Surfing black market sites on the 'darknet'



Thane Burnett, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:50 PM ET

These are turbulent times for the deep and dark world of the web.

And the fact that your grandmother may already know this should be as much of a concern to those who run black-market websites, as police or even you and I.

There exists, within the global system of interconnected computer networks that unite billions of us around the word, vast and varied destinations that operate just outside the grasp of most search engines.

It's not some back alley or hidden door that good people should stay away from.

Just virtual places -- some good and some bad -- located off the usual expressways.

They require a bit of equipment and knowledge to reach.

Measures are taken by people who venture to these waypoints -- so-called "deep web" and "darknet" -- to mask their identities so they can, sometimes, go about making drug deals, trade child porn or even hire murderers.

It's not all for evil means. Similar sites use the same identity-obscuring measures to get the word out about oppressive regimes or for academics to trade important research.

Some sites crisscross with doctors now using black market drug sites to conduct studies, or even to offer advice to addicts.

This deep area has been around for years.

But because of a crackdown by U.S. officials and a recent high-profile theft, the nether world is suddenly becoming known to just about everyone. And their grandmother.

Which is not what you want when the whole idea is to stay quiet.

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In October, the FBI shut down Silk Road, an online black market open since early 2011. It's been described as the "eBay" for drugs.

While a new Silk Road has risen to take its place, according to Forbes and VICE, there's more trouble within the expanse.

Recently, a competitor to Silk Road, called Sheep Marketplace, may have snatched up 96,000 Bitcoins — the online cryptocurrency — belonging to users.

By some estimates, they may be worth as much as $100 million.

Sheep Marketplace sent out a notice to users that they were the ones robbed — "Your money, our provisions, all was stolen," an alert read — which this past week led online sleuths to form a virtual posse, as they, and not the police, track the robbers to stop funds from making it across the border into the real world.

There have also been issues of software not hiding identities, as it should, or frets of American officials hacking past defences.

Though none of this is likely to cause sympathy among average people who might see drug dealers losing security as poetic.

But experts, including Marcus Zillman, a Florida-based corporate consultant who helps companies set up private libraries online, is worried the good will be lumped in with the bad. That people will just fear the expanse, demanding everyone is clamped down on.

Both good and bad people look for anonymity, says Zillman.

"The positive side of the Deep Web is under-mentioned," he says.

And tighter controls could be coming for the dark reaches, as Zillman points out a recent meeting of the Internet Engineering Task Force — which promotes standards on the web — looked at creating new security measures for the Internet.

Ian Walden, a U.K. professor of information and communications law at Queen Mary, University of London, also worries about demonizing such a large expanse.

"It's as if we'd all feel happier that it was happening somewhere else," he says.

Though your grandmother may be more closely connected than she thinks, with Walden pointing out a good number of home PCs have been left open to corruption and used as zombie computers that help hide identities.

For now, the deep end of the ocean is still open for business, as it adjusts to new threats and measures.

Many of us won't see the workings, or possibly won't care what goes on there. But it continues evolving.

"The Internet," he believes, "is never going to be what it was."