What Lies Beneath: The Internet's Dark Side

Jul 17, 2013

The Undernet is an anonymous network used for everything from arms dealers and narcotics traders to journalists in censored countries.
Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

Beneath a sea of hashtags, behind the walls of Facebook users and beyond the top ten hits of a Google search is a set of websites and resources on the Internet called the “Undernet.” Also known as the “Dark Web,” these sites are not indexed by search engines and can provide complete anonymity to users.

Carnegie Mellon University Professor and Network Security Expert David Brumley explains this hidden Internet and the many legal, illegal and beneficial actions that occur within this web.

For years, security researchers have been interested in maintaining the privacy of Internet users.  Typically these come through use of passwords, firewalls and re-routing IP addresses.  The Undernet is the “logical extreme” of this desire for privacy in that virtually no one can trace the users of these sites to their physical location. These protected interfaces, specifically one called “Tor,” work by using a cryptographic primitive mix network. This occurs when users travel in and out of multiple addresses at an extremely fast speed such that the original IP address is impossible to locate.

Brumley explains that what happens on the Dark Web can range from buying and selling arms and narcotics to publishing significant information to the world from countries where censorship hinders free speech.

“You can buy a hit man for $10,000,” Brumley describes, adding that many times even the transaction of money is anonymous with users going through programs such as “Bitcoin.” One of the most popular websites on the Dark Web is called "The Silk Road."

As for the National Security Agency’s concerns with the Dark Web, Brumley reveals that they typically look to users who solely use the Tor network and then use human intelligence to monitor the searches.

“One of the best techniques," Brumley says, "is the ‘human factor…someone always ends up slipping up.”