Updated: Sep 2, 2019
I’m not sure who amongst you knows this about me but I have spent a lot of time in the past 18 months on the dark web.
I love the idea behind it from the libertarian views of the original Silk Road to the advertising free, cookie-free environment the dark web offers. Although it took me a while to adjust to the lack of speed and the clumsy looking sites. It’s all basic and if you are after smart design and slick images then, well I don’t know if you if the dark web is for you.
You see, I was looking to find and communicate with an international drug cartel.
Just for research, while the kids are at school, you know?
I first had to find out how to access the dark web from a guy I know. Most people know a person who understands coding and accessing things on the internet better than themselves. Well, I do. I worked with a guy whose father was a coder and he grew up watching the technology change as his dad created new devices and programs. My guy, let’s call him Brett, talked me through installing TOR and protecting my computer and data with a VPN, it made our days at work go very quickly.
I was set up and ready for my first exciting walk through the dark web.
Not long after I was in, my excitement plateaued. I found it impossible to get anywhere, I was going around in circles trying to discover something, anything, but could not get much further than the TOR welcome site. The next day at work Brett explained to me that you cant get anywhere with just a vague notion and a few keywords.
He told me that whatever I wanted to find I had to google first, to get the address and or the name of the site. The answers are all there on the clear web. There is no overarching search engine, you need the exact address. Everything that I have found on the dark web, I discovered a how-to guide on the clear web. Does that sound crazy to you? It does to me.
I felt so clumsy and inept when I first started but I soon discovered it was not my lack of skill that is inept but my lack of understanding of the simplicity of the dark web. I also had concerns about stumbling across something that I would not be able to unsee. I already have strict self-imposed rules on the hours I can spend researching my manuscript. I do not sleep well if I read prison bio’s or coroners reports too late in the day. It’s like caffeine you must pace and time the input.
With Tor installed and my tunnel bear at work, I found a few forums and shopping sites, that I hung out in, ‘on the scroll’ as my son puts it. I spent countless hours reading posts, wondering what I would do with 10,000 credit card numbers if I were to buy them. I felt like a sham because not only do I have no idea, but I am comfortable with my lack of knowledge in that department.
I’ve been blindly and naively searching for a link, a sign, a comment that will lead me to a person or a site that I could get some information on the movement of drugs internationally. In my search for this, I have found that I can get any number of hallucinogenic mushrooms, delivered by hand or by post, I can also get guns, knives, pot in as many different varieties and my tiny mind can imagine. I can get the aforementioned credit card numbers, Medicare numbers were available for a time and all the other things, psychotropics, prescriptions, photos, heroin with printed instructions if needed.
All the things you would expect to find and the things you wouldn’t…like printed instructions.
But what I didn’t find was what I was looking for.
To give a little bit of background to my research, without telling you all the good bits, I want to know how a run of the mill internet scam can take a victim and groom them to traffic drugs.
My first thought was that it was an opportunistic scammer who happened to be in the right place at the right time. As has been written about by Tamisan Ford who interviewed scammers at an internet-cafe in Abidjan in 2014. Most of the people she spoke to were young teens, fourteen or fifteen years old, they could be out robbing houses or petrol stations or they could be conducting scams. Cybercrime is an easy choice for most, it’s less physically demanding and so much more straightforward and rewarding as there seems to be an endless supply of lonely people willing to take a risk on love.
My next thought, which led me to delve with my Tunnel Bear into the Dark Web, was that maybe there are organised crime groups that exist in that space. You know with a boss and complicated hierarchy of workers who follow orders and
complete their tasks for kudos and money. I should be able to find them on the dark or deep web? Shouldn’t I?
I was sorely disappointed by my inability to find any links to these groups and I had all but uninstalled Tor and cancelled my Tunnel Bear subscription when I found Eileen Ormbsy’s newly released book The Darkest Web. I bought it thinking that she may have found drug gangs importing and exporting their wears or at the very least could assure me of their existence.
Eileen Ormsby’s book reintroduces us to her research into the Silk Road and her further searches into the dark web. Her investigations are around some of the common myths and tales that surround the dark web. Like, red rooms and murder for hire sites.
She debunks the myths, mostly and although the characters she encounters are not the type of people I want to hang out with, and some things that she writes about I don’t care to ever remember and am glad that it is hard to stumble upon them within the onion.
She has assured me that what I was looking for probably does not exist in the dark digital world.
The Darkest Web does not answer my questions directly but it has brought me back to my original hypothesis about opportunistic criminals. My first hunch is probably the most likely to be the correct one and organised crime is probably an oxymoron in this case.
I have uninstalled TOR from my desktop as I don’t think I will be needing anything from within that onion for a while, I have kept my tunnel bear. Not only because of the current hype around who has access to whose data, but I also love watching the graphics of that bear tunnel up and down all over the globe.
In a crazy serendipitous moment, I just took a break before posting this and turned on the radio to hear Eileen Ormsby talking with Cathy Van Extel on Big Ideas. Here is a link if you want to hear all about her research/book.