SAN DIEGO — You have probably heard about the dark web, in fact, the name itself sparks a lot of curiosity. It is a place where you can buy all sorts of things, from illegal drugs, to passports and even explosives.
Just last week, Forbes reported that hackers stole thousands of Disney+ user accounts and put them up for sale on the dark web.
Many people think it is not accessible to the average Joe, but that is not the case. Federal prosecutor Sherri Walker Hobson says, “the problem is, not only can anyone do it in America, it is the person next door.”
No one knows that better than 39-year-old San Diegan Sky Justin Gornik. The Clairemont resident was locked up earlier this year for 70 months for buying and selling drugs on the dark web from 2014-2017. Some of the drugs included the deadly carfentanil.
Sherri Walker Hobson told News 8, “In light if the volume of packages he was receiving, they suspected he was likely a dark web vendor here in San Diego.” She went on to say, “I have been a prosecutor for 30 years, and it is shocking to me, we now have the ability to order drugs over the dark web.”
Hobson says patrolling the dark web is not an easy task.
Lance Larson is the co-director of San Diego State University’s Graduate Program in Homeland Security and an expert in both cyber security and homeland security. He says there are three layers to the web.
- The surface web which is the sites you use regularly. The dot-coms such as Google.
- The deep web which has data with complex information, legal documents and medical records
- The dark web
The dark web is essentially pop-up markets packed with drugs, weapons, child pornography, passports, you name it. You can even find counterfeit money or grenades.
Larson says, “we think there is a use by common criminals of the dark web to be able to gather new tactics, or new ways to be able to scam people and to commit fraud."
So how can we go about making sure our personal information is safe? Larson says it is really tough because we give up a lot of info to companies we trust and unfortunately some companies do not have great cyber security practices. He says it is OK to ask how they are protecting your information.
He says some things that are easy to do include locking down your credit report or lock your username and passwords for sites by using multi-factor authentication. This is a security feature that requires more than just a simple password. For example, you would need to receive a text message with a code in addition to a password.
Larson says the dark web can easily be accessed with the proper router. He says “like the onion router, also known as ‘TOR’ without the users browser or history being exposed.” The dark web can also be downloaded to a cell phone.
We asked, is there legitimacy to the dark web? Larson said, “There are some really good legitimate reasons for the dark web. For example, in countries that have a censorship, the dark web allows people in those countries like news reporters to be able to report out and share on what's going on in their country.”
The dark web is so large it is impossible to know how many pages are out there, but undercover agents around the nation are constantly on the lookout. Prosecutor Sherri Walker Hobson says, “people have to think twice before taking something, even if is from your own friend. You can’t be careless anymore. It is like Russian Roulette.”
And just like Hobson, Larson says we can’t arrest ourselves out of the problem. Education is key.
“It doesn't look like we're going to solve this by taking down dark web websites, here and there. It really comes down to policing our own children and understanding what to look for. Does our neighbor - are they receiving packages that have things they have purchased on the dark web and reselling in our San Diego communities?”