What is the dark web and how does it affect us?

The so-called “dark web” ironically owes its existence to attempts to supposedly make the world a safer place.

After the arrival of the internet in the 1990s, American intelligence experts spent the next decade devising a way of communicating online without detection.

Using specialist software known as The Onion Router, or TOR for short, United States Navy coders ensured multiple relays would encrypt messages while hiding their start and end points.

In layman’s terms, you were travelling from A to B via Z to make it difficult for anyone to track your movements and work out where your journey even began.

Needless to say, at some point its security was hijacked and TOR is now shared by anonymous cryptomarkets trading not just information but passports, drugs, guns and even assassins.

Russell Tyner, the crown prosecutor in the CPS’s International Justice and Organised Crime Division, said the very fact the hidden networks operate outside of the reach of internet powerhouses such as Google and Microsoft is a major problem in bringing cases to court.

“Those service providers cannot assist when you are looking to evince the digital footprint people have left,” Mr Tyner said.

“You would normally go to Microsoft and Google and link searches back to a particular IP address. But when people are using Tor, you can’t do that.”

As the Tor browser scrambles the IP address of the user to make it look like they are working from a different computer - often in a different country - it also presents issues around which law enforcement agency pursues the investigation.

“Even if you locate where the dark web sites are being hosted, what jurisdiction are they in?” Mr Tyner said.

“It raises arcane issues about international policing. The dark web is a place where criminal gangs can be operating in numerous jurisdictions at one time.”

Tighter legislation is promised to curb its use although Zain Javed, chief technology officer at cyber security firm Xyone, based at Lancaster University, said: “All sorts of crazy things happen on the dark web but there is no law that stops people going on it.

“The Computer Misuse Act only comes in when you have done something to commit a crime such as if you purchase drugs.

“With the dark web, people have the freedom to be completely anonymous and do what they want.

“Anything illegal can be found on the dark web from hiring a hitman to drug dealing and buying firearms and weapons.”

* Each day this week we’ve been highlighting how watching a two-minute video could provide “a lifetime online safety”.

Today’s final video looks at the importance of ensuring you complete all updates to your computer.