The dark web was not created by criminals who wanted an anonymous way to communicate. It was actually developed by the United States government. But how did it happen?
Communication Between Spies
Agents from various “three-letter agencies,” such as the CIA, were sent to many remote locations. There was a truly global network of American spies collecting information and intelligence for the United States. During the 1990s, information became increasingly digitized and it was no longer necessary for these spies to transmit their reports through old-fashioned means such as radios or letters. The Internet and new cryptographic techniques replaced these old means of communication.
Suddenly, all information could be sent over the Internet. Around 1995, the US Naval Research Laboratory started a program that would eventually become Tor (The Onion Router). With Tor, agencies had an encrypted line of communication with their field agents.
Anonymity for Everyone
Around 1997, the project was passed to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which in turn turned it over to various civil rights groups. Now the question, of course, is why would the government cede this technique and this network to civil rights groups? There are some who believe that Tor was never really abandoned by the US government.
Another explanation is that they had to open the anonymous network because all US agents had to be able to use it from anywhere in the world at any time. That made the network vulnerable to infiltration, so others started using it.
Also, if only US intelligence agents used this network, then obviously any communication intercepted from this network would be very valuable. Therefore, it would be better to open the network to many other users so that intelligence communications could be diluted in a sea of non-governmental communications. In this way, everyone would remain anonymous, and US agents could use the network to transmit their reports.
Why Don’t They Just Shut Down the Dark Web?
While the Tor network was available to anyone with an Internet connection, more and more servers were being set up all over the world. Therefore, the network became much more decentralized. With each new connection in a different country, the US jurisdiction over the Internet became smaller. The power of a network lies in the fact that it cannot be turned off from just one location. If you disconnect the US side, the rest of the network doesn’t cease to exist.
In addition to the inability of any state to completely shut down the network. The United States also benefits from having this network, even if illegal activities are taking place on it as well. It is still being used as a channel for covert communications by intelligence agencies. It is also one of the best tools that political activists have to resist, filter, denounce, etc., against authoritarian states that the United States is very critical of.
Whether it’s Venezuela or Iran, the United States is glad that people have a tool like Tor to make life more difficult for those regimes. Of course, this also applies to the US, as made clear by the appearance of Wikileaks and Snowden’s whistleblowing.
A Double Edged Sword
For the above reasons, the dark web can be beneficial and dangerous at the same time. Because it’s useful in so many ways, the US government doesn’t want to shut it down. Even if they did, they would have to try to shut it down entirely and gain compliance and cooperation from dozens of countries that have no interest in cooperating with the United States.
What national authorities can do is cooperate to shut down certain websites and hold their owners, administrators, users, etc. accountable. Often when a dark web site is shut down, multiple agencies have worked together to make it happen. For example, if the US Department of Justice wants to shut down a Dutch marijuana market, it would require the cooperation of the Dutch police, Europol, and possibly a number of other agencies and authorities. The following image shows the number of agencies involved in the seizure of a market.
The removal of this particular website required the cooperation of at least ten different agencies from at least four different countries. The fact that all of these agencies had to cooperate to take down this website shows how difficult it can be to shut down parts of the dark web, let alone the entire dark web.
Accessing the Dark Web
If you want to visit the dark web, you should be aware that it can be dangerous if you don’t take proper precautions. In order to go to the dark web as safely as possible, we have created a guide full of tips and tricks. Below you will find a reduced version of this guide with the essentials. However, it’s good to remember that the following steps will keep you relatively safe but by no means completely anonymous.
- Install a VPN (we suggest NordVPN) on your device and turn it on.
- Make sure you have an updated antivirus on your device.
- Download and install Tor anonymous browser.
- Launch Tor Browser.
- Make sure the ability to run scripts in Tor Browser is disabled.
- Optional: Change the security settings in Tor.
- Browse the dark web, for example, starting at the Hidden Wiki. The link is http://zqktlwi4fecvo6ri.onion/wiki/index.php/Main_Page
Finally, before entering the dark web, remember that it can be a very dangerous place. Take our warnings seriously and don’t let malware and hackers affect your device! If you want to make sure you have the best protection possible. You can follow our guide to the dark web.