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Practical Techie: The mazes of the Dark Web are intricate and bizarre

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Warning. Read this column at your own risk. Temptations may arise for the reader to embark on risky adventures into the darkest domains of the Internet.

The Deep Web has many names, but it is the one and the same dark, almost inaccessible “place.” A mysterious, not easily navigated electronic realm, a depository of all kinds of bizarre content, mostly extremely confidential, clandestine or illegal.

It is also known as the “Invisible Web,” “Dark Web,” the “Black Hole of the Internet,” or the “Electronic Abyss.” Like Dante’s Inferno, it contains many circles in whose fiefdoms swarm — not tortured souls as in the Italian tale — but virtual rogues, secret corporate files, classified military data bases, and confidential diplomatic documents. 

DEPTH — The term “deep” is an abstract, because we know that the web has no depth, width, height nor is finite. It has neither up nor down, left or right. The web is a colossal electronic cloud of digital data that permeates the entire Internet infrastructure like a gigantic cybernetic phantom. We say “deep” as a reference of volume for the human brain to take in, accustomed as we are to perceiving spaces in a linear way, or at least, in three dimensions.

The web, in fact, is non-linear. That is, it is navigable from any of its confines without north, south, east or west. But let’s imagine that the web is abyssal and liquid like a great sea. With this in mind, we then must grasp that day to day Internet users, barely dive three feet deep into this bottomless electronic ocean.

From the shallows “down” lies the invisible web. In other words, ordinary humans only explore a fraction of what exists in the depths of the Internet.

DIGITAL DARKNESS — In Internet culture, the Deep Web is that portion of cyberspace that is not indexed by mainstream search engines. Why does this invisible network exist at all? What is there? Who navigates it and how?

Well, nowhere in the world will we find and expert cartographer for the “Dark Web.” Primarily, the deep web began as a colossal data warehouse camouflaged by a formidable sequence of protective layers of digital security and has morphed since the last half of the past century into a colossal vault of bizarre content.

The first inhabitants of this invisible network were the top military leaders of the United States. There they kept in secretive, powerful servers thousands of databases on arsenals, armaments, troop configurations, war simulators, missile inventories, etc. Classified data protected by complex military cyber security systems.

Once the internet passed into civilian hands circa 1980s, mostly to universities and managed by scientists, professors, and doctoral students, the Internet morphed into a huge vault for academic papers, research files and specialized journals. Eventually, as the world network went fully commercial, corporations, banks and embassies hid their very private data in the deepest web.

These files are protected with complicated email addresses and encryptions that only key persons who own the data how to decipher. 

CIPHERS — Once the internet went international, security agencies the likes of the Interpol, CIA, Scotland Yard, KGB, and dozens more, buried their data under even more complex encryption. These are so complicated that to handle the codes, a new breed of engineers emerged, specialized in extreme digital security.

Finally, in the late 20th century, the web began to be intensely used for e-commerce at a grand scale.

Corporations acquired their own dedicated servers and began burying their customer lists, credit card numbers, confidential accounting reports, etc., in the most inaccessible electronic chasms. So did medical and pharmaceutical institutions, keeping their biomedical research secrets and patient data invisible to prying human eyes.

BITCOINS — A subsequent and very interesting development was the emergence of virtual financial institutions with digital currencies such as Bitcoin and other so-called “cryptocurrencies.” So far it is all legal, but cloaked with a lot of anonymity, secrecy and official stealth.

In essence, the Invisible Web was the most private and discreet part of the Internet. A digital inner sanctum for confidential data to which only the authorized had access. But…

Then cybercriminals landed in the deepest recesses of the web. In a future post we will see how they created a very dark, terribly spooky and sometimes very evil network.

Stay tuned to Practical Techie.

Author Details
Author Rafael Matos is a veteran journalist, a professor of digital narratives and university mentor. He may be contacted at cccrafael@gmail.com.
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