Our consumption of technology is eternal.
Dawn to dusk, notifications and YouTube videos surge in a bellowing, merciless wave, flooding our eyes and ears with an onslaught of vibrant colors and noises. We retire to bed, lulled to slumber by the natural darkness of the night, only to be jolted awake by the artificial daylight of the computer monitor. The cycle continues, the soundtrack of our lives forever the repetitive ding of an incoming text and summer afternoons squandered away on social media sites.
Yet even as we spend every waking minute online, the majority of us never truly scratch the surface of the web. There lies a kind of technological underground unlike your typical Google Chrome or Firefox browser and shielded from the public eye: the deep web, and its shadier counterpart — the dark web.
According to junior Naomi Tai, a technology enthusiast, the deep web is unable to be accessed by regular search engines like Yahoo or Google.
“Most of [the deep web] is actually just data and a couple of them are websites that you have to use different browsers like TOR [if you want] to access them,” Tai said. “And it’s usually a bunch of shady business and whatnot.”
TOR (The Onion Router) refers to the onion router which is used to mask Internet traffic under blankets of encryption and uses its own form of an Internet Protocol (IP) address by using a .onion URL. But downloading TOR won’t make someone’s life easier by giving them specific sites; it is up to the user to find them on their own.
Unlike Tai, MVHS computer technician Brandon McArthur interprets the deep web as an infrastructure of the web and more organized than a storehouse for data.
“That means you can control who has access to your websites and your services,” McArthur said, “and so that can be good or bad.”
Security is a constant priority, but there is a difference from sitting at home and using an electronic device than using an unsecure network in a public space, like a coffee shop. Other people may be inclined to steal account information and assignments jeopardizing a job or a grade. But often most stores or school use a virtual private network (VPN) to create easy access and provides security precautions like searching anonymously without being traced or keeping personal and personal information secure.
“Whenever you go to a website [VPN] encrypts it, sends it out over the router as encrypted, so nobody even knows what you’re doing,” AP Computer Science teacher David Greenstein said. “Whatever information you have and whatever comes back is totally encrypted because the only people who have the keys are you and the server that you’re paying way out there somewhere. So they call that tunneling, so that data tunneling essentially it’s a way of getting around systems.”
As a graduate student studying computer science, Greenstein was invited to work with the military on ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), a kind of predecessor to the Internet we know now. The network was established in 1969 as a testbed for networking technologies between niversity and research centers (Britannica.com). ARPANET was exclusively for the military, and public use was prohibited, but Greenstein had the privilege of experiencing the technology firsthand when tasked with “file transfer protocol.” He sent files through a network of computers connecting to over thirty universities. The government eventually shifted ARPANET from a military project to a public project, and it gradually evolved into the Internet as we know it today.
In the 1990’s, however, the deep web made its humble, benign entrance.
“[Internet users] were starting to put some secure stuff [online] and they had this security program called PGP [Pretty Good Privacy] that you could download,” Greenstein said. “The [creator Phil Zimmermann] got sued by the military and they were going to [go] after every person that owned a copy.”
Nowadays, PGP is considered a vital email encryption program, but its implementation and possession in 1991 — a violation akin to owning a bomb — garnered three years of criminal inspection after the program spread worldwide (Phil Zimmerman). The U.S. Government considered the program an “armament” and infringement of the Arms Export Control Act, a law ceding the President authority to manage the import and export of possible defense articles or services (U.S. Department of State). However, the government ultimately dropped Zimmerman’s case in 1996, and the result of his efforts birthed today’s deep web, of which PGP is a component.
“It was so damaging to the security of the United States,” Greenstein said, “[for the public] to own something that they couldn’t break into.“
The term deep web has a negative connotation, but what many people do not realize is that we use it in our everyday lives. Only small parts of it are illegal, therefore people have justifiable means of using it. According to Greenstein, over ninety percent of it is harmless and a majority is essential in everyday life, thus there is no driving reason for the deep web to be rid of. Common uses include webmail, of which PGP plays a role in security, online banking and also video on demand.
“A lot of [the deep web] is data based driven, so when you hit a site like Amazon you’re hitting a deep web,” Greenstein said. “It’s going to generate the page automagically for you, so the page you see is not the page other people see.”
It is the dark web — the sinister story within the story — one should steer clear of. It is a breeding ground of immoral measure, flourishing with black markets and bidding sites for illegal weapons or substances. Tai expresses her unwillingness to access the dark web with a “Hell no!”
“Since it’s this shady business sometimes they can try to track you down,” Tai said. “And do like, I dunno, kill you if you don’t do what they want you to do.”
According to Tai, one of her acquaintances has had some interaction with “bitcoins,” a feature also used on both the dark web and surface web.
In order to buy or sell things online, people use bitcoins, a form of digital currency where transactions can be made without central banks and no single authority has control over them. One bitcoin estimates to a value of 4,609 US dollars. Tai herself knows of someone who has traded bitcoins before on the surface web, a perfectly legal action as it is not inherently tied to the dark web.
