The complex anonymous networks that make up the dark WebHost and propagate all kinds of murky content hidden beneath the transparency and visibility of the web’s surface: illicit drugs, material for child abuse, illegal weapons, extremist paraphernalia, and more.
But the dark web is also a misread Websites, and according to new research, the connotations its name conjures up are not representative of the large majority of activity that takes place within its anonymous confines.
A new study released by cybersecurity researcher Eric Jardine of Virginia Tech suggests that only a small fraction of the dark web is used to access secret sites – and in this case, hidden activity is not necessarily illegal (though, given the dark web’s shadowy corners, it could be).
In the study, Jardine and his group analyzed data from the Tor network, which is generally considered to be the biggest and most important network allowing anonymous, private access to the unfiltered web through the use of a software tool that connects to the onion router system to ensure the anonymity of the user.
By the way, there’s nothing necessarily immoral or incorrect about any of this. The deep web, as it is recognized, is simply the parts of the internet that are not indexed by standard search engines (as opposed to the surface web). Part of the deep web, however, is the dark web, and parts of the dark web host illegal material.
The researchers wanted to measure how much of the Tor network could be used for hidden (and potentially malicious purposes. However, the Tor network is designed to provide anonymity; there is no particularly easy way of doing this.
However, by monitoring the data signatures obtained from the Tor entry nodes, the team was able to distinguish between users using Tor to anonymously access regular websites on the surface of the web and others using the system to access hidden content on the dark web.
Remarkably enough, researchers discovered that only 6.7% of global users used Tor to access hidden services on the dark web.
We found that most Tor users are heading towards regular web content that could probably be considered benign,” Jardine says.
Tor anonymity network could be used for some extremely illicit purposes, most visitors seem to be used more like a hyper version of Web browsers
More interestingly, the analysis revealed that the use of Tor to access hidden services or regular web content differed between western liberal nations and countries with more repressive laws and regulations.
The average rate of likely suspicious use of Tor in our data for countries coded
as not free’ by Freedom House is only 4.8%,” the researchers wrote in their journal.
“In countries coded as ‘free’, the percentage of users visiting Onion/Hidden Services as a portion of overall daily Tor use is almost double as much or ~7.8 percent.”
On the other hand, people who live in liberal democracies are more likely to exploit the dark web for evil purposes, while users living under repressive regimes in non-democratic nations may be more likely to use Tor to circumvent local censorship prohibitions and free access to information on the internet.
They are a few assumptions made, and the Tor Project itself, an integrated non-profit in the US, has objected to some of the results of the study.’
This assumption is inaccurate. Several popular websites, software tools use onion services to provide their users with privacy and censorship-circumvention benefits. For example, Facebook provides an onion service. International news organizations are offering onion services, including The New York Times, BBC, Deutsche Welle, Mada Masr, and Buzzfeed.
Writing off visitors to these commonly used sites and services as illicit is a generalization that demonizes people and organizations who choose technology that enables them to protect their privacy and circumvent censorship.
It should be noted that in their study, Jardine and his team recognize that the darkweb can contain socially beneficial content, and they also admit that the clear/surface web hosts troubling content.
However, they explain their “probabilistic” conclusion that access to invisible .onion sites and services is likely to be malicious by pointing to previous research suggesting that hidden dark web sites are disparately used for illicit purposes.
If they are correct, the findings suggest that the damage caused by the dark web could be clustered in free countries hosting the infrastructure, while the advantages are more likely to proliferate in repressive countries.
While the research is likely to be discussed further, it makes some
complex takeaways – and the dark web was already complex and difficult.
Democratic nations are likely bearing an improved social cost of some size (via the harmful effects from hosted child abuse content, illegal drug markets, etc so that those in not free regimes might have access to a robust anonymity-enhancing tool,” the researchers report.
Assessing if these extra prices are an acceptable burden to pay so that others might exercise basic political rights is an important normative debate to which the current study supplies some moderate empirical results.