UK – AT first glance it looks a lot like eBay. But this is no ordinary website.
For sale is a staggering array of illegal goods being traded openly online – everything from child pornography or Class-A drugs, to guns and British passports.
All this is a few clicks away on the deep web, a vast anonymous network hidden from normal web users.
In some corners there are training manuals on how to firebomb and napalm people. There is even a site dedicated to waging holy war against the West and hitmen give competitive prices for their services.
And it is all totally untraceable.
Experts say the deep web is 100 or 200 times larger than the internet most users access through browsers like Firefox and Chrome which just scrape the surface of the internet.
Ian Walden, Professor of Information and Communications Law, said: “The deep web allows people to communicate without detection.
“There is no way of eradicating it completely from the internet, it is simply too big.”
There are fears that terrorists are communicating and plotting on the deep web, beyond the reach of security services. All that is needed to operate is special software allowing you to connect with what lies beneath, in this shadowy online world.
The software masks your internet identity, encrypting your data and bouncing you through a myriad of worldwide Internet Protocol addresses. Instead of PayPal or credit cards, untraceable Bitcoins, a digital currency unit, is used.
One of the most popular deep web sites sells every drug imaginable for just a few pounds, delivered to your door. Half a gram of heroin is 6.75 Bitcoins, just £3.85.
Cocaine, ecstasy, MDMA and ketamine are all available.
As on eBay, users can rate suppliers. One shopper who bought heroin said: “Great seller, shipped all the way to Australia no problem.” Another section on the site sells the equipment needed to manufacture crystal meth and ecstasy.
Another sells illegal hardcore porn. British passports, too, are up for sale for £6,000 on a site that boasts it will enable you to travel to any country and build a new identity.
UK driving licences are available from another forger. The site even has an armour plated Land Rover for sale priced £4,245.44, and a jet. An advert for it reads: “The former Ministry of Defence 4×4 offers high protection at very close range – ideal for use in high-risk situations.”
The Gulfstream jet is competitively priced at £124,973. “Why would you need armour?” is the boast underneath. But there are even darker corners where monsters from the deep net are lurking.
One site advertises hitmen with prices ranging from £12,000 to £129,000 to kill anyone – including police officers.
Another easily available piece of software opens up the darkest reaches of the deep web.
It has been downloaded two million times and not only hides the user’s identification but also the fact that you are using it at all. On one basic noticeboard, page after page of sites are advertised which give animal rights activists – and any others who fancy it – a step- by-step guide to making everything from home-made napalm to metal- destroying incendiary explosives.
The site does stress, however, that Animal Liberation Front members should ensure that no humans or any other creatures should be hurt.
It says: “Projects that have taken weeks to plan have been cancelled mid-execution when someone’s life has possibly been endangered.”
Another site gives a guide to Muslims wanting to carry out jihad against the West. The bulletin board is also littered with links to sites that contain child pornography and advertise that they contain horrific scenes of child abuse.
But the deep web, especially the software required, can have a positive side in battles against totalitarian regimes. Activists and campaigners in countries from Syria to China can get their messages out without state security monitoring their activities and then arresting them.
Many of the videos shot during the Syrian revolution were first posted on the deep web before being transferred to YouTube.
Professor Walden said the deep web had proved vital in the Arab Spring uprising, allowing dissidents to unite and avoid detection.
He said: “This has been helpful in countries where there is repression as it allows the dissemination of ideas without the state punishing people.”
But the activism is just one tiny island in this sinister ocean.
Professor Walden added: “It is also a place for organised criminals to operate and communicate with each other. It has become a useful tool in their armoury. But organisations like Internet Watch are doing good work in combating sites, especially those involving child pornography.”
Internet safety expert John Carr said a major concern was that the deep web gave terrorists and criminals complete anonymity.
He said: “It allows people to disguise completely what they are doing and it is very, very difficult for law enforcement agencies to track users.
“We have to look to a time when authentication of users is at the heart of the internet.”
Royal Mail spokesman Nick Martens said that it monitored and screened packages coming into the country for drugs and other illegal goods.
He said: “Royal Mail has a range of measures in place to identify illegal items being sent through the postal system and works closely with the police and other authorities to prevent such activities from happening.”