Disclaimer: Everyone involved in the making of this article, in no way promotes any illegal behaviour and at no point do we provide instructions on how to do anything illegal online. No illegal activity was undertaken to produce this video and we urge our viewers to not engage in illegal online activity. I’m sure by now everyone has heard of the dark web. Commonly known as the epicentre of illegal online activity. People may also be familiar with the Silk Road or at least its story, the online market place where you can buy narcotics with absolute anonymity. But the dark web is more than that. So how did the dark web start, how has it been used and what’s the future of the dark web. First some basics. The web can be defined into three categories. The surface web, that’s everything available in the open. Basically, everything you can find through a google search. Next is the deep web, which is the portion of the internet that is hidden from conventional search engines, containing unindexed websites. Then there’s the dark web, which is a part of the deep web. However, here sites are intentionally hidden from search engines. Sites on the dark web can only be accessed through special browsers which use masked IP addresses to hide the identity of its visitors. In 1969, a couple of university students sent the world’s first computer to computer message. It was sent on the ARPANET, an early ancestor of the internet. The concept of connecting computers was a radical idea which set in motion the progression to the modern internet. But ever since there has been the internet or any form of the internet, people have used it for illegal activity. In fact, one of the first ever e-commerce transactions was a drug deal in 1970 on the ARPANET network between students at MIT and Stanford. In the 1980s, people also attempted to create data havens in small countries with laxer laws, in order to hide their data from their local authorities. These early examples were no-where near as sophisticated as the modern dark web. However, they illustrate the point that there have always been people who have wanted to use the web to escape the eyes of authorities or everyone’s eyes for that matter. In the mid-1990s, a technology was created called Tor. This stands for “The Onion Router” and it is a browser which allows users to exchange information anonymously online. Peer to peer networks like Tor are the backbone of the dark web. For the dark web to exist, it needs anonymity. Tor and other peer to peer networks allow just that. Tor hides the identity of the user by bouncing the connection through three different servers around the world adding a layer of encryption each time, hence the name onion. It would be logical to assume that Tor was invented by a group of anti-establishment coders and criminals trying to evade governmental control. Particularly when looking at how much of the dark web is made up of illicit material or illegal dealings. However, quite paradoxically Tor was invented by the US Naval Research Laboratory to allow intelligence personnel to transfer information securely. Another agency of the US Department of Defence called DARPA (Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency) further developed Tor and in 2002 made it available to the public. To this date, Tor is still funded in part by the US government. But why would the US government fund and allow the general public access to Tor? Well, the idea was to make it difficult for anyone to decipher which information on the dark web was created by intelligence officers. It’s easier to remain anonymous in a sea of anonymous users, therefore the more users the better. It’s important to point out that without Tor, the darknet would still exist. Tor is simply one browser, of which there are many, which allow access to the sites on the dark web. For example, if google chrome was shut down, the internet would still exist. But while the dark web is known for illegal activity, this is not the vision of Tor. The network of volunteer-operated servers has a mission to allow people to live more private lives online. The browser can be used to anonymously visit sites in order to reduce the user’s chances of having their personal information stolen by hackers. It is also aimed to be a tool against mass surveillance by suppressive governments or as extra security to hide sources of information such as journalists’ sources. However, the dark web goes far beyond Tors vision. In 2014, Dr Gareth Owen provided a breakdown of the sites on the dark web by classification. His research found that drugs marketplaces were by far the most common type of site. This was followed by other types of marketplaces, fraud sites and bitcoin sites which were mainly used for money laundering. So while Tor has some necessary and positive benefits to society, it seems to also have a fair portion of illegal and unsavoury content accessed through it. One of the most infamous sites on the dark web is the marketplace Silk Road. The name comes from an ancient network of trade routes which connected Europe, parts of Africa, Asia and the middle east. The name was borrowed by Ross Ulbricht in 2011 when he set up the first Silk Road marketplace under the alias “Dread Pirate Roberts”, DPR for short. Here many things can be purchased with bitcoin, but mostly illicit drugs and fraudulent documentation such as passports. Bitcoin, among other cryptocurrencies, was instrumental in allowing silk road and any anonymous market place to run. Users need an anonymous payment method that cannot be easily traced back to their real identity. Ross Ulbricht was arrested in 2013 and charged in a high-profile case with money laundering, computer hacking, conspiracy to traffic narcotics and arranging hitmen to murder 6 people. However, he was not prosecuted for the attempted murders charges. He was sentenced to double life in prison, plus 40 years without parole. In total, approximately 170,000 bitcoins were seized by the US government from the silk road and Ulbricht’s personal account. At the time this was roughly 100 million USD. However, if sold at the peak of bitcoins price in 2017 it would be worth approximately 2.8 billion USD. Ulbricht had a staunch libertarian philosophy, believing that he was doing an ultimate good in the world. His rules for silk road outlined that only products that do not cause harm to innocent people may be listed. He fundamentally believed that he was giving power to the people against the government. It could also be argued that the site reduced violence in society as the silk road provided a means to purchase narcotics without the violent nature of cartels, gangs or local drug dealers. As well as removing the buyers from needing to physically interact with potentially violent dealers. Ulbricht’s heavy prosecution has caused a stir in the online community. There have been arguments about how much of silk road was built by Ulbricht as he had limited programming knowledge, claiming that there that it is the work of a group. In fact, sources including the DPR account itself claimed that Ulbricht was not the only DPR. Dread Pirate Roberts from the novel and film The Princess Bride was a masked character who was handed down the identity. After he retires, he would hand down the identity to the next person, and Ulbricht claimed the name fit the silk road story. Violations about 4th amendment rights by the authorities against Ulbricht were also put into question during the trial. There have also been petitions to release the man some regard as in the same category as Edward Snowden and Julian Assange due to his libertarian ideas. But even after the arrest of Ulbricht and the seizure of the website, new versions of the silk road keep reappearing. Perhaps as long as there is a demand, there will always be a form of the silk road. Tor and the dark web are crucial to whistle-blowers and journalists. To ensure the security and well-being of themselves and their family’s whistle-blowers rely on the dark web. The New York Times, among other news outlets, has opened onion sites of their own to allow for people to anonymously submit information. There are also private sites set up in such a way that you must log in before the site reveals itself, no registration possible. It can be speculated that these sites are used for private connections and information transfer between whistle-blowers and news outlets. However, they could be used for anything and no one really will ever know apart from the people that have been assigned specific login details. And that’s the point of the dark web. To allow people to anonymously do whatever they need to. The dark web is not really a place to surf. It’s a place that allows you to do specific things and people really should know what they’re doing before accessing it. Many sites as discussed need invites and a lot of them provide very specific services. Stumbling upon a site by accident depending on the content may even be a criminal offence. A lot of people regard the dark web as an underworld. An illegal and dark place where criminals meet. It’s true there is a lot of this type of activity. A lot of morally reprehensible activity. But it also gives people freedom. It liberates people who are being oppressed. It can stop governments from overreaching their boundaries. It can keep people and their ideas safe. The question is how do we stop the parts of the dark web that shouldn’t exist. Right now, it seems like an unanswerable question. But people, such as the Tor staff, are working on it. In a time where all of our information is online, where our identity follows us on every post and search. Perhaps we need the dark web, in order to keep our freedom.