‘Cryptoqueen’ journalist Jamie Bartlett tells us about the ‘dark web’

Published:  Fri 20 Nov 2020

Jamie Bartlett is no stranger to some of the darker, more dangerous corners of the web.

The investigative journalist and presenter, whose acclaimed podcast The Missing Cryptoqueen captivated audiences when it was released in 2019, has gained a reputation for turning the spotlight on how the internet can be exploited by criminals. 

Following his nine-month investigation into a multi € billion crypto-currency scam, Jamie sat down with the IWF to explain the dark web and its secrets. 

Though most child sexual abuse material is out on the open web, criminals still exploit hidden parts of the internet. 

Speaking as part of our own podcast, Pixels from a Crime Scene, Jamie took us down the rabbit hole to show us the lengths some criminals will go to avoid being detected on the internet. 

So, what is the dark web?

Jamie took us through exactly what he means when he talks about the dark web.

He said: “It's a small network of maybe five or 10,000 sites that are sort of on a hidden bit of the net that you access with a special browser called the Tor (originally an acronym for the onion router) browser, which is very a secure, privacy enhanced browser when you use it. 

“People don't know where you are, where you are in the world, and they can't monitor your traffic and stuff like that, and you use that to get onto this network. 

“It's a small network, but if it's 5,000 or 10,000 sites, there are sites that are very hard to find for the authorities because they use this special protocol, which means the server on which they're based is obscured. 

“They use very clever encryption to do that. So what you're really talking about here is a network of five to 10,000 sites that are very, very sort of hidden and secretive, hard to locate, so hard to censor or get removed from the internet, visited by people using a very secure anonymous web browser.”

What goes on there?  

“It's become this strange place where anyone who has a reason to stay hidden finds quite a natural home there,” Jamie said. “The Tor browser, the thing you use to get into the dark net was originally a US Naval research project because they wanted to be able to go on the internet without giving away their IP address or their web traffic. 

“And I used the Tor browser yesterday because I wanted to research a slightly dodgy group and I did not want them to know where I was, where I lived, what my IP address was. 

“So this Tor browser, which was originally a government project, had a little problem in the early days because the government were the only people using it and they thought, well, there's no point if we're the only ones using it, everyone will know it's us. 

“So they made it an open source project. It got picked up by a foundation. They started, you know, they started developing it and it was sort of used by privacy activists and journalists all around the world. 

“So the Tor browser is an amazing tool. It's brilliant, but people obviously do misuse it." 

Is the dark web all bad? 

Jamie said: “There's a lot of illegal activity there, but people use it (Tor router) to get onto the dark net because they are journalists that want to speak securely to people, because they are whistleblowers who wants to share information with somebody, or because they're activists, you know, trying to operate in a dangerous part of the world and they want to create a forum where they can't be infiltrated easily. 

“So there are so many good reasons for the dark net. It's kind of got a bit of a bad name for obvious reasons. And that the name itself, the dark net probably doesn't help.”

Anyone who stumbles across child sexual abuse material online can report it to the IWF at https://report.iwf.org.uk/en 

The IWF’s team of analysts will assess the material and remove child sexual abuse material from the internet.

Pixels from a Crime Scene is available to download at www.iwf.org.uk/pixels-from-a-crime-scene or on Spotify, Stitcher, and TuneIn.

The series explores how children are targeted by pernicious criminals online, and how their abuse is spread all over the world. It introduces listeners to the victims, the experts, and even the criminals involved, and will set out how we can go about fighting to make the internet safer for everyone.


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