Neal Ungerleider , Fast Company
When the German Foreign Office hosted a human rights conference several months ago, one of the invited guest organizations was the Tor Project. The Tor Project runs a secure, anonymous network and distributes free software used by dissidents and free speech activists worldwide. Activists in countries like Syria and Ethiopia use Tor regularly. The Tor Project, in fact, receives funding from the United States State Department for that very purpose.
There’s a catch, however. The same secure communications Tor offers have attracted spies, criminals, and pedophiles alongside political dissidents.
Tor’s network, referred to as the “underweb” in popular discussion, is a strange entity. It exists beneath the sanitized experiences of Facebook, Google, and Amazon. It exists way down deep, in a walled-off Web threaded with secure communication routes and populated with political dissidents, spies, and ne’er-do-wells.
The underweb has its own dark version of Wikipedia, too, called the Hidden Wiki, which looks a lot like the Wikipedia you know, except that it’s full of links to pedophile torrent directories, self-professed hitmen, endless stolen credit card numbers, archives of bestiality pictures, and drug delivery services. The South Africa Mail & Guardian’s Niren Tolsi called it a place where you can apparently find everything you would need to take over a country or break away from an existing one to form your own. Mostly, the Hidden Wiki is a detailed-enough guide to what’s known as the underweb one of the fastest growing segments of the Internet.
Tor is an anonymous network that is accompanied by free software; the name Tor stands for “The Onion Router.” Onion routers like Tor’s layer encryption on top of encryptioncommunications are encrypted and reencrypted multiple times as they make their way from a user’s computer to their final destination. To access the underweb, users must install Tor’s software (see “Howtoaccesstheunderweb”below).
Communications for free speech and democracy activists are responsible for a huge chunk of underweb traffic. The Tor Project receives substantial financial contributions from the State Department, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, and the National Science Foundation; the Swedish government also helps fund Tor. Although it has only been reported anecdotally, intelligence services and law enforcement worldwide are said to rely on Tor for secure, untraceable communications.
Tor communications can be disrupted and some limited footprints of Tor activity can be traced, but both activities are a significant drain in terms of resources and finances. Many of the traditional cybercrime forums have moved from the normal web to the deep Web. The reasons are clear: It’s harder to find who hosts these sites, who visits them and to take them down, says Mikko Hyponen of security firm F-Secure.
Read the rest here:
Inside the underweb: Home to pedophiles, hitmen, drug dealers â€” and free speech