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Seeing Through a Web Darkly


Article from ADMIN 56/2020
Research for articles takes me on some interesting trips, but by far, this is the longest and strangest trip thus far in my writing career.

A trip through the dark web was surprising, but also not surprising.

Research for articles takes me on some interesting trips, but by far, this is the longest and strangest trip thus far in my writing career. For a piece about the dark web, I took a trip into the dark web; of course, like any good writer, I used myself as a guinea pig for the experience, because there are times when hearsay and second-hand accounts just won't do. This was one of those times.

Before this foray into the unknown reaches of the so-called dark web, I'd never cared nor even been curious about such nonsense. To be fair, the dark web isn't strictly nonsense, but it certainly isn't for the faint of heart or for those with higher-than-dirt standards of behavior and decorum. The dark web is nasty. It's vile. It's disgusting. And it's generally illegal. Surprisingly, though, it isn't dark. It looks normal. Well, I guess normal is relative, but the websites look like many other poorly crafted websites.

Most of the sites look as if they were constructed hastily and without much design expertise, but I guess when you're selling hacking services or breached data, aesthetics are really an afterthought. The sites that are set up for product or service sales actually have sophisticated (in most cases) e-commerce capability.

Before taking your dark journey, you have to download and install a special piece of software called The Onion Router (Tor) to browse these sites that oddly have .onion domain names rather than the familiar .com, .net, .org, .us, and so on. Tor is a dark web browser that also contains instructions for finding dark websites.

My guess is that dark website criminalpreneurs realized that if no one can find them, their products and services won't have much of an audience. To increase that audience, you find sites that list "resources" for your illegal needs. They're called hidden wikis. Tor helps you find a hidden wiki or two to set you off on your first exploratory journey. With the hidden wiki index, you can find sites that cater to your every whim, fetish, desire, and addiction. My paranoia wouldn't allow me to click on anything except the mundane sites that promise free technology ebooks.

After checking out a few sites, I concluded that there are genuine criminal sites where you can buy drugs (both legal and illicit), hire a hitman, hire a hacker, obtain both legal and illegal pornography, and view videos on every possible topic – from the mundane to the truly disturbing and profane. Almost every site has a "pay to play" option for those who want to purchase products and services with Bitcoin. I also believe that many of these sites are run by law enforcement, namely the FBI. Purchase at your own risk.

During my research, I also viewed multiple YouTube videos featuring YouTubers who buy boxes of "stuff" off the dark web and unbox on camera. Some actually pick up their boxes from clandestine "drop points," and others pretend to pick theirs up from their front porches. These videos are fake. The contents are contrived by the YouTuber. Some of the videos are funny, and some are as disgusting as the deep web topics themselves, but all have one thing in common: They allegedly pay a lot of money for these boxes of unknown materials. Box content ranges from iPads to bags of unknown material to books to bomb-making materials that actually won't help you build a bomb. It's just more dark web nonsense.

I read a lot of material during my research, too: articles by well-meaning journalists who have no clue what they're talking about. One actually warns that casual browsing on the dark web could be fatal and that you shouldn't go there for any reason. Although I haven't found any statistics on the number of deaths caused by browsing the dark web, I have to assume that the number is very small. The dark web is like a scavenger hunt, where the Tor browser acts as your clues to where the things are that you want to find. The dark web is a huge waste of time that could get you into serious trouble should you decide to spring for a sample or two. Happy surfing!

Ken Hess * Senior Editor

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