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What Is The Dark Web: Criminal Underbelly or Political Haven?

What Is The Dark Web: Criminal Underbelly or Political Haven?

What lies beneath the ten percent of the surface web we have access to?

12th November 2018

The Dark Web. You’ll never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. Also known as the Dark Net, it’s a place infamous for its marketplaces full of contraband. Offering up anything from drugs to contract killers, almost anything can be found there. Further, people think it’s only accessible by veteran hackers and run by cabal of kingpins. Though these elements do exist, it’s not quite the Mos Eisley that it’s been made out to be.

In dispelling these troupes it must be first understood what the Dark Net actually is. Put simply it is a collection of websites that is only accessed with special routing software. This software hides users (be that publishers of websites or its visitors) IP addresses and as such hide their identity. Hence this is where the term ‘Dark Web’  is derived from.

Moreover, the term Dark Web is often confused for the Deep Web. They are similar in that the Dark Web represents a small portion of the Deep Web. Despite this, they are different entities. The Deep Web is comprised of databases and other web services that cannot be indexed by standard search engines. They also often lack the common protections, such as privacy policies, that many sites on the surface web have. While at first sounding mysterious, upon closer inspection, many mundane things fit into this category. These include Library catalogs, information behind paywalls (such as an online newspaper) and database statistics.

But What are the origins of the Dark Web?

Though ‘Dark Nets’ existed since the 1970’s soon after the creation of ARPANET in 1969 a precursor to our modern day internet. It wasn’t until 2002 when the U.S. Military released the Onion Router (commonly referred to as TOR) that the Dark Web became ‘mainstream’, TOR is the most popular special routing software used to access the Dark Web  and is available for free on most platforms allowing just about anybody to access theDark Net.

Controversy

The Dark Web is synonymous with controversy. The most famous of which is the shut down of the largest online illegal narcotic marketplace the ‘Silk Road’ in 2013. The site brought in over $1.2 Billion over its 3 year lifespan. This was also mirrored in the seizure of ‘Alphabay’ another Dark Web  marketplace which also has been said to have a $1 Billion revenue, and has been linked to criminal organisations here in Australia. The Dark Web also played host to notorious pedophiles such as Matthew Graham who was captured in 2014 for his role in the site PedoEmpire.  

While the Dark Web certainly has a marred past it has also had some altruistic applications.

Free Speech

Because of the anonymity that the Dark Web provides it is often cited as playing a key role in facilitating free speech with many newspaper outlets having their own websites hosted on the Dark Web  where whistleblowers can leak documents, such was the case in the Panama Papers leak. Moreover, many Dark Web users can discuss politics in otherwise censored countries without fear of prosecution, which can often mean years of imprisonment or even death.

The Dark Web is also a haven for ordinary activities. These include online chess, access to rare books and also Facebook and news websites.

This is in stark contrast to the portrayal of Sex, Drugs and Violence that is synonymous with the Dark Net. But the dark web is still an unregulated haven where anything can happen. We must then ask, what is legal in the eyes of cyber law? Is the Dark Web completely illegal? What use of it would constitute an offence? 

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Author
Christopher Tsiknas

Chris is a member of the content team at Lawpath. He is currently studying a Bachelor of Business and Bachelor of Laws at UTS. He is interested in how marketing communication strategies can influence the future of the legal industry.