Security & Fraud

The Deep And Dark Web, Illuminated

The dark web – it’s easy to view it as murky, an ocean of illicit activity, with swarms of bad actors acting badly, trading stolen data for – maybe – stolen dollars.

Then again: Might there be some usefulness amid the murk?

CNBC reports that, yes, the dark web may harbor a reputation of hiding an underground economy or economies, where commerce dabbles in everything from stolen financial records to firearms.

And yet the same lure for trafficking in such activity – namely, anonymity – can have an unintended impact, perhaps a positive one, noted CNBC. The dark web got its name from its place amid online traffic and activity that does not show up on search engines.

The marquee names, or sites, that have been the target of law enforcement have been tied to criminal activities. Picture, for example, Hansa, a dark web drug marketplace that shut down last year. Another headline-making example was Silk Road.

To be sure, the underworld is not easily deterred. Last month, Juniper Research predicted there will be a 175 percent boost in cybercrime by 2023. That’s on top of the 12 billion records expected to be compromised this year alone, and a cumulative tally of 146 billion records accessed by 2023. That comes amid a relatively tepid projection for cybersecurity spend, slated to grow 9 percent annually. The U.S. will remain a disproportionately large target by 2023, tied to half of the breaches.

And how big is the dark web, where a lot of those records will find a home? It’s huge – according to the site, as much as 500 times larger than what might be thought of as the “common” internet. The darkness comes through encryption: Entire networks are hidden from view. One of the most visible (pun intended) of these invisible networks is TOR, shorthand for “The Onion Router” – which, in turn, lets people access “.onion” pages featuring the aforementioned encryption.

But in an interview with Charles Carmakal, vice president at FireEye, the executive told CNBC that those same users can connect to sites that might be seen on what is referred to as the “surface” web – and where traffic proceeds as normal – yet the TOR users maintain their anonymity.

That is because the TOR browser re-routes traffic several times across far-flung locations, before information and data get to where they are headed. The sites, said the FireEye VP, cannot determine just where the users are located.

The end result is that, according to Carmakal, the anonymous feature of TOR allows users to skirt various attempts to censor those users. Thus, those who are normally being eyed by, say, government censors can traffic with the world at large in ways they could not before.

Depending on where you stand, freedom of speech may be a good thing. Might these be glimmers of usefulness in a sea of dark doings? Or do they pale in comparison to billions of sensitive data points up for sale and up for grabs? In the end, it’s all about what you think TOR is for.

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