“It depends where you look,” Olivia Rowley, an analyst working for Flashpoint, an enterprise cybersecurity company which specialises in dark web threats, told Silicon. “Distinguishing the noise from the danger is an ongoing endeavour.
“Many of these underground communities are also rampant with exaggerations, lies, and empty threats.
“Many individuals will try to appear more sophisticated, capable, and threatening in order to build up their reputations and earn the respect of accomplished criminals – or even gain invitations to more exclusive, invite-only communities.”
She confirmed that “cybercriminals, state-sponsored actors, hacktivists, white supremacists, nationalist extremists, and jihadists all use the deep and dark web to varying degrees”. But cybercriminals, Rowley asserted, still comprise the majority.
With such a bad reputation, some may find it difficult to understand why groups like The Tor Project would want to be associated with it. But for those people behind the scenes, it’s not black and white, nor is it good vs evil. Instead, technology trumps empathy and the security of its users (whoever they are) is paramount.
“I would say that there are bad people on the internet and they’re doing bad things, but Tor does not enable them to do the bad things,” Roger Dingledine, co-founder of the Tor Project and an MIT-trained computer scientist, told the BBC in a recent interview.
“Yes, there are bad people in the world. And some of them use Tor. But at this point with the millions of people using Tor every day, the average user is the average internet user.”
And for companies like Flashpoint, the dark web has ultimately become an invaluable resource.
“Intelligence found on the deep and dark web can provide businesses with a decision advantage over their adversaries,” Rowley conceded to Silicon.
“It’s less about […] joining the community and more about them partnering with experts who can help them identify trends, get acquainted with threat actors’ personas, capabilities, and targets, and ultimately become better-equipped to proactively mitigate threats.”
Cybercriminals will continue to migrate to the dark web because of its powerful anonymity protections. Journalists in countries like China and Russia will use it to access the internet. The government will fund its use because its own military finds it advantageous.
The debate over its boundaries will rage on. For security experts and academics, having a technology like Tor is better than not – a point clearly illustrated by its communications director, Stephanie Whited, in mid-August after facing criticism for hosting The Stormer.
“We can’t build free and open source tools that protect journalists, human rights activists and ordinary people […] if we also control who uses those tools,” she wrote. “Tor is designed to defend human rights and privacy by preventing anyone from censoring things, even us.”
So, in the end, its can’t easily be classified as good nor bad. For better or worse: it’s both.
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