How the Dark Web Has Changed the Landscape for Criminals?

This article will explore the ways in which people use the Dark Web to engage in criminal activity such as drug dealing..

January 1st 1983 is considered by many to be the official birthdate of the internet and, in just 39 short years, the world wide web has gone from a novelty to something that most of us use on a daily basis.

Although the internet is used in many ways which improves our lives there is also a more sinister side of it, known as the Dark Web. In recent years, criminals have been using the Dark Web for illicit purposes, including Dark Web drug offences.

In this article, we’re looking at how the Dark Web has changed the landscape for criminals in the UK and beyond. Let’s delve into detail…

What is the Dark Web?

The Dark Web refers to a part of the internet, which is hidden from search engines which can only be accessed through an anonymising browser known as Tor. URLS on Tor end with ‘onion’.

Although the Dark Web is largely associated with shady or criminal activity, that was certainly not the intention when it was developed. When the Dark Web was created in the late 1990s by the US Department of Defense, it’s purpose was to create an anonymous and encrypted space to protect the information found and shared by US spies in order to keep the country safe.

However, long before those who were up to no good figured out a way to use the Dark Web to their advantage. Criminals set up their sites on the Dark Web and then use group forums and other forms of social media to peddle their wares.

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Although, as we’ve mentioned, many legitimate sites do still exist on the Dark Web. they are rapidly being overshadowed by those linked to criminal activity, which makes up around 57%.

Some of this activity includes the illegal sale of drugs, weapons and counterfeit cash as well as access to credit and debit card numbers and hacked streaming accounts such as Netflix.

For authorities, one of the biggest problems is that of drug dealers who have made the Dark Web their playground. In the past, gaining access to illegal drugs would involve meeting some shady character in a dodgy flat or remote spot and risking possible violence and theft in the process.

The Dark Web allows drug dealers to peddle their wares in anonymity and, is often considered to be a more convenient and safer way for addicts to get their fix.

Does the Dark Web Enable Criminals?

It’s thought that there are over 65,000 unique URLS ending ‘onion’ on the Dark Web. Many of these are linked to cryptocurrencies, untraceable digital currencies which make life considerably easier for criminals such as drug dealers.

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Authorities, including the FBI, work tirelessly to eliminate Dark Web sites but, for every one that is removed, more pop up in its place.

For criminals, the ordinary internet is not a safe place to be. These days, authorities use increasingly advanced technology which makes light work of finding dodgy sites and, subsequently their owners – but the Dark Web has changed all that.

On the Dark Web, criminals can enjoy complete anonymity as the DW is secured by rock solid firewalls and layers of encryption (hence the domain names ending ‘onion’).  All of this security makes it almost impossible for the authorities to track down these people who are selling drugs, guns and more to millions of people – many of whom are underage.

The Dark Web is quite literally changing the landscape for criminals who are now able to operate with almost zero fear of being caught.

How Easy is the Dark Web to Access?

Setting up a Dark Web account is surprisingly easy. Lots of people do this by using a server like Apache or Nginx, while keeping Tor in the background, connected to that server. However, there is a service called OnionShare which is primarily a website hosting service but, one which allows people host files on the Dark Web.

All that a person needs to do is to download OnionShare on Windows or Mac and click onto the ‘Host a website’ button then, choose the option ‘I don’t want a password’ and, there it is, they are basically on the Dark Web.

The ease in which this can be done may be somewhat worrying as, while this makes life easy for those looking to set up on the Dark Web for legitimate purposes, it also facilitates criminal activity.

The Dark Web could be exposing harmful content to tech savvy children…

The internet is used by billions of people worldwide on a daily basis and, it’s thought that around 65.4% of 10-13 year old’s are accessing the web regularly. In many cases, children and young people are far more tech savvy than their parents and there’s no doubt that a significant number of these young people are finding their way onto the Dark Web.

This does, unfortunately, mean that parents may not be aware of the things that their children are being exposed to while they’re online, including access to drugs and other harmful content.

While this may paint something of a bleak picture, it’s not all bad news. Authorities around the world are working tirelessly to come up with new ways of breaking down the barriers that prevent them from catching Dark Web criminals and, the hope is that, it won’t be too long until this kind of activity is a thing of the past.

Mark Funk
Mark Funk is an experienced information security specialist who works with enterprises to mature and improve their enterprise security programs. Previously, he worked as a security news reporter.