkweb is now nicknamed Onion Land, in reference to its name.

TOR allows quick access to everything that cannot be found by the usual search engines and also offers anonymous browsing on the surface web. In the abyss of the web, sites don’t end in .fr .net or .com but in .onion and URLs look like cryptic messages.
To access the TOR Onion Router, several methods exist. Some use a derivative of the Firefox browser, called TOR Brower available for Windows, Mac OS or GNU/Linux. Others opt for Tails, OS launched from a DVD or a USB key. In all cases, it should be noted that TOR is free to download. If its use is not reprehensible, accessing certain sites on the darkweb can be illegal.



Who is on the darkweb and why?

But the anonymity allowed by the darkweb is obviously not without drift. If the darkweb has bad press today, it is because the platform is a breeding ground for the black market. Gatherings of extremist groups (white supremacists, neo-Nazis, etc.), violent content, hired killers and computer hacking are the daily lot of the dark web.
On market places, it is easy to order counterfeit goods, firearms or drugs. One example is Silk Road, the largest drug resale site, which controlled about 70% of the market. Like a hydra with several heads, the site ended up giving birth to little ones when it was closed: Silk Road 2 and Agora, which have since been closed by the authorities.

A very lucrative business, like AlphaBay, a site for reselling weapons, drugs and credit card codes, whose daily turnover was enough to make one’s head spin, fluctuating between 600,000 and 800,000 dollars. For small amounts of money exchanged in bitcoin (or any other cryptocurrency), an Internet user can buy stolen data if he or she wishes.
In 2019, the security editor Flashpoint listed the prices of files for sale on the darkweb, including fake passports of different nationalities. A fake American passport cost around 18 dollars against 45 dollars for a French passport. Sometimes, these data are even sold in packs. Called “fullz”, these packs gather a series of information on the identity of a person such as his social security number, his date of birth or his bank account number.

This space therefore encourages cyberattacks against individuals but also against companies. On the darkweb, it is possible to get in touch with hackers, to obtain confidential data on organizations or to obtain tools to launch a cyber attack.

Because of its obvious dangerousness, the darkweb is monitored by authorities around the world. However, to summarize the darkweb as a gigantic organized mafia would be too reductive. In fact, the darkweb is also a place where activists emerge. On the one hand, it brings together groups of ethical hackers (White hat) ready to carry out attacks against paedophile sites or extremist Twitter accounts. On the other hand, it benefits political dissidents, investigative journalists and whistleblowers, whose anonymity is guaranteed by the dark web, allowing them to escape repression.

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