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Illegal activities undertaken beneath cloak of Deep Web

Dec 14

Written by: Tuesday, December 15, 2015 9:04:51 AM 

Illegal activities undertaken beneath cloak of Deep Web

People have asked me how the Internet can be used for illegal or secret activity since everything is traceable. Answer: the Deep Web.

In the simplest terms, the Deep Web refers to content that's not easily found using standard search engines like Google. The Deep Web exists to facilitate communications while maintaining some level of anonymity and privacy. Examples include forums for survivors of sexual abuse, drop boxes for corporate whistleblowers, chat rooms for government dissidents and marketplaces for trading illegal goods.

In the shallow area of the Deep Web are private forums. Private forums prevent search engines from indexing their content by requiring a login for access. Examples are private Facebook groups that members join and sign in to access. Most secretive forums are invitation-only and may even require that new members be vetted by an existing member.

The most widely used anonymous Internet communication system operates on Tor, a software project and network originally created by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory to allow political dissidents and whistleblowers to communicate without fear of retaliation. Originally known as "The Onion Router," Tor cloaks its communication by encrypting its traffic and hopping through many different servers to hide both the IP address of where a user is coming from and going to. With a Tor browser that can be downloaded, users can access sites that end in .onion.

At the deeper end lies the Dark Web, where things are murkier, such as an online black market to exchange illegal goods and services ranging from narcotics to stolen credit cards.

One of the most notable was Silk Road, named for the 4,000-mile-long network of trade routes that connected eastern Asia to Europe and Africa. Silk Road used the Tor network as a platform to sell illegal drugs and was shut down by the FBI in 2013. Silk Road founder Ross William Ulbricht, who went by the alias "Dread Pirate Roberts" after the fictional character in the movie "The Princess Bride," was convicted of drug conspiracy and will be sentenced in May.

Not everything within the Deep Web is ominous, but it's the criminal elements that make headlines. Like anything operating under the radar, there's a lot of gray area between the black and white.


Vincent Hoang is an enterprise architect at Hawaiian Telcom, a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), GSNA Systems and Network Auditor (GSNA) and Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP). Reach him at vincent.hoang@hawaiiantel.com.

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