The Dark Web is not so much a place as it is a method of achieving a level of anonymity online. It refers to web sites that mask the IP addresses of the servers on which they reside, making it impossible to know who or what is behind the site or sites. They don’t show up on search engines like Google so, unless you know exactly how to reach them, they’re effectively invisible. Activists and dissidents in countries like China and Iran use the Dark Web to get around state surveillance; journalists use it to reach sources and whistleblowers rely on it to spread the word about institutional abuse or malpractices. New evidence suggests that the Islamic State, or ISIS, or at least ISIS supporting groups, are seeking the Dark Web’s anonymity for operations beyond simple propaganda. Thus yet another challenge for law enforcement and the military: to track users on the Dark Web in a way that’s effective against ISIS but that doesn’t violate privacy.
Adm. Michael Rogers, commander of U.S. Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency, speaking at the Cybersecurity for a New America Event on Monday in Washington said that groups like ISIS raising money on the Dark Web was “clearly a concern. It’s something that we’re paying attention to.” Without addressing explicitly how the NSA, goes about the task of paying attention, he added simply: “We spend a lot of time tracking people that can’t be found.”
A new report from the Chertoff Group illustrates some of the ways that the national security community will be keeping tabs on those who have taken steps to make themselves untraceable online.
First, while the Dark Web is incredibly valuable as a tool for dissident action, it also has some real dark spots. Ido Wulkan, the senior analyst at S2T, a Singapore-based technology company that develops Dark Web harvesting technologies, recently revealed to Israeli newspaper Haaretz that his company has found a number of websites raising funds for ISIS through bitcoin donations.