The Truth about the Dark Web

Author:Aditi Kumar - Eric Rosenbach
Position:ADITI KUMAR is the executive director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. ERIC ROSENBACH is codirector at the Belfer Center and was previously US assistant secretary of defense for global security.

Intended to protect dissidents,it has also cloaked illegal activity

22 FINANCE & DEVELOPMENT | September 2019
n the late 1990s, two research orga nizations in
the US Department of Defense drove eort s
to develop an anonymized and encrypted
network that would protect the sensitive com-
munications of US spies. is secret net work
would not be known or accessible to ordinar y
internet surfers. And while t he original clan-
destine intention was never fully realized, some
of the researchers saw a dierent value proposi-
tion at hand—launchin g a nonprot focused on
anonymity for human rights a nd privacy activists.
Enter the Tor network, short for “e Onion
Router,” given the many layers of encryption
that guard pa ssing information. Tor lives on the
fringe of the internet and ser ves as the underly-
ing technology of the da rk web—a collection of
hidden sites inaccessible via a regu lar browser and
not indexed by search engines such a s Google.
e Tor browser—a free down load—is all you
need to unlock this hidden corner of the web
where privacy is paramount. R adical anonymity,
however, casts a long shadow.
e truth about the dark web is t hat in addition
to oering extreme privacy a nd protection from
the surveilla nce of authoritarian governments, it
facilitates a growing u nderground marketplace
that sophisticated crim inals use to tra c drugs,
stolen identities, child pornography, and other
illicit products and serv ices. And with untraceable
cryptocurrency a s the primary means of payment,
close cooperation between law enforcement, n an-
cial institutions, a nd regulators around the world is
required to tighten the screws on nefa rious activity.
The gray areas
Today, over 65,000 unique UR Ls ending w ith
.onion exist on the Tor network. A 2018 s tudy by
computer security rm Hyperion Gray cata logued
about 10 percent of these sites and found that the
most prevalent functions faci litate communication
via forums, chat rooms, a nd le and image hosts,
as well as commerce via m arketplaces. ese func-
tional roles, particu larly related to communication,
support many uses that a re considered legal and
legitimate in free societies. Fur thermore, a 2016
study by research rm Terbium Labs analy zing 400
randomly selected .onion sites suggests t hat over
half of all doma ins on the dark web are in fact legal.
For individuals living u nder oppressive regimes
that block large par ts of the internet or punish
Intended to protect dissidents, it has also cloaked illegal activity
Aditi Kumar and Eric Rosenbach

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