how old is the dark web?

The 20th Anniversary of the Dark Web

The world at large is preoccupied with the coronavirus outbreak. Nearly all news outlets are covering it 24/7 while the people try their best not to panic.

But even in these dark times, there are some causes for celebration. Namely, in March of 2020, two decades ago, we witnessed the birth of the dark web.

For those of you who don’t know, the dark web is Internet content that you can’t access via regular browsers like Firefox or Chrome. In order to reach the dark web, you need specific software and authorization.

While most people (rightfully) think that the dark web is only used for illegal activity, it’s far more complex than that. So, to mark its 20th birthday, let’s go over the history of the dark web and see how it has grown over the past two decades.

A Brief History of the Dark Web

GroupSense, a digital risk management company, created this handy infographic showing how the dark web has grown over the years.

The first major development that happened was in 2002. In September of that year, the US Navy released the so-called Onion router, also known as Tor router. Four years later, Tor Project Inc. became a non-profit organization, ready to expand and grow.

And with the help of Bitcoin in 2009, it did. Using this cryptocurrency, deep web denizens could pay for services anonymously. That level of user anonymity also helped the freedom fighters during the Arab Spring in 2010. Ross Ulbricht even used it to found the first darknet marketplace, the Silk Road.

Illegal Activity on the Deep Web

Perhaps Ulbricht envisioned the Silk Road as a marketplace for anonymous users. However, over 70% of products circulating on this market were drugs. The website was shut down in 2013, and the FBI arrested Ulbright the same year. Another market, AlphaBay, was shut down four years later; it was ten times bigger than the Silk Road, showing just how large deep web enterprises could grow.

Several data breaches occurred whose perpetrators were deep web users. For instance, there was a massive LinkedIn breach in May 2012, a breach of Yahoo! accounts in 2013, and a massive breach of private records in 2019. That year saw the discovery of five Collections of data. They contained billions of breached records.

Finally, we should note that ISIS utilized the dark web to recruit new soldiers and spread anti-Western propaganda back in 2015. Not only is the deep web vast, but it spans continents and cultures as a useful tool for any activity, legal or not.