The dark web: The wild west of the Internet

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By Kotie Geldenhuys


“If you want to kill someone, or to beat the s*#t out of him, we are the right guys,” the Besa Mafia site, on the dark web, reads. In February 2016, a user with the username “dogdaygod” contacted the site as he wanted Amy Allwine dead and wanted to make it look like a vehicle accident. He was quoted a price of $6000 for the hit and then provided information about the target’s travel plans. After going back and forth, Besa Mafia informed “dogdaygod” that their hitman had been arrested and that since he was in police custody, the job was delayed. The group asked for another $12 000. But in May 2016, the site was hacked and Besa Mafia’s customer list was published. The hacker revealed that the site was a fraud. “Dogdaygod” never got what he paid for and moved onto Dream Market, another dark web marketplace to buy scopolamine (a sedative) (Cox, 2017). We all know that it is illegal to arrange a “hit” on someone’s life – but this highly unethical activity is only one of the many illegal activities, such as drug trafficking, firearm trafficking and trading, and human trafficking that have found a place on the dark web.

The World Wide Web (www) as we know it today, started to emerge in March 1989, thanks to the work of Sir Tim Berners-Lee, a London-born computer scientist (Herbert and Budd, 2023) – today we cannot imagine our world without it. About a decade later, another “darker” side to the Internet started to emerge as the dark web offered a high level of online anonymity which became a haven for criminals.

In March 2000, Ian Clarke, an Irish student developed and released Freenet, which offered anonymous communication online via a decentralised network of Freenet’s users. It was regarded as the earliest form of the modern dark web. However, the software that popularised the dark web was launched in September 2002, and is known as The Onion Router (Tor) (Volle, 2023). Tor has played a significant role in the development of the dark web and online anonymity and was initially developed by the United States Naval Research Laboratory during the mid-nineties to protect government communications. The anonymity provided by Tor has attracted various user groups, including activists, journalists, whistle-blowers and those living under oppressive regimes who seek to communicate without fear of government surveillance. However, it has also been exploited by criminals to conduct illegal activities in relative anonymity, such as illegal marketplaces, drug trafficking, hacking, and many more. The association of Tor with the dark web is partly because many dark web websites are hosted on its network. Once the Tor browser was released publicly, more and more dark web websites began to pop up (Kastner, 2020).



[This is only an extract of an article that is published in Servamus: October 2023. This article is available for purchase.]

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