The decentralized nature and digital genesis of the blockchain have made it extremely popular for online transactions. These same characteristics have also made it prevalent among users operating on the deep web. However, the same traits that have made currencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum revolutionary, (specifically a transparent, open access ledger) also make them unsuitable for users who wish to remain anonymous (van Saberhagen, 2013).
A log of every transaction that a Bitcoin is used for is accessible to all users on the network. This can pose problems when dealing with businesses or financial institutions that have limiting Terms of Service or Standards of Ethics. If a Bitcoin, or portion of one, was used in a transaction that a company deemed unsavory or illegal then the entire payment could potentially be refused since these previous transactions are visible on the ledger. This is where Monero comes in, but first, we must understand the “deep web.”
Deep Web vs. Dark Web
The World Wide Web is comprised of three main areas: the surface web, deep web and dark web. The terms deep web and dark web are often used interchangeably in the media; however, they are not the same thing.
The surface web consists of any page or information that can be accessed through the regular use of search engines. This seemingly endless wealth of data is only a small portion of the World Wide Web. “The shocking thing is that the surface web is only 4% of the whole internet” (Sarkar, 2018).
The deep web, on the other hand, refers to anything that cannot be found using regular search engines. Pages that require a password or specific address to access—email accounts, Facebook, online banking, etc.—all live in the deep web. We access the deep web all the time without ever considering the inherently hidden nature of this information. Since we have access to our pages, we do not give any thought to the fact that almost every other person on the planet has their private information that, thankfully, is not available to the wider population. The deep web makes up around 96% of the content on the internet.
Finally, the dark web makes up only a sliver of the information on the deep web and is intentionally hidden. Most of the dark web is accessed through Tor, a network designed by the US Navy to provide dissidents a safe, encrypted platform from which to sow the seeds of discontent within their own authoritarian regimes. Since its inception, however, the dark web has become a new home for users wishing to maintain true anonymity in communication and transactions for more nefarious reasons. Illegal activities and commodities have been traded on the dark web, most notably on the Silk Road, an online drug marketplace that developed a thriving community until it was eventually shut down by the US government.
Bitcoin has been the dominant currency in dark web transactions. However, its transparency does not provide the anonymity users require. Monero provides a more suitable alternative. “Its ability to provide privacy, leaving Bitcoin behind, has led it to become the top cryptocurrency being used in the dark web” (Harding, 2018).
What Sets Monero apart?
Monero is a decentralized cryptocurrency that utilizes the blockchain and a network of users to ensure the immutability of its ledger. It differs from other cryptocurrencies by employing cryptographic tools to ensure the privacy of its users and their transactions. Mechanisms such as ring signatures and stealth addresses are utilized to provide users with a previously unattainable level of security and anonymity.
Monero uses stealth addresses to obfuscate users’ identities while performing transactions. Through the Monero software, unique single-use addresses are automatically created for every transaction. Using this system of private view keys and public spend keys, Monero creates a network in which only the sender and recipient can determine where a payment was sent.
Monero also uses ring signatures to further obscure user identities. “A ring signature is a type of digital signature that can be performed by any member of a group of users that each have keys.” (Moneropedia: Ring Signature, n.d.) In short, this cryptographic system ensures plausible deniability amongst users since no outside observer can tell which “key” actually corresponds to a specific user.
As a result of this built-in privacy, Monero is fungible in a way that no other cryptocurrency has been. Every unit of Monero is functionally identical to every other unit, thus solving the problems accompanying the transparency of other crypto coins: previous transactions that a Monero unit was involved in are hidden from anyone except those directly involved the transaction. They have also incorporated a selective transparency feature allowing users to decide who can see their transaction history as well as other private information. These characteristics make Monero a natural choice for dark web operators.
However, Monero has its shortcomings. When using Monero, it is imperative that a third party intermediary is not used. If you send your Bitcoin to Shapeshift to convert it into an equal amount of Monero for use in a transaction, then you have defeated the entire purpose. The security Monero provides has its foundation on the sending side of the transaction. “If you need to rely on another party for your anonymity, privacy, or security when carrying out a transaction online, there’s no doubt that you are at significantly high risk” (Richard, 2018).
This limits the viability of Monero for casual users. For Monero to properly function and provide the high level of security it offers, the software must be downloaded and operated from an individual’s private computer. It also must be noted that when operating on different markets, with different wallets (BTC, ETH, etc.), in conjunction with Monero it is important to be conscious of intrapersonal trading patterns that can leave a trail back to your non-secure coins. Keeping a separate and anonymous identity is not necessarily easy, but Monero is not focused on convenience.
Monero is one of the oldest crypto projects still functioning and it has a strong community behind it. This is an important facet of their appeal: despite having a CEO, Monero does not function as a company. It is a truly decentralized, communal project that operates through group consensus. This, in conjunction with their emphasis on privacy, drives their appeal and continues to garner attention. Projects come and go, but Monero’s functionality places it amongst the giants of the crypto world. The focus on privacy is unique and expanding and Monero is on the leading edge: in a world that is growing ever more transparent the desire to remain anonymous is a powerful force. Monero is harnessing that power.
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van Saberhagen, N. (2017, October 17). CryptoNote v 2.0. Retrieved from https://cryptonote.org/whitepaper.pdf
Sarkar, S. (2018, March 2). What is the difference between the dark web and the deep web? Retrieved from: https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-difference-between-the-dark-web-and-the-deep-web
Harding, L. (2018, September 10). Monero and the Dark Web. Retrieved from: https://coinnounce.com/monero-and-the-dark-web/
Moneropedia: Ring Signature (n.d.) The Basics. Retrieved from: https://ww.getmonero.org/resources/moneropedia/ringsignatures.html
King, R. (2018, August 9). The Complete Guide to Monero Cryptocurrency. Retrieved from: https://www.bitdegree.org/tutorials/monero/#Fungibility
Richard (2018, June 28). An Intro to Monero. Retrieved from: https:darkwebnews.com/bitcoin/how-to-use-monero/