A Shadow Web Request?

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Oh, Shadow Web – it’s been an interesting few years, hasn’t it? When I first started writing this blog, I wrote a post entitled Is the Shadow Web a Reality? (Updated); at present, it’s still one of my most popular posts!

I received a comment from a reader today asking how to “join” the Shadow Web, and she sounded very genuine about it. I’ll repeat what I said earlier – it’s a scam, definitely. I’m sure of it.

Let’s trace the history of this “shadow web” thing. To my knowledge, it all started with this creepypasta on Reddit: A warning to those thinking about accessing the shadow web. That was published three years ago, and it spawned all kinds of rumors and urban legends!

Eventually, people also started narrating the story on YouTube, which probably added to its intrigue. While it was a very creepy story, and well written, it was not true. If you listen to the technical details, there’s no way something like that would work (on Tor, at least).

Afterward, someone else wrote a “sequel” to the original, entitled 1) The shadow web is real. 2) Stay the hell away from it. I think it was supposed to be from the point-of-view of a cop, which lent some “credence” to it.

Somewhere along the line, a person on Tor picked up on the popularity of the stories, and decided to create some scam sites that claimed to offer “access” to the Shadow Web, and this is where I first got the idea that it might be real – but boy, was I wrong. This was what the original site looked like, I believe:

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I was a n00b to Tor back then, and couldn’t tell the difference between scams and non-scams. We’ve all been there.

So I contacted the “admin” of the Shadow Web, and we had a back-and-forth conversation about it – at the time, his email address was shadow-web@sigaint.org. (SIGAINT no longer exists, unfortunately.) It later came to my attention that this had all the features of other scams: pay now, watch later; no information; the details are vague.

The person I talked to claimed that you had to download a “special browser” just for “Shadow Web sites.” I don’t think any such browser exists, to be honest. There are numerous forks of Firefox (the Tor Browser being one of them), and all of them can be used with the clearnet – but sometimes with a proxy of sorts (like Freenet’s FProxy), you can connect to other networks. It would be amusing if the Shadow Web used one called “SProxy.” Someone should make that as a joke.

Anyhow, the admin told me that I had to pay an extravagant amount of bitcoin to gain access to the so-called Shadow Web, which I didn’t have. Ironically, I probably have enough now, but I know better than to pay it. Since then, there have been numerous other “shadow web” sites popping up:

shadow_web I think it’s the same guy creating all of them, and if I were you, I wouldn’t pay him a cent; it’s all bullshit.

Nonetheless, if you want to find sick things on the dark web, I don’t think you have to look very far. It’s just a matter of opinion what you consider “sick.”

Well, that’s the last I’d heard about the Shadow Web, but I’m willing to bet that any new sites going by that name are scams too. If you want my advice, don’t pay them any money – you’ll be out several bitcoins, at the very least.

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Red Room Follow Up, Part II

Previously, on Secrets of the Dark…

We examined the claim that there are, in fact, red rooms on the dark web. Several readers had said that they had either witnessed a red room, or knew someone who had been victimized by one. Well, this is the only red room I’ve seen:

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Twin Peaks fans, anyone? But I digress. So, in the last post, I suggested that you could create a red room, if you wanted to – but how?

Assuming that Tor is too slow to stream video, you may be able to use something like a private network for this purpose, or a VPN. A private network is defined under RFC 1918: Address Allocation for Private Internets, if you want the technical details. However, even some VPNs have difficulty streaming video. If you’re curious about this, for further reading: 5 Best VPNs for Streaming 4K Video Online. I would think that a commercial VPN wouldn’t be cool with you streaming live murders over their connection either, however.

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Once you had your network complete, you would still have to advertise your site in some way, and also attract victims (this, in my opinion, would be the most difficult part). Maybe some people assume that it’s like the Taken movies? I don’t know.

OK, so you have your VPN, your potential victims, and then you would have to set up your site somewhere, which would result in hosting costs (and thus, a potential paper trail). Plus, on top of that, if customers are paying in bitcoin, that means that the transactions would appear on the blockchain, which is public:

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I suppose that, in theory, like on the darknet markets, you could use a bitcoin mixer, but then the operators of the mixer would have blood on their hands, so to speak. They might not want to get involved with such a thing. So, to add to the complications, you would have to create your own mixer, or find one that didn’t care about what you were using the bitcoin for (including murder).

