Inside the dark net: Guns, drugs and hitmen are just a click away
Shrouded in mystery, the so-called 'deep web' remains an enigma for the ordinary internet user. Known to hackers, coders and computer geeks worldwide, the darkest parts of the world wide web terrify those of us accustomed to the comfortable world of Google, Facebook and cat videos.
The deep web was catapulted into the limelight last week after hackers dumped the details of some 35 million users of cheating website Ashley Madison there.
But just what is this maze of information that is a hot bed of drugs, debauchery, deviancy and stolen credit card details?
If we use the Pacific Ocean as a metaphor for the internet, then the 'clearnet' or ordinary web is the warm and clear waters off the coast of a tranquil tropical island used for bathing and splashing about in.
The deep web, on the other hand, is the Mariana Trench. Said to be 400 times the size of the conventional web, it holds the terrors of the deep most of us would rather not see.
Developed by the US government, the deep web or dark net is inaccessible through standard search engines and browsers.
However, free software such as 'TOR' will give you access to hitmen, copious amounts of narcotics and secret government files that you're not supposed to see.
TOR or 'The Onion Router' gives users something rare in this digital age. Anonymity.
Just like the deep web itself, the free browser encrypts data into infinite layers, making it almost impossible to trace users.
Bubbling just below the deep web surface are sites such as 4chan, the blogging platform famed for hosting hacked pictures of celebrities such as Jennifer Lawrence.
Dive a little deeper into the blue abyss and we will find sites such as 'WikiLeaks' and drugs market place 'Silk Road.' Slighly deeper and we are into government agency and hackers territory.
Moving further into the depths will reveal the true terrors of the deep web. In the pitch black is where paedophilia and snuff porn live.
It's surprising how easy it is to find these websites.
So how prevalent on our little island is this vast wonderland of vices that is so cleverly hiding in plain sight?
The answer is very.
Less than 250 metres away from the Irish Independent's office in Dublin, a man described by the FBI as "the largest facilitator of child porn on the planet" operated without detection for up to a decade.
Eric Eoin Marques is alleged to have run a large number of websites described as being extremely violent, graphic and depicting the rape and torture of pre-pubescent children.
Our first click brought us to a website modelling itself on a US search giant. Except this one is for drugs.
A quick search for cocaine and we are given a host of options and various 'DWMs' Deep Web Market Places.
Various forums tell you how to navigate through the market places which are best described as eBay for criminals. Firstly you will need Bitcoin - one unit of the online currency will cost you roughly €203 at today's exchange rate.
Forum's tell you, not unlike Brad Pitt's fight club, that the first rule of DWMs is that you don't talk about DWMs.
"If your friends asks you where you got your product, you say you have a connect. You NEVER mention this site," wrote one helpful user.
You are always advised to buy domestic and in Ireland if you want to buy some 'High Purity, High Quality' Peruvian cocaine you are in luck thanks to a 'top-rated' Irish vendor.
Criminals have become self-aware enough to realise that they are not society's most trustworthy characters and have come up with a novel way of rating each other.
One top-rated Irish user - who operates on two market places is a five-star rated user and is currently offering a number of different substances for sale, including one gram of cocaine for the princely sum of 0.50 bitcoin or €101.91.
His customers have awarded him a five-star 'stealth' rating which means he is particularly good at getting his product to you undetected through the post.
"The stuff arrived to the door vacuum packed no problem. Nice mellow high, didn't blow the head of me. Nice social coke," read one his 300-plus positive reviews.
More worrying for the Irish population is the sale of guns. One website promises delivery of a deadly .50 calibre 'new and unused' Desert Eagle handgun for just €1,250.
A high-quality Irish passport will cost you just €2,220 delivered to your door and you can have some poor suckers credit or debit card details, pin and password for as little as €25.
Speaking to the Irish Independent earlier this year Assistant Garda Commissioner Derek Byrne warned of the growing danger of cyber crime in Ireland.
Although gardaí are closely following technologies being developed by Europol's cybercrime centre and IT experts in University College Dublin, the rapidly-evolving nature of such activities means the threat remains prominent.
"Cybercrime is a growing threat; it's a very fast-growing phenomenon. It reinvents itself every so often, as we're closing in there's people all the time inventing new methods and processes to infect. They're educated . . . there are organised crime gangs involved in it, it has to be a dedicated network of criminals that set out to take your personal details," he said at the time.