The Deep, Dark Web: An introduction

In recent years, the Darknet has entered the public consciousness as a kind of vast and unknown universe lurking ominously beneath the clearnet (the regular internet that we all know, perhaps a bit too well, and love, perhaps a bit too much). While it’s become infamous as a space rife with child pornography, and the illicit trade of weapons and drugs, the Darknet is also the platform used by WikiLeaks for the organisation’s data disclosures, as well as by activists across the globe to subvert internet censorship and coordinate revolutionary movements, most notably perhaps, playing an instrumental role in orchestrating 2011’s Arab Spring.

So, what exactly is it, and how has it become such an incredible tool for retaining internet anonymity?Finalpiktochart

Ironically, The Onion Router (TOR) project was initially developed by Naval researchers for the US Department of Defence (DOD), with the aim of creating a network for military personnel to communicate via civilian internet with complete anonymity. This method – called onion routing – sends packets of information randomly between users (nodes) on the network until it reaches its destination unencrypted. Each time the packet is routed through a node, a layer of encryption is “peeled back”, hence the term onion.

In 2006, the Tor project was launched as a non-profit entity, freely accessible to the general public, the rationale being that more nodes would create a more secure network, making it virtually impossible to trace data as it travels randomly between nodes across the globe.

Since then, the network has grown exponentially, boasting an average of around 100,000 new downloads per day in 2017. And although Tor has become synonymous with enabling illicit and dangerous activities, the software plays a far simpler, and more positive role, in regions subjected to state censorship. In the years prior to the Arab Spring, Tor developer Jacob Appelbaum conducted several Tor training camps in the Middle East, educating civilians on how to use the software to circumvent the oppressive state surveillance of internet activity throughout the region. Subsequently, Tor became an indispensable tool for civilians to coordinate and orchestrate a revolution by providing a gateway to access social media without risk of severe punishment. Currently, in heavily censored states ranging from Iran to China, Tor is being utilised by activists, journalists, and ordinary citizens in order to subvert and actively oppose the stranglehold of authoritarian regimes.

While it must be acknowledged that criminal entities have co-opted corners of the Dark Web for unconscionable purposes, this cannot be seen as grounds for dismantling what is currently one of the best tools available to the public for retaining personal freedom in an era of ever-encroaching mass surveillance.

Tor browser is available for download here.

Welcome to The Safe Room

“No system of mass surveillance has existed in any society that we know of to this point that has not been abused” – Edward Snowden.

The internet: a dark and expansive universe where a large chunk of our lives reside. Where we go to source information, nurture our egos, and relax in the perceived anonymity of the World Wide Web.

We prefer not to acknowledge that we are being watched.

But whether it be the Hydra gaze of infamous organisations like the National Security Agency (NSA), or the careful data collection of Facebook and Google, navigating the Internet with actual anonymity presents a minefield of challenges.

Luckily, where there is control there is resistance. And on the Internet, which has the potential to be the most truly democratized space we have ever known, a plethora of software is freely available to subvert the uncomfortable gaze of insidious observers. From the TOR project (ironically a product of the US military) to Pretty Good Privacy (PGP), I hope to outline simple mechanisms for protecting and affirming what should be an inalienable right – privacy – both through encrypted browsing and encrypted communication. Additionally, we’ll explore and demystify that most terrifying and unknown corner of cyberspace – the Deep, Dark Web; how it works, and what it actually holds.

While these may seem like excessive measures, it is impossible to underestimate the severity of the ongoing attacks to personal freedom being mounted by the highest echelons of the online world. With these tools at our disposal, why not safeguard our fundamental rights… while we still have them?