‘The Dark Web’ – commonly defined as a small area of the internet not indexed by search engines and regularly linked to various acts of cybercrime such as fraud, phishing and the structuring of botnets.
It’s a foreboding title that conjures up images of Good vs Evil, Right vs Wrong. In an almost Star Wars-like fashion it suggests the internet, much like the ‘Force’, is divided in two – on one side is the secure net where we can surf freely, safe in the knowledge our data is protected and secure from harm; and on the other is this mysterious void where hackers are at liberty to operate secretly in the shadows preparing, sharing and carrying out their acts of destruction.
However, this isn’t the movies. The internet as we know it today cannot be so easily defined and history shows us that just as many bad things happen on the standard net as on the Dark Web.
The common perception that the Dark Web is exclusively linked to criminality is undoubtedly a myth, but why does such a myth exist? James Chappell, CTO and Co-founder of Digital Shadows, would argue the answer lies with how the Dark Web is portrayed in the media.
“Looking at some of the press coverage you could be forgiven for thinking that the Dark Web is solely about criminality,” he told Infosecurity. “In reality, this is not the case and there are many legitimate uses alongside the criminal content that can be found on these services. Significantly – criminality is an internet-wide problem, rather than exclusively a problem limited to just the technologies that are labelled with the Dark Web.”
What’s more, Chappell explained that the Dark Web actually plays a valid and beneficial role for the internet as a whole, particularly in the pursuit of investigative journalism, freedom of speech, whistleblowing, instant messaging and even legitimate commerce.
“What underpins all of these endeavors, be they legitimate or criminal, is the desire for privacy and anonymity. Just because something is on the Dark Web, it does not automatically make it criminal; criminality exists in almost equal measure on the surface and deep web,” he added.
The Dark Web is often painted is this ‘hackers paradise’ when, in reality, because of its secretive nature it can actually hinder cyber-criminals, making finding work and building a trustworthy reputation difficult challenges to overcome.
“We conducted some recent research which looked at how criminal organizations recruit hacking ‘talent’. One of the findings was that the anonymity of the Dark Web hinders that recruitment process. There is no honor among thieves and we found that hackers were stealing the identity of others and were in some cases deliberately sabotaging the online credibility of rivals – criminal organizations simply don’t know who they are recruiting and this puts a brake on how they can develop their enterprises.
"It can also be difficult for criminals to access marketplaces. For instance, some require other individuals to vouch for users, some are accessible by invitation only and others the user must pay for access or worse commit a crime to join. It puts barriers in the way for hackers to achieve ‘success’. There is an interesting tension where a criminal must maintain and nurture their reputation and ‘brand', whilst at the same time not give away detail about their real-world identity through slip-ups in their operational security. This is a tricky balance to maintain – and there are many well-recorded cases of criminals coming unstuck.”