The week of September 28, 2014

The unstoppable rise of the Deep Web

By Patrick Howell O'Neill

Silk Road fell in a perfect storm of drug busts, murder charges, and mysterious informants. According to the FBI, the notorious black market had cleared an estimated $1.2 billion in business in its brief, three-year existence.

When agents took accused Silk Road mastermind Ross Ulbricht into custody, the future of the Deep Web (everything online not indexed by Google), or more specifically, the Dark Net (where the real dirt happens), was an open question.

Now 12 months later, we have some answers.

The black markets have not only grown in size—they’re flourishing. The 16 major black markets that have risen in Silk Road’s wake currently offer a around 60,000 products—a cumulative total nearly three times the amount offered at the time of Ulbricht’s arrest. The products are also getting more diverse and easier to obtain. The sellers are more numerous, and the markets more secure.

Is it any safer for users? Probably not.

The Silk Road closure, however, erased the perception that one’s activity on the Deep Web was in the free and clear. Users now know the risks, and they’re responding accordingly.

As such, we seem to have reached a crossroads in the history of Deep Web. In one corner, the developers of Tor and comparable encryption services are rushing to make their products faster and easier to use. In the other, authorities are becoming more fluent in the ways of the Deep Web and are trying to stall progress of smartphone encryption altogether.

The next chapter of the Deep Web black markets looks even bigger than ever before—and it’ll play out on a global stage. Movies, books, television shows, and even a play are all in the works, bringing the narrative of the Deep Web to a mainstream audience like never before.

What we’ve learned of the Deep Web in the past year is this: It’s a hydra. Cutting off one head only means two more will grow in its place.

To put that growth into perspective, we created the following infographics. Click through to see the full size.



Illustrations by J. Longo