Roger Dingledine, the cofounder of the Tor Project, spoke at the Philly Tech Week 2017 criticizing the news providers who use the “iceberg metaphor” for describing the darknet and the deep web.
According to the Tor project cofounder, every time the media writes a story about the dark web, they show a picture of an iceberg to describe the anonymous part of the internet as a sinister place, where most of the traffic is conducted by criminals. Dingledine advises his audience not to pay attention when someone uses the iceberg metaphor.
Dingledine said that there is practically no use for the phrase “dark web”. According to him, the phrase is mostly used to describe illicit online markets that can be exclusively accessed via the Tor Network, such as AlphaBay or the now-closed Silk Road Marketplace. However, the co-founder added that no more than one to three percent of the Tor Network’s traffic comes from “hidden services” or “onion services”, services that use the public internet but require special software to access. Dingledine claimed that onion services basically do not exist. He added that it’s a nonsense that there are “99 other internets” users can’t access.
Some people might push the Tor Project for providing services for criminals, especially if the crimes they commit through the network are severe enough, weapon trafficking, child pornography or worse, however, Dingledine said that there’s a cost for any great good. The co-founder explained that “legal” users of Tor outnumber those who use the network to access illicit services. The Tor browser is the most popular in countries where the internet is censored, such as Iran or China. Dingledine emphasized that over one million people use Facebook in oppressed countries.
The co-founder claimed that just any use of the “dark web” phrase is a marketing trick used by cybersecurity firms and “other opportunists”. He added that these individuals and companies are profiting from ignorance. Based on the official metrics of the Tor Project, there are a little more than two million users on Tor. If, according to Dingledine, only one to three percent of the users use the network for illegal purposes, there could be about 20,000 to 60,000 people who use the Tor Network to access hidden services. However, there could be some contradiction in this story since AlphaBay announced at the end of 2015 that they have reached 200,000 users on the darknet marketplace.
Dingledine also started speaking about the problem with encryption. According to him, anonymity is not encryption. When using encryption, the “bad guy” can still monitor who are internet users talking to and when, he said.
“No one tries to break the crypt anymore. They want to follow your social graph to then find openings,” the cofounder said. “They” can mean Russian hackers, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Chinese Intelligence or the next generation of common thieves, he said. According to Dingledine, every time a user logs into a social network, these third parties seek to acquire intelligence on everybody this particular user is in contact with so they can monetize it.
The Tor Project is made up of approximately 8,000 “relays,” which are servers (owned by individuals, universities, and organizations). User data is sent through multiple relays, with, as Dingledine said, “end-to-end encryption and end-to-end authentication.” That’s the peer-to-peer part of the network, allowing decentralization and taking “power” away from internet service providers. ISPs can’t check which Tor users are communicating and what they are saying in their messages. To run a Tor relay one has to have a Linux server and a modified text file obtained from the Tor Project. However, this could get complicated since Tor is in a marketing battle. The Tor Project started as a research of the US Navy. According to Politico, in 2015, 95 percent of the nonprofit’s $2.7 million budget came from federal government grants.
“When I’m talking, I always use ‘anonymity’ for researchers. When I’m talking to my parents I use ‘privacy,’ Dingledine said. “It’s a good American value.”
Dingledine was the Tor Project’s interim executive director for a time, before Shari Steele, a former Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) chief, was named for that position. After Steele was with the Tor Project, Dingledine got a chance to focus on what he does best, including communicating with governments about the service. The nonprofit employs approximately 40 people, who are working actively on the Tor Project, 20 in either full-time or part-time roles, Dingledine said. The rest are contractors or split roles.