The deep web can be a precarious place. But when it intersects with the physical world, stuff can get nasty really quickly—or funny, depending on how you see it.
For example, take the brouhaha between Jason Lee Van Dyke, a Texas based attorney, and the websites Pink Meth and Doxbin, which post revenge porn and personal details, respectively.
Going back to July, Van Dyke filed a motion against Pink Meth on behalf of a client whose nude images had been uploaded to the site without her permission.
However, Van Dyke also included Tor, the anonymity network used by journalists, activists and cyber-criminals alike, in the legal document. After the internet responded with bafflement at trying to hold Tor responsible, Van Dyke changed course and focused squarely on Pink Meth.
Kicking him like this is about principle
But this is only the start. Shortly after the suit, Doxbin, a site that archives the personal details of thousands if not tens of thousands of individuals for all to see, published Van Dyke's dox (a slang term for identifying documents).
"All I did to Van Dyke originally was call him out on being stupid for trying to sue the Tor Project," a hacker known as nachash told me. Nachash claims to be the original owner of Doxbin, which he then handed responsibility of over to another hacker, Intangir, before returning recently himself. "Kicking him like this is about principle," he added.
Van Dyke then posted a public bounty for the two hackers' identifying information via Twitter.
"Increasing the bounty of Intangir and Nachash: $5,000.00 each," he wrote on his private Twitter account. He later told me over the phone that "We placed a bounty on their personal information, because we want to identify who they are so they can be brought to justice."
In response to this, nachash published Van Dyke's social security number. From the outside, it looks like a constant competition to get one up on the opponent—an exchange that escalates at each stage.
And it doesn't end there. Nachash says that Van Dyke's tweets got more explicit, ultimately culminating in a death threat.
"Your kiddies are quite a nuisance. My advice: run and hide. If I find you, I WILL kill both you and your family," Van Dyke allegedly tweeted.
I could not find an original link to the offending tweet, and only saw it from a screenshot that was posted on Twitter. When I asked Van Dyke if he did indeed post such a threat, he said "I'm not going to comment on that."
Around this time, nachash went a step further and published the social security numbers and other personal details of Van Dyke's parents. According to Van Dyke, multiple attempts have been made to take out massive loans against his and his parents' names, although all have failed so far. "They have not been able to really do anything," he said.
I asked if nachash felt bad for the parents. "Aside from the fact that they must feel bad about raising such a lolcow for a son, not at all," the hacker said. When it comes to the revenge porn site Pink Meth, the owner of which he is in contact with, nachash said that "They pre-screen everything for [child porn], so they're ok by me."
Yesterday, both the Pink Meth and Doxbin twitter accounts were suspended, with nachash allegedly receiving an email from Twitter stating that it was because he is logging in from many different locations—something that internet services typically look out for to prevent fraud, but also a potential side effect of using VPNs or Tor.
But, in the latest stage of the dispute, it appears that Van Dyke may have had a hand in the suspensions himself.
I'm looking to have them destroyed
"I did personally bring it to the attention of attorneys representing Twitter, as to who these people were and what kind of activities they were involved in," he told me. The plan to do this was actually in an earlier legal document, and although Twitter wasn't forced by a court to do anything, Van Dyke did point to the two sites' handles.
"I'm going to do whatever I can to make it difficult for them to communicate their presence to other people—I'm basically trying to destroy their ability to do business," Van Dyke told me. "I'm looking to have them destroyed."
But maybe that won't have such an effect. "To be honest, Twitter had done [zero] for Doxbin stats since I quit tweeting out onion links," nachash said. "Like I quit tweeting links at people in 2012. Twitter's just been about making people laugh/cry."
With all of the back-and-forth, it's easy to forget that the original lawsuit concerned revenge porn. Van Dyke hopes that something good may come out of all this, and that enough attention will lead to legislation that can combat these sort of sites.
"I'm not trying to shut down anyone's right to free speech. My position is—there is no First Amendment right to publish pornographic pictures of someone if you don't have their permission to do it," he said.
But because of the protections of anonymity awarded by technology, it's unlikely that Doxbin is going away any time soon. "He really has no avenues," said nachash, "I've had lots of smarter people than him try to own me before."
This entire episode, as bizarre as it is, is a snapshot of the drama that unfolds in the deep web everyday. From gamers calling SWAT teams on their rivals or hackers posting social security numbers of people who they have never met, it's a weird scene when the net and the world collide.