You won’t find it on Chrome, Safari, or Firefox. It’s called the “dark web” and it has become a mainstay in the criminal underworld. There is an entire subculture that uses the dark web for illegal drug sales, money laundering with cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, and unfortunately, human trafficking and the distribution of child pornography.
The Dark Web, Explained
A rudimentary definition of the dark web is that it is an overlay computer network hosting content that can only be accessed through specialized web browsers, software, and configurations. Users of the dark web access content without revealing IP addresses and other personally identifying information which enables them to keep their identities and locations secret. One way users accomplish this is by using browsers and networks that do not index such information. As a result, investigators often have to find criminal actors on the “surface web” through indexed search-engine information.
The dark web is a remote subsection of the so-called deep web, but the deep web itself is not directly associated with criminal activities. Records one would find in the non-dark areas of the deep web include medical records, legal documents, financial records, academic information, and certain repositories. Revealing such information, however, could be a criminal offense.
Criminal Activities Conducted Via the Dark Web
Some of the most notable criminal cases involving the dark web include the production and sharing of child pornography. In 2017, a Naples, Florida man was sentenced to 30 years in prison for operating Playpen. Playpen was a notorious dark website that was thought to be the world’s largest collection of child pornography.
Drug sales also account for a substantial percentage of criminal activities conducted over the dark web. You may remember several years ago when the United States prosecuted the “Silk Road” case. It was one of the most notorious dark web marketplaces. The sale of illegal drugs accounted for over 70 percent of products that flowed through the Silk Road, as well as fake identifications and the promotion of money laundering activity though cryptocurrency. Its founder was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2015, and federal agents seized more than $1 billion in bitcoin connected to the site.
In October 2021, the Department of Justice teamed up with Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, to arrest 150 individuals accused of engaging in illegal transactions over the dark web. Operation Dark HunTOR, named after the prominent software used to access the dark web, resulted in 65 arrests in the U.S. Many of those arrested are accused of illegally buying or selling amphetamines, cocaine, and a wide variety of opioids. The operation resulted in the seizure of more than $31 million in cash and cryptocurrencies.
Despite record dark-web busts, online criminal activity will continue to thrive. Money laundering, identity theft, child pornography, drug trafficking, and countless other federal and state crimes find their homes on the dark web. As criminals adapt, though, law enforcement is not far behind.
Attorney Barry M. Wax has experience defending clients accused of using the dark web to engage in criminal activity. The firm stays on top of developments involving these 21st-century criminal schemes. We welcome inquiries from individuals seeking experienced defense counsel. Call (305) 373-4400 to schedule your consultation.