Deep, Deeper, Deepest, Internet

The article is published in Business Connect magazine, issues 3 (174), May-June

Despite its sinister reputation, the deep net also contains plethora of information for businesses

By Chaika Christova

What we see searching the internet is the so-called “surface web,” that is, the parts of the web that can be reached by the search engines. For example, Google said in November 2016 that it has indexed some 130 trillion unique pages across the web, while in 2013 it reported about 30 trillion pages – a 100-trillion increase in only three years.

This means that the biggest search engine has catalogued such an astonishing number of web pages and they are available for retrieving information.

Yet as impressive as this sounds, it is far from the total content of the web. The other part, a hundred times larger, is hidden from indexing and searching behind login screens or other security instruments. The “deep web” unavailable to standard search engines according to some recent estimates makes up 96% of the entire net.

People may reach parts of it when banking online, reading emails, paying for goods and services, submitting taxes, using software keys or logging with passwords into various locations. These are sites that contain sensitive data and require authentication to enter – financial information, shopping details, company intranets, medical research and scientific information, copyrighted materials and all kinds of other information stored in databases that remain largely invisible to search engines — the so-called “dark web.”

Privacy in it its full capacity?

Some people – for various reasons – do not want to surf the internet with their names. Either because they live in countries where this is dangerous for political reasons, because they are “shy,” or because they wish to keep their internet activities private from advertisers, or they are afraid that their online activity, often related to the free speech, human rights, censorship-resistant communication or freedom-of- information movements might bring them problems. Such people use certain anonymizing software like Tor, I2P, etc.

Tor (an acronym for the software project name “The Onion Router”) is the most popular and free software that enables anonymous communication. It directs the traffic through a free, worldwide, volunteer network which as of 2016 consists of more than 7,000 relays. Those relays conceal a user’s location transferring the information from one node to another in a way that it cannot be traced back to the sender and may not be used by anyone conducting network surveillance or traffic analysis. Via this “onion routing” messages are encapsulated in layers of encryption, hence the onion metaphor. This includes visits to web sites, online posts, instant messages, blog publications and other sort of communication. Tor encrypts not only the data and the source IP address, but also the next node destination IP address, and does so multiple times.

I2P (The Invisible Internet Project) is less popular and less developed free software among the anonymity seekers. One of the reasons why it is not preferred is that it browses only sites, hosted within the I2P intranet (called “eepsites”) and you may not anonymously browse the “outside” internet with it, while Tor is concentrated on providing anonymous surfing for the entire net. I2P uses a method called “garlic routing,” a variation of the “onion routing.” The information is transferred not by bi-directional circuits like in Tor, but through short-lived unidirectional tunnels where each user’s computer serves as a router. The peer-to-peer sharing is the backbone of the entire service and it has a well-developed torrent system.

Another reason for Tor’s better development is that the project (a nonprofit group as of 2006) receives funds from various agencies within the U.S. government.

“More than half of the Tor Project’s revenue in 2012, or $1.24 million, came from government grants, including an $876,099 award from the Department of Defense, according to financial statements available on the project’s website,” Bloomberg News wrote in January 2014.

This is partly because the DoD is trying to subvert internet’s various “walls,” and the project started as a government one in 1996 (by the U.S. Navy). Notwithstanding this history and funding, the project is significantly crowdsourced today. It is in fact developed by hundreds of volunteers around the world, who work on improving its software and solve the ever changing technical challenges; they counter the attempts of many countries’ intelligent services to peep in and spy within the system. These efforts have had

negligible success,

due mostly to human errors, not to software vulnerabilities. Anonymity is not only privacy, but also security. This said, one may never be completely certain of his or her protection using only Tor, I2P or other anonymizing software. Experts say that one has to combine Tor and I2P with VPN (virtual private network) software, especially before visiting potentially dangerous places in the deep web. Even more protection comes with using the so-called security-focused operating systems like GNU/Linux.

The achieved freedom from interference and the involved confidentiality makes the Tor, I2P and other similar closed “societies” – as it might be expected – a home for various illegal activities – anything from political subversion, anonymous defamation, unauthorized news leaks of sensitive information, copyright infringement, bank and credit card fraud.

Dark net markets

may not exist without anonymity, so Tor and I2P are comfortable places for them. Though there are exchanged both legal an illicit goods, nowadays the most popular sites on Tor and the I2P are child pornography and the second – dark net markets. They are used for distribution not only of controlled substances, but also of porn and pedophile content, weapons and stolen credit card numbers, for money laundering, identity theft and the exchange of counterfeit currency, gambling, for different criminal services – including murder; they offer comfortable space for terrorists, hacking groups. The payment currency is Bitcoin with escrow services and eBay-like vendor feedback systems.

According to the news site DeepDotWeb, specialized in reporting events in and surrounding the dark web, as of May 17, 2017, the list of dark net markets (Tor and I2P) consists of 55 live markets and vendor shops. Most of them are in English, but there are also Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, French, Italian and Finnish markets.

Useful for business?

Yes, it is, says the British cybercrime expert, Dr. Stephen Hill, managing director of Hill Bingham Ltd., cited by the New Zealand online publications NZBusiness and SecurityBriefNZ in May 2017. His clients include police departments throughout Europe and the Middle East, and companies in the accounting, banking, legal, travel, and retail sectors. He says the deep web has potential as an information source, which businesses can use to gain improved intelligence for everything including due diligence to insolvency asset training.

“Open source intelligence is the most common search undertaken by businesses using the surface web, there are even greater opportunities using the deep web to discover hidden information,” he says.

Using advanced Internet search processes to undertake due diligence via “deep dives” offers huge benefits and advantages to businesses dealing with sensitive, important and highly complex negotiations.

The deep web’s marketplaces have more products alternatives, which one can buy, or sell within a very secure environment using escrow services.