...The Dark Net exists within the deep web, which lies beneath the surface net, which is familiar to everyone. The surface net can be roughly defined as “anything you can find through Google” or that is otherwise publicly indexed for all to see. The deep web is deep because it cannot be accessed through ordinary search engines. Its size is uncertain, but it is believed to be larger than the surface net above it...
...The Dark Net occupies the basement. Its users employ anonymizing software and encryption to hide themselves as they move around. Such tools offer a measure of privacy. Whistle-blowers and political dissidents have good reason to resort to them. Criminals do, too.
White fades quickly through gray and then to black in the Dark Net. Furtive sites there offer all manner of contraband for sale—narcotics, automatic weapons, contract killings, child pornography.
The most famous of these sites was Silk Road—the brainchild of Ross Ulbricht, a libertarian entrepreneur who was arrested by the F.B.I. in San Francisco in 2013 and sentenced last year to life in prison without parole.
New and even larger marketplaces have opened, including the current leader, AlphaBay, which is owned by a man who has been quoted as saying he resides in an “off-shore country where I am safe,” gives interviews to the press, and openly defies attempts by the authorities to shut him down.
There are twists: illegal narcotics sold over the Dark Net tend to be purer, and therefore safer, than those sold on the street—this because of the importance to the sellers of online customer ratings. By comparison, it is hard to see the bright side of missile launchers or child pornography.
However noxious the illicit Web sites may be, they are merely the e-commerce versions of conventional black markets that exist in meatspace. The real action on the Dark Net is in the trade of information. Stolen credit cards and identities, industrial secrets, military secrets, and especially the fuel of the hacking trade: the zero days and back doors that give access to closed networks...