Ready to run your red room now? Remember, it still has to get attention, but not the wrong kind of attention!

Contrary to popular belief, Tor (and some other darknets) are monitored by law enforcement, as are potential bitcoin transactions tied to illegal activity. Just look at the AlphaBay/Hansa Market shutdown, or any of several other LE operations that target the dark web.

There are some sites that advertise themselves as red rooms, but these look suspicious at best:

http://redrooaujxcjyohj.onion

http://redroofvxabs3a3o.onion

http://redroocid5rlxm43.onion

Do they look real to you? Well, why don’t you pay the cost and let me know what happens? Don’t die, OK?

All in all, that’s my take on it – did I forget anything? Again, I know the dark web has some terrible stuff on it, but taking all these factors into consideration – would it really be worth it to run something like this as a business?

I leave it to you to answer that question.

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Red Room Follow-Up!

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by Ciphas

So, continuing on the subject of red rooms, I received a comment recently on my post Red Rooms Finally Debunked Forever? that said this:

“THANK YOU Bob Saget. Just because red rooms don’t fit under your perfect “criteria”, that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. I personally know somebody who has been a part of a red room, but he wasn’t the murderer. He was the victim.”

She was replying to an earlier comment by someone who went by the name of Bob Saget (yes, that was his name), who gave me a hard time for trying to disprove the existence of red rooms, and cited Peter Scully’s videos as an example – in other words, this guy:

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So here are my thoughts: what I’ve said so far about red rooms has been based partially on my personal experience, and also what I’ve researched about them. While I have not seen such a thing (or at least not one that I believe to be genuine), here is how I would define a red room:

A website (presumably on the dark web or a private network) where you can pay to witness torture and murder.

While I realize that some very sick things exist on Tor and other darknets (most notoriously child pornography),  streaming video over Tor would be incredibly difficult, at least the way it works at present. If you don’t understand how onion routing works, this link explains it quite well: What Is Onion Routing, Exactly?

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It is possible to watch video on Tor (and I have, in fact). As I mentioned on my recent post PsychoTube: The YouTube of Tor?, there are a few sites on which you can watch uploaded videos, but they certainly aren’t live. It’s very similar to LiveLeak, in that it features videos of murders, executions, and war. By the way, another dark web blog that I like, All Things Vice, has addressed this subject as well: You wanted darker web?

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That being said, how does this square with the above comment? Well, my heart goes out to anyone who’s a victim of torture or murder; nonetheless, as far as that having something to do with red rooms, the burden of proof is on the claimant. One site on the clearnet, Red Room Deep Web Complete Guide, goes into detail about what allegedly happens in a red room, and how to see one (in theory).

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Without reviewing all the things this site says about it, I think a number of them are wrong – and it looks like they’re using a scam site as their example. But you could, of course, create your own red room.

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How would you create a red room, then? Stay tuned for Part 2.

Return of the Red Rooms ಠ_ಠ

by Ciphas

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Ah…I had been itching to return to one of my favorite subjects – red rooms! Let’s face it, most people know that they’re fake, but this doesn’t stop your average scammer. Wait – let me rephrase that – most people who understand how Tor works know that they’re fake.

Anyhow, I’m willing to bet that whoever runs these sites have made quite a bit of money on them. Well, there are several sites that look a lot like this one, and they all seem to have the same purpose. Promise a red room show, ask for bitcoin, and then in all likelihood, you’ll never see a bit of it again.

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If you’re new to this whole “red room” thing, the idea is that you can supposedly watch a live murder take place on video over the Tor network. However, because of the constant packet switching, there’s no way that it would actually work. At best, a live video would be extremely slow. Trust me on this.

I brought this up because on one of my first “red room” posts, someone had left a comment, which you can view here: I paid for a red room…

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There’s a lot of rambling in there, but if there’s any truth to it, the guy got scammed, big time, and it sounds like he may have downloaded some ransomware (or something along those lines) as well!

