Image from hackernews.com.
Cross-posted to the Blue Coat Security blog.
You know something has become popular when you see it on the Netflix series “House of Cards”. There is an episode in Season 2 where one of the characters gets onto the Deep Web in order to try and trap the protagonist. In the end it backfires on him, but it’s not before we’ve seen a series of fancy screens involving the configuration of Tor and various proxy softwares.
I did a talk for IMI Tech Talk Radio in Arizona at the beginning of the year called “What is the Deep Web and why is Washington Scared?” That talk can be found here: http://imitechtalk.wordpress.com/2014/01/05/what-is-the-deep-web-and-why-is-washington-scared/ In it, I explained how the Deep Web came to be – through a US Naval project called “The Onion Router”, or ToR, and how it stands today. The Deep Web is largely only accessible through Tor software (available at torproject.org) and uses the internet for its infrastructure but encrypts things in transit through many different hops. It contains its own address hierarchy, where address end in .onion, and these addresses aren’t available unless you’re on the Deep Web. Like any technology, it can be used for good or bad, and it has a reputation for enabling more of the latter than the former. The notorious Bitcoin drug site, the Silk Road, operated on the Deep Web at a .onion address, and that is how the Deep Web entered the public consciousness. However, it also enables dissidents to communicate freely and subvert governmental cyber controls, so it’s important to keep in mind that the Deep Web itself is used as its participants intend, in much the same way the regular World Wide Web is used.
As it is now a free project and allows people to circumvent government controls, governments tend to be wary of it for two primary reasons – politicians don’t often always understand it, and some (especially in repressive governments) may not want technologies available that allow people to bypass their censorship tools. They also tend to hear stories about the more illicit behaviours on the Deep Web, and need to be seen to be doing something, and so attempt to take action against it. It’s unlikely that it will ever go away, and as House of Cards showed us, may only get more popular.
(As a corollary, given that some of the major governments of the world have been exposed as spying on many of their own citizens, we may see if get even more popular as people – who may not even have anything to hide but who don’t want their lives pried into – start to use it in addition to, or instead of, their regular web usage.)