The dark web has always been wrapped with the haze of mystery. It seems to be quite hard to understand and mysterious to many regular users. The stereotype about the dark web will tell us that it’s a haven for criminals — and that will be true. The anonymity this part of the internet can provide attacks those with questionable intentions. Yet, it’s also a safe place for those who need to communicate without worrying about prying eyes, and people who are seeking some information that can’t be found in Google.

But the latest drug operation has created some doubts about the anonymity of the dark web. The operation code-named “DisrupTor” — referring to the Tor Browser — involved FBI, U.S. Homeland Security, the Dutch National Police, the German Federal Criminal Police, and the UK’s National Crime Agency. It resulted in 179 people from nine countries getting arrested for drug dealing. All criminals were operating through the dark web.

FBI published the description of the operation telling that it was targeted at the suburban area of Los Angeles. The first search resulted in agents discovering 50 pounds of meth and loads of Adderall pills, and the second one unveiled even more drugs. Over this operation, agents uncovered more than 100 pounds of meth and 30 thousand pills. The total value of these drugs counts up to several million dollars.

Even though officials didn’t disclose the information about the techniques and tools they were using to unveil the identity of the suspects, this situation raises questions about how anonymous the dark web is. And while these arrests are not something that should be taken negatively, the fact that professionals could find out the identity of dark web users is disturbing. Is there no safe place on the internet left?

Is the dark web anonymous?

Well, it’s considered to be. But here is the thing. The Operation DisrupTor exists since 2019. It emerged right after the largest illegal market — Wall Street Market — was taken down. It existed in the dark web and sold lots of counterfeit products, malicious software, and other illegal goods along with drugs.

This takedown allowed agents to find even more traffickers that were working through the dark web. These criminals were based around the world. And now DisrupTor has shown us once again that it’s not an issue anymore to find those hiding behind the anonymity of the Tor Browser.

As the head of European Cybercrime Center Edvardas Sileris says, “The hidden internet is no longer hidden, and your anonymous activity is not anonymous.” That sounds intimidating, doesn’t it? Even if you don’t do anything illegal, it’s still uncomfortable to know that somebody might be watching over you all the time.

As special investigators from the FBI say, there are vulnerabilities in the dark web that allow agents to unveil the identity of users. Even when it comes to cryptocurrency transactions — agents insist that they are not completely anonymous. There are ways to trace the person down.

What does it mean for those who want to stay anonymous?

You don’t need to be a criminal to crave some privacy online. So the sole fact that the Tor Browser that we all considered safe is not giving us that level of anonymity we need. Law enforcement organizations work hard to find vulnerabilities in the Tor Browser, and they succeed with this task. Now they can find out the IP address of a dark web user.

While it’s a good thing that agents can find criminals now, there are many others who are using the dark web for legal purposes. For example, journalists and whistleblowers use it to establish first safe contacts with sources and find the information they need. If the sources won’t feel safe on the dark web, it will get extremely difficult for those seeking the information to obtain the needed details.

Moreover, agents catching criminals on the dark web show us that we all are not really safe. It’s that faint sign of authoritarian regimes that try to take full control of the citizens. Activists and democratic reformers are used to using the Tor browser fro their activity. But since governments can see identities in the dark web now, the question emerges — will they try to take activists down before they could make an impact?

This successful operation despite bringing positive results raises worries about human rights we have. Is the day when we don’t have access to a fair judicial hearing and the right to express our disregard approaching?

The bottom line is that we can expect that governments will take further actions to erode the anonymization of the dark web. And unfortunately, this part of the internet is not a safe place anymore. Which leaves us with not having a safe place online at all.

So what you can do to try to protect your privacy? There are a couple of things:

  • Use the iNinja VPN app when you want to remain anonymous. Agents found vulnerabilities in the Tor browser, not in VPNs. So with iNinja you will be safer.
  • Disclose as little information as possible. When you fill in forms online, try to remain secretive when possible.
  • Social media platforms are better to be left for viewing. It is tempting to share things with your friends on social media, but you should tune that down.

iNinja offers a VPN app for Android and iOS too for when you need to browse the internet anonymously from your mobile device. Also, you can leverage our VPN Chrome extension. Although it will work only fro connections held through the browser.