So, for those of you who wondered what happens if you actually pay to “enter” one of these sites:

  1. You lose your bitcoin
  2. You contract malware
  3. Possibly something worse, like identity theft
  4. You get killed and become their next episode

Well, probably all except that last one. Aww, how disappointing!! What did you expect? Still, despite this, the morbid nut in me wants to see what other kinds of crazy things are on the dark web. So, just for you, my curious readers, I am going to explore further in the depths, to see if I can find something really insane.

If you have any suggestions, feel free to point me in the right (or wrong) direction…

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Red Rooms Don’t Exist (Here’s Why)

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by Ciphas

In an effort to get more connected with you, my readers, I’ve decided to do a little how-to here. So I thought that, rather than just say “all red rooms are fake,” I’m going to go through how to spot a fake red room on the dark web.

What prompted this? Well, on my previous post, I received this comment:

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In case that’s hard to read, here it is in slightly larger text:

“there are many red rooms its [sic] just a matter of finding them although I wouldn’t suggest it, i posted a link below. http://222222222kjhiqzb.onion/”

I actually checked out that link, and it looked all too familiar. Why’s that? Well, Mutahar (a.k.a. SomeOrdinaryGamers) featured it on his “Deep Web Browsing” series: THE “REAL” RED ROOM!?!

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I watch those videos purely for entertainment, but yes, Muta does visit some real sites on the Tor network. (And a few on the clearnet too.)

That does not mean, however, that any of these are real red rooms. In fact, he even says so in the same video!!

The experts say they’re all fake (and I’m inclined to believe them), but let’s just play devil’s advocate and say that there are a few real ones.

paniq-room

I have come across more than my fair share of sites on Tor (and elsewhere) that claim to be red rooms. Most of them have a few things in common:

  1. They claim to show video streams of live torture, murder, and other acts.
  2. They require you to pay – usually large amounts of bitcoin or other cryptocurrency.
  3. They often ask you to download “special software,” like an alternative browser.
  4. They sometimes will link you to an alternate site to do the transactions.
  5. They almost always use a Tor-based email service – a common one is SIGAINT.
  6. They sometimes have a graphic image on the main site, usually taken from a horror film, to symbolize the acts of violence that would take place in the red room.
  7. They sometimes have a login page, which you can supposedly access after you pay.
  8. They won’t show you any sort of sample content beforehand.

That’s all I can think of at the moment.

Anyhow, if any of you have really used Tor, you probably have some idea of how slow it is. If you don’t understand why it’s slow, then allow me to direct you to their FAQ: Why is Tor so slow?

Part of the answer is: “Before we answer, though, you should realize that Tor is never going to be blazing fast. Your traffic is bouncing through volunteers’ computers in various parts of the world, and some bottlenecks and network latency will always be present. You shouldn’t expect to see university-style bandwidth through Tor.”

OK…but the red room sites say that I have download a special browser to watch the show!

Why is this? Because, in all likelihood, if these sites are asking you to download and install special software, the software in question probably has some kind of malware embedded in it.

Do you know what a RAT (remote access trojan) is? Allow me to direct you to TechTarget: What is RAT (remote access trojan)? Essentially, it’s a type of malware program that includes a back door to allow remote access to the victim’s computer.

I don’t know this from personal experience, but it’s my best educated guess. And a lot of these sites started popping up on Tor after the creepypastas and YouTube videos about red rooms became more popular – are you really that surprised?

The Shadow Web – Re-Re-Visited!!

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I’ve done several previous posts about the so-called Shadow Web, an urban legend which I believe became popular after the creepypasta “A Warning To Those Accessing The Shadow Web” passed around.

After this, a plethora of sites popped up on the Tor network (and other networks, like Freenet) claiming to offer access to the Shadow Web.

In a similar manner to the red room sites, the Shadow Web sites claim that this is a special portion of the dark web only accessible through “special software” that you need to pay to download.

Again, not to repeat myself too much – I’ve never gone so far as to actually download the software, but I suspect that it’s infected with some kind of malware – what, I couldn’t say. I’m glad that I haven’t fallen victim to this, to be honest.

I have actually corresponded with the admin in charge of some of these Shadow Web sites, and he basically told me what I said on the “fact list” above – it’s a live torture show, you need to pay, and you need download a special browser to view it.

And yes, I know that lots of the creepypastas on Reddit and YouTube talk about the “shadow web”; I assume that they’re all bullshit. I still find them entertaining anyway. But I also find The Texas Chainsaw Massacre entertaining!

