The dark web has become synonymous in recent times with nefarious goings on, in which people searching for drugs, guns, and even child pornography can connect anonymously. But despite a flurry of interest on the inner workings of the “other” side of the Internet, there has been little research into just how connected the dark web actually is.
A new study, pre-published on arXiv, has produced the most comprehensive map of the sites listed on the dark web to date. What the team found is a bit surprising: It turns out that the dark web isn’t really a web at all, it's more akin to a series of dark islands. They found that the vast majority of sites listed on the dark web sit in isolation, completely cut off from all other sites listed on the dark web or the world wide web (WWW).
The researchers looked at the major domain names within the dark web, primarily focusing on the .onion domain, which is analogous to .com on the WWW. From this starting point, they then created an algorithm to follow the trail as pages linked from one site to the next.
The main finding from the study was that only 13 percent of all sites listed on the dark web actually link to another site, meaning that the other 87 percent are completely shut off from all other sites. “The term ‘dark web’ is commonplace, but based on our analysis, the ‘web’ is a misnomer,” write the authors. “It is more accurate to view it as a set of dark silos. Unlike the www, the dark web is a place of isolation.”
The next question was to try and figure out why. The researchers suggest that there could be a couple of reasons why sites listed on the dark web fail to connect with others. Either the ephemeral nature of the dark web, in which pages are constantly coming into existence and then disappearing without a trace, means that there is little point in linking to sites, or simply those who use the dark web are fundamentally different than those using the seemingly more social WWW.
To answer this, they looked at what sites the dark web pages that do link to other sites linked to. They found that dark websites were equally likely to link to sites on the WWW as they were to other dark web pages, eliminating the unstable nature of the dark web as the reason why so few sites listed are connected to others.
The authors conclude: "We suggest that people creating dark websites are, on average, simply less social than those creating sites on the www."