Accessing the deep web itself is not illegal unless someone gets involved in criminal or illicit activity, which is primarily quarantined in the dark web.
“No, I have no reason to be [on the dark web],” Greenstein said. “It’s like saying I’m going to go to the worst place in town where they have people that get stabbed and people get shot and I’m going to walk down the street to see what it’s like.”
Some people may come back out alive, Greenstein acknowledges, but he himself certainly wouldn’t take the risk to find out for himself. The newspapers he’s perused report of dark web users ultimately facing criminal court instead of their computer screen.
Greenstein is adamant he will never be one of them.
“I don’t want of your readers to be [on the dark web], either,” Greenstein said. “That would be a really really bad thing so if there’s anything that I can stress in this whole thing it’s that it is dangerous – it really is.”
The deep and dark web are the layers of the internet that lurk below the surface. Myths and rumors spread online in the form of Reddit forums. The dark web sleeps in the depths of the deep web under the guise of illegal dealing and illicit activities, but beneath the layers of speculations and misconceptions lies the truth.
The surface internet, the mainstream section of the web, amounts towards only 0.03 percent of the internet. The surface internet includes what is publicly accessible, including search engines like Google or Bing. The rest fall under the domain of the deep web. The area of the web below the surface web is notoriously thought of to be where illegal or secretive dealings take place. AP Computer Science Principles teacher Debbie Frazier states otherwise.
Frazier delves further into what exactly the deep web is as well as debunks certain myths revolving around it. She states that the deep web is simply a database which can’t be seen unless one is at the right door and has the key for entrance.
There are some misconceptions surrounding the deep web, as it is often associated with illegal activities and dealings. However, the deep web is actually less dangerous than what the rumors or speculation make it out to be. On the internet, there are two types of data: the first is what is visible to anyone, and the second requires passwords or keys. The information on the deep web belongs to the latter category.
“So there’s a lot of publicly available data that’s archived in such a way that it’s in it’s own little library or repository, so that’s what we call the deep web,” Frazier said. “It’s kind of in some way a misnomer cause you think it’s more exciting than it actually is but it just means archived information.”
Data and information is cataloged and archived by crawlers. Crawlers are programs that visit websites, read their content and create entries for a search engine index. The deep web, however, is excluded from the access of crawlers, thus resulting in the deep web’s alias, “the Invisible Web.”
The deep web is stated by Open Education Database, an online education directory, to have a size that is impossible to measure, and experts estimate it to be 500 times the size of the known web.
The dark web is a part of the deep web and the source of many myths and misconceptions surrounding the latter. The deep web itself is rather benign and parts of the deep web are only considered the dark web if information is misused or the information there is intentionally concealed.
“When it becomes dark that’s usually associated with what you can use that data for so if we think data that’s hidden from general public view because it’s in it’s own database it could be used for malicious purposes, we might call it dark,” Frazier said. “What’s interesting is some of those databases didn’t begin as being perceived as dark [instead] they had utility for a power company or for a hospital or whatever.”
According to the Congressional Research Services (CRS), the dark web can be used for legal reasons like Frazier mentioned, however it is and has been used for illegal practices. On the dark web, not only are criminals anonymous, but also law enforcement and intelligence communities as well. Law enforcers may hide within the dark web to conduct online surveillance on all users. Although law enforcers do utilise the dark web, they do not prevent all possibilities of misuse. One of the largest exploitations of the dark web was the Silk Road.
The Silk Road was an online site in the dark web which specialised in the contraband of drugs. It was widespread across the world, reaching more than ten countries. Ross Ulbricht founded the Silk Road under the alias “The Dread Pirate Roberts”. He was arrested and sentenced to life in prison on May 2015. The site has been dismantled by federal agents as of Sept. 2013.
The dark web’s main appeal of anonymity is also currently being challenged. TOR, an acronym for The Onion Router, is a program that encrypts the signals sent between user and the receptor (the site which one is sending and receiving information from). Programs such as TOR anonymize users, but research is being conducted to “de-anonymize” and re-identify users. The process of re-identification is not uncommon and has been used by law enforcement before.
“Well there’ve been a lot of studies done in the last decade to show even if we de-identify people it’s pretty easy to re-identify them if you have enough details and you’re talking about a small enough population,” Frazier said. “[Like] if I know the city you lived in and let’s say it’s in some podunk place in Kansas that’s not very big and we have identified you as being a certain race and a gender and an age group, [there] actually might be a good chance I could re-identify you.”
Information is easily transmitted and anonymity isn’t foolproof. The deep web is a majority of the internet and often time it is used for legal purposes. The dark web is where illegal activities do occur, but that is due to how the information is used and exchanged.
“We can use data for all sorts of purposes like in science, but then if we’re using it to analyze the human condition then we might overgeneralize how people are,” Frazier said. “But on the other end by being able to use the data smartly, we might stumble across some really interesting connections we’d never found before.”