If any of you want to take the risk of paying for this and viewing it, go right ahead. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I imagine there are other sites like this, too – but I have my doubts that any of them are genuine.

Questions? Comments? Please! Let me know!

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Red Room Response!

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by Ciphas

So, I received an interesting comment on one of my older posts today, specifically the one Red Rooms Finally Debunked Forever? The comment read as follows:

Are you crazy? Have you not even heard of the likes of people such as Peter Scully? People who have been put in jail for doing stuff EXACTLY like this?? What confuses you about these?? Just cuz it doesn’t fit under the perfect, stupid made-up “red room” criteria that a bunch of basement-dwelling, reddit and 4chan teen faggots created?? This stuff is very real.

Let me clarify something: in spite of the title of the post using the word “debunked,” I wasn’t necessarily saying that nothing like that exists. I was merely speculating about the possibility that it might or might not exist (which I’ve done a lot on this blog).

I am well aware of the case of Peter Scully and his torture/CP videos. I’m also aware of the case of Matthew David Graham (a.k.a. “Lux”), who ran the hurtcore sites “PedoEmpire,” “Hurt 2 The Core,” and “Love 2 the Core.” For more information about that case, read Deepdotweb: PedoEmpire’s “Lux”: Matthew David Graham Jailed for 15 Years.

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Trust me – I know that there is sick shit on the dark web, and have even seen a few things that made me want to throw up or go hide underground. What I was trying to debunk was the idea of live murder in which the audience could participate.

As I’ve said in other posts, the Tor network, Freenet, and some other darknets tend to load pages so slowly that it would be near-impossible to live stream video over them.

If the definition of a red room is: “A web site on the dark web that shows the live torture and/or murder of a victim, and is one in which audience members can pay to participate,” then these networks would barely be able to support that because of latency.

On the other hand, one of the things which does exist on certain sites is that dedicated members have special access to hidden sections of the site. In the case of Mr. Graham, some of his sites allowed members with special privileges to direct and film their own CP videos, which they then would upload on the sites.

The notorious Peter Scully was one such member, and he eventually started his own production company called No Limits Fun, which would produce such videos. Apparently, he also offered pay-per-view streams of these videos. (In case you haven’t heard, people are now calling for the death penalty in his case; he hasn’t officially been sentenced yet.)

As horrific as this all may be, I don’t think the audience members could participate in the videos; they were previously recorded.

That being said, there might be something of this nature that still exists, but if there is, I haven’t found it.

I’m not denying that there are sick things or sick people on the internet, but I was merely trying to look at it from a rational point of view.

I have read stories from a few people who say that they’ve seen such things, but I don’t have enough evidence to confirm or deny these stories. One of the stories you can find here: My visits to the darkest sites on the deep web. (Make of that what you will; I don’t know if it’s true or not.)

I also talked to a writer on Quora who wrote about such an experience, but again, I can’t verify whether it’s true or not – it just seemed very genuine, so judge for yourself: What is the worst thing you’ve seen on the deep web? (And yes, I know they said “deep web” and not “dark web.” They meant “dark web.” Cut them a little slack.)

Finally – if you are someone who has personal experience viewing a red room, then I stand corrected. I was only speaking from my experience, and what I had read and learned about how most darknets work.

If you have seen this and have the guts to comment on it, feel free.

Interview: Eileen Ormsby, Author of Silk Road & All Things VICE

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Photo credit: Philip Gao Photography

I must say, it’s always interesting (and enlightening) to meet people who actually know their stuff when it comes to the dark web. Not long ago, on Twitter, I had that opportunity.

Eileen Ormsby, the Melbourne-based author of Silk Road and All Things VICE, was the perfect person to talk to regarding the ins and outs of the dark web in all its shady glory. According to her, her interest in the dark web emerged as a result of doing research for the Silk Road book, and eventually led to the creation of the blog.

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Given that I, too, am aiming to find the truth about the dark web amongst all the disinformation, it seems that Ormsby and I have something in common.  We even touched on my “favorite” dark web myth, red rooms!

Secrets of the Dark: What were your initial experiences on the dark web? Did you use Tor or some other service?

