Intended to protect dissidents, it has also cloaked illegal activity
Truth about the Dark Web- In the late 1990s, two research organizations in the US Department of Defense drove efforts to develop an anonymized and encrypted network that would protect the sensitive communications of US spies. This secret network would not be known or accessible to ordinary internet surfers. And while the original clandestine intention was never fully realized, some of the researchers saw a different value proposition at hand—launching a nonprofit focused on anonymity for human rights and privacy activists.
Enter the Tor network, short for “The Onion Router,” given the many layers of encryption that guard passing information. Tor lives on the fringe of the internet and serves as the underlying technology of the dark web—a collection of hidden sites inaccessible via a regular browser and not indexed by search engines such as Google. The Tor browser—a free download—is all you need to unlock this hidden corner of the web where privacy is paramount. Radical anonymity, however, casts a long shadow.
The truth about the dark web is that in addition to offering extreme privacy and protection from the surveillance of authoritarian governments, it facilitates a growing underground marketplace that sophisticated criminals use to traffic drugs, stolen identities, child pornography, and other illicit products and services. And with untraceable cryptocurrency as the primary means of payment, close cooperation between law enforcement, financial institutions, and regulators around the world is required to tighten the screws on nefarious activity.
The gray areas
Today, over 65,000 unique URLs ending with .onion exist on the Tor network. A 2018 study by computer security firm Hyperion Gray catalogued about 10 percent of these sites and found that the most prevalent functions facilitate communication via forums, chat rooms, and file and image hosts, as well as commerce via marketplaces. These functional roles, particularly related to communication, support many uses that are considered legal and legitimate in free societies. Furthermore, a 2016 study by research firm Terbium Labs analyzing 400 randomly selected .onion sites suggests that over half of all domains on the dark web are in fact legal.