Maybe you’ve heard of the “Dark Web,” but aren’t sure exactly what it is. Maybe you don’t know anything about the Dark Web. Let’s begin by saying it’s aptly named. And as dark as it is, we need to know about it.
The term “Dark Web” (or Dark Internet) refers to areas of the Internet that are no longer accessible, or that have “gone dark” – i.e. dead ends. This happens when Internet routers stop referencing parts of the Internet, either because old addresses have become compromised by malware, or simply because the routers have forgotten where to access these areas…The Dark Web is therefore fundamentally different than the Deep Web in that the Dark Web cannot be accessed, period. The term “Deep Web,” refers to the “deeper” parts of the web that are accessible, but are considered hard to find because they are not indexed by regular search engines.
The Deep Web is made up of dynamic content, or content that is password-protected, unlinked, restricted by form-controlled entry, or updated ahead of search engine indexing. (Imagine an enormous labyrinth with a limitless amount of doors leading into it. But, you don’t know where the doors are, what is behind each door, or the code to open any of the doors.) Harmless examples of “dynamic” content include your emails on Gmail, .pdf or .doc files stored on Dropbox, personal information stored on Facebook, or private photo albums from your last family reunion.
The malicious Deep Web content that should concern us is primarily hosted on Tor and .onion peer-to-peer network servers (P2P networks), as well as obscure image sharing websites that can only be accessed if you have specific URLs, usernames and passwords. These areas of the Deep Web are where proactive action needs to be taken to stop the largely undeterred child predators who are trading child pornography or offering children for sale.
It is estimated that 50,000 people in the U.S. alone access the Deep Web for the sole purpose of trading child pornography. Due to the nature of the Deep Web, it makes it very difficult to track down these people, despite the best efforts of the Justice Department and Homeland Security. This business is built on human trafficking, the buying and selling of human beings. In this case, it is the most vulnerable among us: our children.
The universe of known images has ballooned since 2002, the year of the creation of the Child Victim Identification Program, which serves as a national repository for information on young victims, says John Shehan, executive director of the Exploited Children Division at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC).
More than 100 million images and videos of suspected child abuse have been referred to the program housed within NCMEC to assist in criminal investigations and for the purpose of locating child victims, Shehan says.
“It is alarming,” Russ [Brad Brad Russ, who oversees federally funded training programs] said of the numbers, adding that suspects increasingly try to shield their activities from law enforcement.
Drew Oosterbaan, chief of the Justice Department’s child exploitation unit, says the demand for this type of material is rising, and the supply also continues to grow. The Deep Web provides not only a hiding place for child traffickers and pornographers, it has become a haven for many of them. One said,
My life is pretty lonely because I have no friends who are like me where I live. That’s why I’m happiest when I am … with people just like me. Thank you for the company, my fellow friends. Keep safe and may God bless you.”
Oosterbaan says that there is some profit to be made, but many of those involved in this type of activity do it for a form of acceptance or status.
We are not without tools to fight this:
The technology, known as ICAC (Internet Crimes Against Children) Cops, tracks the coding of images recovered in previous investigative operations that have been downloaded to individual computers.
During a recent demonstration of the technology, authorities were able to zero in on suspects who are actively downloading material in their local jurisdictions at any time of day or night.
One recent afternoon, the locations of possible suspects were depicted by icons blinking like warning lights across a large computer screen, from Scranton, Pa., to Los Angeles.
In Pennsylvania, for example, the online activity linked to the suspected transmission of child pornography and/or solicitations for sexual encounters involved more than 2,000 individuals.
And of the 114 arrests of porn distribution suspects in Pennsylvania last year by state authorities, the technology aided in the identification of about 80% of them, officials said.
It is good to remind ourselves and our children that once something gets put up on a website, shared through a social media site, or texted, it never goes away. The Dark Web is a place we don’t want any child to be.