Eileen Ormsby: Yes, started with Tor and, specifically, Silk Road. It was some time in 2011 when a friend who was using it showed it to me. Instant fascination!

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The original Silk Road Marketplace

SoTD: You have interviewed a number of individuals who are involved in various aspects of the dark web. Which interviews did you find to be the most informative or interesting?

EO: Probably the most interesting for me was my interview with the administrators of Atlantis when they were trying to break Silk Road’s stranglehold on the darknet markets. They contacted me and asked for the interview – in fact, several times before I agreed to do it.  They’d been asking whether I would carry their paid advertising (no) and then were always sending me snippets of news to put on my blog. They sent me previews of their infamous Youtube commercial before it was put on. They were really marketing hard, desperate to get some sort of good publicity because Silk Road monopolised the market and their customers were a really strong, loyal fanbase. Nobody trusted Atlantis, even though they offered a smoother interface, lower commissions and better customer service.

Eventually I agreed I would interview them provided it would be real-time, candid and I would not make it positive if I didn’t feel it should be. I agreed to give them a hearing and be fair. It was all done over real-time encrypted chat (I think it was cryptocat, which is now defunct after being proven to be not that crypto after all!) [actually, it’s back up again! – ed.].

It lasted several hours and I did, indeed, feel it was candid. I think they were trying to make a better market, but it failed because of distrust among DNM users and loyalty to Silk Road.

Other than that, I interviewed or engaged with most of the staff of Silk Road from time to time, including [Dread Pirate Roberts] 1&2 and still remain in contact with several of them to this day – the difference being that I now know the real identities of many of them!  I was in constant email contact with Peter Nash, the Australian moderator, during his time in prison in the US and served as his communication to the outside. He gave me an awesome interview when he got out.

SoTD: What are some of the urban legends and dubious information that, in your experience, continue to pass around about the dark web? (e.g. hitmen services, red rooms, bizarre things for sale)

EO: The one that is most persistent is the myth of the “Red Room” – live streaming of torture/rape that ends in the murder of the victim and which people can pay to watch, or even bid to type in commands for the torturer to carry out (highest bid wins!).  People have this idea of Hostel with webcams exist[ing] all over the dark web, but you just need an invite to get into them.  It’s ridiculous.  They don’t exist.  They certainly wouldn’t exist on Tor.  But people are desperate to believe and they always come back with “You can’t prove they don’t exist, people are crazy, therefore they must exist.”  Picture my eyes rolling here.

I don’t think many people are taken in by the hitmen sites anymore, though the press loves playing up the fact that there are sites offering up hitman services. And of course, after the Ross Ulbricht trial, people kept pointing to his alleged attempts to have hits carried out as pointing to him trying to use ‘hitman sites,’ which wasn’t the case at all.

People are always asking where they can find markets for exotic animals. Obviously the illegal trade in exotic animals exists, and some communications and transactions may well take place over Tor, but there are no markets like the drug markets where you can go and look at a picture and then put a tiger or ocelot or something into your basket and buy it with bitcoin.

SoTD: Have you used networks other than Tor to explore the dark web? (e.g. I2P, Freenet, GNUnet, Netsukuku)  If so, how did the experience compare?

nerdageddon_updated

Nerdageddon on Freenet

EO: I used I2P and Freenet back in the beginning when I was researching the dark web in general, but they just weren’t as user-friendly as Tor and didn’t have the user base.

SoTD: What kind of research did you do when writing your book Silk Road (beyond just visiting the website itself)?  What did you discover in the process?

EO: In a lot of ways, I didn’t do any research at all.  I was in there from the early days, an active part of the community.  I spent part of pretty much every single day in there for two years.  I got involved in stuff.  I spoke to people, sometimes they came to me with their stories.  It was totally organic.

As well as the ground-level stuff, I got involved with a lot of the academics involved in researching cryptomarkets. Dr. Monica Barratt was one of the first – we’re still friends today – and she has probably done more rigorous academic analysis of the darknet markets than just about anyone in the world. Nicolas Cristin was another one who could be counted on for impartial analysis. There’s now a large circle of people involved in cryptomarket research and we have a very cool private forum where we share stuff.

SoTD: Have you found that you needed to increase your knowledge of internet security in order to research networks like Tor (i.e. to protect yourself and your identity)?

