This article is one of two published in Feature’s “Descent in the Deep” deep web package. View the full package here: https://mvelestoque.atavist.com/descent-into-the-deep
Our consumption of technology is eternal.
Dawn to dusk, notifications and YouTube videos surge in a bellowing, merciless wave, flooding our eyes and ears with an onslaught of vibrant colors and noises. We retire to bed, lulled to slumber by the natural darkness of the night, only to be jolted awake by the artificial daylight of the computer monitor. The cycle continues, the soundtrack of our lives forever the repetitive ding of an incoming text and summer afternoons squandered away on social media sites.
Yet even as we spend every waking minute online, the majority of us never truly scratch the surface of the web. There lies a kind of technological underground unlike your typical Google Chrome or Firefox browser and shielded from the public eye: the deep web, and its shadier counterpart — the dark web.
According to junior Naomi Tai, a technology enthusiast, the deep web is unable to be accessed by regular search engines like Yahoo or Google.
“Most of [the deep web] is actually just data and a couple of them are websites that you have to use different browsers like TOR [if you want] to access them,” Tai said. “And it’s usually a bunch of shady business and whatnot.”
TOR (The Onion Router) refers to the onion router which is used to mask Internet traffic under blankets of encryption and uses its own form of an Internet Protocol (IP) address by using a .onion URL. But downloading TOR won’t make someone’s life easier by giving them specific sites; it is up to the user to find them on their own.
Unlike Tai, MVHS computer technician Brandon McArthur interprets the deep web as an infrastructure of the web and more organized than a storehouse for data.
“That means you can control who has access to your websites and your services,” McArthur said, “and so that can be good or bad.”
Security is a constant priority, but there is a difference from sitting at home and using an electronic device than using an insecure network in a public space, like a coffee shop. Other people may be inclined to steal account information and assignments jeopardizing a job or a grade. But often most stores or school use a virtual private network (VPN) to create easy access
and provides security precautions like searching anonymously without being traced or keeping personal and personal information secure.
“Whenever you go to a website [VPN] encrypts it, sends it out over the router as encrypted, so nobody even knows what you’re doing,” AP Computer Science teacher David Greenstein said. “Whatever information you have and whatever comes back is totally encrypted because the only people who have the keys are you and the server that you’re paying way out there somewhere. So they call that tunneling, so that data tunneling essentially it’s a way of getting around systems.”
As a graduate student studying computer science, Greenstein was invited to work with the military on ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), a kind of predecessor to the Internet we know now. The network was established in 1969 as a testbed for networking technologies between niversity and research centers (Britannica.com). ARPANET was exclusively for the military, and public use was prohibited, but Greenstein had the privilege of experiencing the technology firsthand when tasked with “file transfer protocol.” He sent files through a network of computers connecting to over thirty universities. The government eventually shifted ARPANET from a military project to a public project, and it gradually evolved into the Internet as we know it today.
In the 1990’s, however, the deep web made its humble, benign entrance.
“[Internet users] were starting to put some secure stuff [online] and they had this security program called PGP [Pretty Good Privacy] that you could download,” Greenstein said. “The [creator Phil Zimmermann] got sued by the military and they were going to [go] after every person that owned a copy.”
Nowadays, PGP is considered a vital email encryption program, but its implementation and possession in 1991 — a violation akin to owning a bomb — garnered three years of criminal inspection after the program spread worldwide (Phil Zimmerman). The U.S. Government considered the program an “armament” and infringement of the Arms Export Control Act, a law ceding the President authority to manage the import and export of possible defense articles or services (U.S. Department of State). However, the government ultimately dropped Zimmerman’s case in 1996, and the result of his efforts birthed today’s deep web, of which PGP is a component.
“It was so damaging to the security of the United States,” Greenstein said, “[for the public] to own something that they couldn’t break into.“
The term deep web has a negative connotation, but what many people do not realize is that we use it in our everyday lives. Only small parts of it are illegal, therefore people have justifiable means of using it. According to Greenstein, over ninety percent of it is harmless and a majority is essential in everyday life, thus there is no driving reason for the deep web to be rid of. Common uses include webmail, of which PGP plays a role in security, online banking and also video on demand.
“A lot of [the deep web] is data based driven, so when you hit a site like Amazon you’re hitting a deep web,” Greenstein said. “It’s going to generate the page automagically for you, so the page you see is not the page other people see.”
It is the dark web — the sinister story within the story — one should steer clear of. It is a breeding ground of immoral measure, flourishing with black markets and bidding sites for illegal weapons or substances. Tai expresses her unwillingness to access the dark web with a “Hell no!”
“Since it’s this shady business sometimes they can try to track you down,” Tai said. “And do like, I dunno, kill you if you don’t do what they want you to do.”
According to Tai, one of her acquaintances has had some interaction with “bitcoins,” a feature also used on both the dark web and surface web.
In order to buy or sell things online, people use bitcoins, a form of digital currency where transactions can be made without central banks and no single authority has control over them. One bitcoin estimates to a value of 4,609 US dollars. Tai herself knows of someone who has traded bitcoins before on the surface web, a perfectly legal action as it is not inherently tied to the dark web.
Accessing the deep web itself is not illegal unless someone gets involved in criminal or illicit activity, which is primarily quarantined in the dark web.
“No, I have no reason to be [on the dark web],” Greenstein said. “It’s like saying I’m going to go to the worst place in town where they have people that get stabbed and people get shot and I’m going to walk down the street to see what it’s like.”
Some people may come back out alive, Greenstein acknowledges, but he himself certainly wouldn’t take the risk to find out for himself. The newspapers he’s perused report of dark web users ultimately facing criminal court instead of their computer screen.
Greenstein is adamant he will never be one of them.
“I don’t want of your readers to be [on the dark web], either,” Greenstein said. “That would be a really really bad thing so if there’s anything that I can stress in this whole thing it’s that it is dangerous – it really is.”