Deep web. Dark web. Deep net. Dark net.
Whatever you want to call it, the Dark Net is a whole other internet, sitting underneath our internet. It’s where whistleblowers safely interact with journalists, where suppressed citizens with monitored internet access can leak the truth, and where you can allegedly order a semi-automatic weapon and/or a bag of meth and have them express posted to your door.
The documentary Deep Web tells the story of Ross Ulbricht, founder of the original Amazon for blackmarket product and services: Silk Road 1.0. From behind the relative safety of his laptop, Ulbricht created a small site that quickly turned into an international empire.
How Ulbricht ended up serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole is something out of a good thriller, but it’s been three years since his arrest and dark net markets are more pervasive than ever.
Here’s what you might not know.
1. Forget .com and .net, dark net web addresses are called ‘onion links’
That’s right. Dark net websites are suffixed with the file name ‘.onion’ , and can only be accessed through the anonymous web browser named Tor.
2. Goods and services aren’t paid for in real money
You’ve probably heard of bitcoins, the cryptocurrency that eliminates the need for a financial institution through peer-to-peer transactions. Presently, one bitcoin equals roughly $1000, and that stock price fluctuates depending on market behavior.
In other words, you use your Aussie dollars to purchase bitcoins, and currently 100 dollars gets you roughly 0.1076 BTC.
3. You need a digital wallet
In order to complete transactions, you have to send your purchased coins into a third-party program that acts as a digital wallet. You then send the coins from your wallet whichever market you’re using, while the makers of the wallet program charge a tiny transaction fee.
4. Most popular markets resemble eBay or Amazon
Buying drugs or counterfeit goods or credit card numbers has never looked so official. Sellers (or as they’re known, vendors) sign up to open an online store and list their products with glossy pictures and detailed descriptions. User feedback controls the trust level of the vendor, and vendors present themselves as any legitimate company would—offering various shipping methods, reshipping policies, and even funds held over in escrow until the delivery is complete.
5. The FBI can’t keep up
Anytime the authorities sweep away a particular dark net market, another handful pop up in its place. Most vendors stock their product on more than one market, and they are known to move around based on the heat on a particular site. Considering many of the libertarians behind the dark net wear evasion from authorities as a badge, the FBI doesn’t have the manpower required to take on the seemingly endless line of rebellious tech-heads
6. Dark net vendors vs the post office
Vendors are continuously inventing new ways to evade customs or sorters. Vaccuum-sealed mylar bags are impervious to x-rays, and the external layers of the package are disinfected.
While some countries have managed to crack down on dark net deliveries, it seems vendors are continuously finding new ways to beat the postal process.
7. Vendors claim the dark net is saving lives
Due to the strong libertarian views of most dark net vendors, they take to the markets with a sense of nobility—as if their behavior is only criminal by definition. Substances come with informed warnings, detailed product info and user reviews, all of which vendors see as minimising risk and harm.
8. Taboo pornography and violent services
The rumour that the dark net is a hotbed for pedophiles is grossly exaggerated. While of course, this kind of behavior occurs on either side of the dark net, markets go out of their way to restrict that kind of material. Similarly with the hiring of violent services.
But even without those deplorable products and services, dark net markets offer more than drugs and chemicals, they list counterfeit goods, jewelry, fraud elements, porn passes, and weapons.
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For more on the digital wild west, watch the documentary Deep Web on SBS On Demand: