In recent months, we have seen more and more ransomware attacks referencing the dark web and various .onion domains. Let’s take a close look on what it is.
Dark web is a part of the Internet accessible via onion routing protocol¹ integrated in specific web browsers², the most famous of which is Tor Browser. The Onion protocol, as the name suggests, encrypts the data layer by layer and sends it through multiple “nodes”, with each node decrypting the portion intended for it and forwarding the data. We can imagine this as handing over a package bundled in several boxes, on which only the next recipient is written. Thus, we do not know what is in the last box (if we are not the final recipient), only to whom we should pass it on. This method of communication significantly increases difficulty in trying to identify user. However, we should keep in mind, that the Tor network is intended for anonymization and for safe web browsing.
One of the weaknesses of this protocol³ is the ability to see the communication at the output node. In case it would get compromised, attacker could read the unencrypted communication (e-mail, etc.). Another common mistake is the user’s assumption that the use of Tor will ensure anonymity by itself. Nowadays, users are identified by the technique of so-called fingerprinting⁴, ranging from how their system is set up, browser, and hardware components or how they behave on the page (mouse movement, typing speed, etc.)⁵.
We can imagine the dark web as a subset of the Internet and it is often confused with the deep web (unindexed data accessible from the Internet). The content of the dark web site consists largely of illegal pornography, underground forums, drug markets, weapons, smuggling and stolen sensitive data⁶.
The goal of the dark web is not to provide space for illegal activities, but mainly to maintain anonymity on the Internet. Another legal causes are fighting censorship of local government (China, Russia, Iran, Vietnam, etc.) or hiding your identity in the case of whistleblowing (corporations⁷, secret agencies⁸, government⁹).