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What is the dark web and why can't investigators stop it?

Illegal, violent, and perverted activity happens on the dark web under the mask of anonymity.

WESLEY CHAPEL, Fla. — You might have heard of illegal and disturbing activity happening on the "dark web."

You might be wondering: What exactly is the dark web and how do authorities find these people and track them down before they can hurt anyone else?

READ HERE: Man sentenced to 70 years for raping 1-year-old, posting videos to dark web

Pasco County sheriff's Cpl. Alan Wilkett spends a lot of time finding perpetrators on the dark web.

"This place is not just dark, it's violent," he said. "It contains some of the most violent human behavior and criminal activity that a person can imagine. The reason why it thrives is because these perverts who are doing perverted activity and activities that are beyond the scope of normal thought in a place where they feel like they can safely slide into and not just conduct their own activity but publicize it."

Think of the internet as an iceberg. Most of us only use the tip with search engines and social media. 

Beneath that, however, is part of the internet called the "deep web." That's your email account and password protected sites. 

Within that, however, is the "dark web". That's where criminals thrive, buying, selling, and sharing illegal material.

"The criminal activity that is done there is done to hide behind the mask of anonymity and to hide behind the risk of the investigation," said Wilkett.

Getting into the dark web is actually pretty easy. You start with a special kind of web browser. "The Onion Router," or "Tor," is one of the popular ones. "Tor" markets itself as a "free and open-source for enabling anonymous communication." 

Freedom of expression and privacy laws keep browsers like this in business.

Using the browser, criminals then can find marketplaces and chat rooms to share illegal activity.

"This circle of encryption that allows that transaction to take place undetected. It's those kind of things that are so inherently dangerous. Our kids are being killed. We are having kids traumatized. We are having the sale of things that should never be sold."

Wilkett says law enforcement has to be innovative and vigorous in tracking criminals on the dark web. Investigators often use the same tools the criminals are using to track down the illegal activity and catch the bad guys.

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