Over the past few years, the Deep Web and its subset of the Dark Web have received more public attention than usual. As soon as the events taking place on the Hidden Side began to affect the real world, ordinary Joes and Janes began to take an interest in them. This does not mean that the hidden part of the Internet is new. It’s as old as the internet itself!
The history of the hidden web is almost as old as the history of the Internet itself. Obviously, the same technology that made the Internet and the Web possible also makes the Dark Web possible through its architecture and design. That’s why it’s fair to attribute the beginning of the Dark Web to the ARPANET. What is the direct predecessor of the modern Internet? While ARPANET may not have had the Dark Web as we know it from the start, people soon began to use the technology for things they wanted to keep secret. It turns out that the very first online sale took place in the early 70s and was actually cannabis. Students at Stanford were selling weed to MIT students using the ARPANET. Remember that at that time most people did not have personal computers, not to mention Internet access at home.
In the 1980s, Internet access for ordinary citizens was still a dream. This was the decade when everything needed for the global network fell into place. In the early 1980s, the TCP/IP standard took hold. By the mid-80s, personal computers and modems were, if not affordable, then at least available to everyone. The pioneers of the Internet also invented the domain name system that we use to resolve website names during this decade.
At this time, the idea of an information paradise also arises. As the world has become global, questions about where data should be stored have come to the fore. Keeping your data in a safe haven meant sending it out of the country to a territory that had better legal protections from government espionage. At the very least, data havens can’t be found in any country. They will be built on structures or ships in international waters. A similar idea with the sea. Real data havens appeared in the Caribbean in the 80s.
The 1990s are undoubtedly the time when the World Wide Web became widespread. Thanks to web technologies such as HTTP and FTP, as well as computers with a graphical interface capable of running a web browser, all of this Internet content is suddenly in high demand.
By the end of the 1990s, there was a real leap forward in technologies for the exchange of large amounts of data on the Internet, such as multimedia. In particular, MP3 technology has brought massive upheaval to the music industry. Services such as Napster allowed people to illegally peer-to-peer with ripped and compressed music. This caused a complete collapse among musicians and music directors. Lars Ulrich famously sued Napster, which was truly emblematic of the battle between the old and the new school. Today, the music industry has adapted and streaming subscriptions have become the norm. Without peer-to-peer exchanges like the dark web, we are unlikely to have a media-friendly modern online world.
The Dark Web proper began in March 2000 with the release of Freenet. The service still exists today and provides a censorship-resistant way to use the Internet. This is a true implementation of the Dark Web and has provided a way to spread a lot of illegal information. This included illegal pornographic material and pirated content. Of course, it is still incredibly difficult to exchange money anonymously at this stage because you have to use cash. As such, Freenet does not engage in any black market activity to any significant extent.
In Sealand, a maritime microstate, an information haven called Haven Co was created, which promised to store confidential information in a place where no government could stick its nose. It seemed like a dark web dream, but by the early 2010s, HavenCo was dead, dead, dead.
The most significant development of the Dark Web of all time came in 2002 with the release of TOR or The Onion Router. It was created by none other than the US government to help its agents stay elusive. It is no exaggeration to say that today’s Dark Web could not exist without this technology.
In the late 2000s, the emergence of cryptocurrency in the form of bitcoins. The final piece of the puzzle needed for the Dark Web to really click.
The 2010s represent the era when the cryptocurrency and TOR came together to create the first true black markets. The pioneer was the Silk Road, which is long gone. Although he eliminated all the important figures behind the Silk Road, he apparently did little to stop the trade in drugs and other illegal goods and services on the Dark Web.
This is the era when the Dark Web is becoming a matter of public interest, and not just a topic of discussion at cybersecurity conferences. Many mainstream articles are emerging explaining the difference between a huge deep web and a relatively small dark web.
It becomes especially frightening when it turns out that terrorists use the dark web for communication and coordination. Ironic considering why the US created TOP in the first place. A study has been published showing that the Dark Web is mainly used to commit crimes.
Today’s Dark Web is said to be in decline. Despite this, there is an incredible amount of hidden services and sensitive information sharing that takes place outside of the mainnet’s view. Never mind that the Dark Web is relatively small compared to the Surface Web as a whole. His influence is disproportionate. Small groups of hackers collaborating on the Dark Web could bring a multi-billion dollar internet company to its knees. Hackers end up affecting millions of users.
Darknet black markets also thrive, providing traditional and newer synthetic drugs to anyone who wants to purchase them. Cryptocurrency has been a major factor in this maturation of the Dark Web.
What’s in store for the future
The technologies and methods behind the Dark Web are incredibly complex. While most governments would prefer the Dark Web not to exist, they themselves need technologies like encryption and onion routing for their own purposes. As long as powerful anonymization technologies exist and are effective, there will be a kind of Dark Web.
Whether there is a future for the commercial side of the dark web black market is another matter. While I have no doubt that there will always be information sharing on the Dark Web, the future of black markets is not so clear. It all depends on the technology of the cryptocurrency and the possibility of anonymizing it in a secure way. While Bitcoin was initially thought to be untraceable, authorities have found several tricks to link specific transactions to buyers. Bitcoin cups became a palliative. However, brand new privacy-focused currencies like Monero are a medium-term solution.
It remains to be seen who will ultimately win this arms race. There is no doubt that there will always be some dark, hidden corner on the Internet.
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