The dark web is something that’s been on the web, but few have probably explored it themselves. The dark web is any part of the internet that requires special software, encryption or some form of obscurity to access. Pretty much anything that’s hosted on the regular internet can be hosted on the deep web, including forums, blogs, and online shops.
No doubt, most parts of the “Dark Web” are closed off with passwords and are invite-only communities. That being said, the biggest and most accessible part of it is through the Tor Onion network. While there are lot’s of scams or troll web pages, there are indeed crime marketplaces with some of the vilest things you could imagine.
Facilitating trade through normal financial means is a no-go on the Dark web. This is why cryptocurrencies, most notably Bitcoin or Monero, are used to protect traders’ identities. This includes Bitcoin laundering schemes to reduce paper trails for people trying to cash out into legitimate funds.
What Kind of Things Are Traded on the Dark Web?
While the Silk Road and it’s copycats sell a lot of the obvious stuff, you would be surprised at what can you buy on the dark web. Aside from the drug trade, forged documents, stolen credit cards and hacked social media accounts in bulk are probably the biggest trades found on marketplaces.
The dark web is also a means to buy & sell stolen physical goods like electronics, gift cards, or designer clothing. It is likely many of these shops sell goods that were obtained via “carding”, which means credit cards that were cloned and used in-person at retail stores.
There have been other more extreme services offered on the deep web, although many of them are speculated to be fake. This includes prostitution, swatting services (fake police reports initiate a SWAT raid), doxxing and general hacking.
What Are Authorities Doing About The Dark Web?
In the case of Tor specifically, the FBI and likely other authorities have reportedly created rogue nodes to sniff and map traffic. While it is not fully efficient for investigations, it can catch some people between cracks, especially if they leave security holes (like unchained VPNs).
Another tactic is the FBI to host honeypots that are full of browser exploits, or simple social engineering. In one case, the FBI found an exploit in Firefox that allowed them to reveal the real location of users browsing a page with highly illegal content.
On the financial side of things, Bitcoin transactions can easily be tracked publicly and it’s a matter of following a paper trail to one’s real identity. For example, investigators can simply follow where Bitcoins are cashed out and subpoena certain Bitcoin exchanges to see where the money went. This is somewhat mitigated with anonymous coins like Monero, but there are still vague ways to track them.
As long as the illegal market is driven to the underground side of the internet, cryptocurrencies will likely be the main way to do business. This doesn’t mean that Bitcoin and other currencies enable such behavior as online criminals had used Paypal, cash, and forms of bartering to evade authorities.