EO: Well, I’ve always hidden in plain sight.  Once I came out on Silk Road, I used the name OzFreelancer everywhere on the dark web. Everyone knew who I was. I always thought being up front about who I was to be the best way. Of course I have second logins for everything under different names, but they are usually for lurking rather than contributing.

The one thing I’ve found invaluable and that everyone – not just journos or DNM users but everyone – should take the time to learn is PGP. It is the one thing we can still count on.

SoTD: On your blog All Things VICE, you seem to get a lot of comments from the owner(s) of the Besa Mafia website; do you have any inside information as to what the truth is about the site? Is it a scam, honeypot, or what?

EO: LOL, yes I have inside information which I can’t go into detail about at the moment, but it will all come out at some point. Yes, they are a scam, but a very successful one – they have stooged a lot of people out of money.

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Besa Mafia’s website

SoTD: In spite of the negative attention that darknet markets have received, do you think that they have any positive aspects?

EO: The drug markets certainly do. They offer a safer alternative for people who are going to do drugs anyway. There is no possibility of any violence. The vast majority of the time a buyer knows exactly what they are getting, because of the feedback and rating system – if someone is selling 25i as acid or pipes as ecstasy, they will very quickly be called out for it and their ratings will plummet. That’s not the case in a nightclub, or even friends-of-friends, where you just blindly accept that pill, powder or tab is what the seller says it is.

SoTD: Have you explored some of the darknet markets that are still in business, such as Alphabay, Dream Market, Valhalla, Python Market, or Hansa Market? If yes, what was the experience like?

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Apple Market

EO: Yes, all of them. And they are boring. Which is exactly what a market should be to stay in business. One of Ross Ulbricht’s biggest mistakes was being too damn interesting and developing a cult following. It really got up the nose of the TLAs and they threw a ridiculously disproportionate number of resources into tracking him down and prosecuting him. There’s been several markets far larger than Silk Road ever was, but law enforcement just don’t care (or at least don’t care enough) because they are quietly running as a commercial enterprise and don’t have any political or disruptive motivations. They certainly don’t have enigmatic leaders posting rousing calls to arms with devout followers drinking the Koolaid. None of us journos are writing about them much, so they are out of sight, out of mind for politicians.

I don’t mean to say that LE doesn’t still work on arresting DNM dealers and, where possible, closing the markets. It’s just that the political pressure to close them down is off.

Ulbricht_Passport

Ross Ulbricht, a.k.a. Dread Pirate Roberts

SoTD: There are many, many so-called “horror stories” that pass around about the dark web; do you have any of your own to share from your research?

EO: Haha, none! I did get bombarded by the owner of Besa Mafia (hitman site) after my article about them, with emails telling me he knows where I live and was sending people around to “beat and rape” me, but I was never really worried that he would go through with it. My partner on the other hand gets nervous about what I do sometimes.

Of course, there’s been disturbing things. I attended the court hearings of people involved in hurtcore sites. I heard and saw things that I need to put in little compartments of my brain that I lock away and rarely visit. But never any of the creepypasta stuff people love to boast about on Reddit.

SoTD: Do you think that Tor is still a good tool for journalists to use, or as a privacy tool for people living under repressive regimes? (e.g. North Korea, ISIL)

EO: Absolutely. Every journo should have a working knowledge of Tor, VPNs and PGP. Especially PGP.

SoTD: Given that darknets and other privacy tools are still being developed, do you think that something else may eventually replace Tor?

EO: Yes. I’m not clever enough to know what though.

SoTD: Answer this question once and for all: is it called the “deep web” or the “dark web”? Or are they two entirely different things?

EO: They are two different things. You know when you hear that stuff about the deep web being 500x larger than the surface web? That’s true (well, I don’t know the exact figure – nobody does – but it is massively larger). But that is all boring stuff, being anything that’s not indexed by search engines. So anything behind a paywall, or password protected, backend stuff for companies, etc. The dark web is a very small part of the deep web. Teeny tiny. It is just a media-friendly way of saying Hidden Services.
I have to admit, I hate seeing people use “deep web” when they mean “dark web.”

 

Me too, Eileen!  Me too.  Well, I encourage you to check out All Things VICE.

And next time you hear some crazy rumors about the dark web…check there first.