WHAT IS THE DARK WEB?

December 24, 2020

The Dark Web is a part of the internet that cannot be accessed by normal internet browsers.

It’s intentionally hidden and affords those who use it near total anonymity and unrestricted access to things that would be blocked by normal internet providers.

Sounds kind of spooky huh?

You may have heard of the Dark Web before but weren’t really sure what it was. On the other hand, this may be completely new to you.

Either way it’s good to know that there’s more to the internet than meets the eye and it could have an impact on your cyber security.

Here’s everything you need to know.

DEEP WEB VS DARK WEB

To understand what the Dark Web is we first need to have an understanding of the Deep Web.

It’s said that only 10% of the internet is actually visible to normal internet users via search engines. This is often referred to as the Surface Web.

We know what you’re thinking: ‘how many types of web are there?? I thought there was just one – the World Wide variety.’

But that is probably it for this article.

The Deep Web is anything on the internet that can’t be accessed via traditional search engines.

The internet is often described using an iceberg analogy. The large part of the iceberg that’s underwater is the part of the internet we cannot see.

That’s not to say it can’t be accessed. Or that the Deep Web is bad or scary.

The Deep Web could comprise of any number of things including…

  • Medical records.
  • Intranets and databases.
  • Anything behind a paywall.
  • Membership sites and academic journals.
  • Anything that the owners have blocked from being indexed by web crawlers.

All of this combined is a lot of information. In fact, it’s hard to know quite how much is active at any one time.

The reality is you probably visit the Deep Web most days, whether that’s to access content behind a paywall, or just use your company’s intranet.

SO, WHAT’S THE DARK WEB THEN?

The Dark Web is just a part of the Deep Web. It probably comprises about 5% of the internet.

Whilst Deep Web sites can’t be accessed through search engines, you’ll be unable to access the Dark Web by a normal web browser altogether.

To access the Dark Web, users have to use a special browser called Tor.

This can be downloaded from the Tor project themselves which stands for ‘The Onion Routing Project’ (more on onions in a bit). It works a lot like a normal browser except that whilst using it the user has total anonymity and their activity isn’t traced.

Many users will still use a VPN to access it, to add an extra layer of privacy to their browsing.

All sites on the Dark Web have the ‘.onion’ suffix, to distinguish them from normal websites and URL’s are often unintelligible, containing a random mix of letters and numbers.

Navigating can be done through special search engines or list databases of content but these are often unreliable. In general, the process of navigating the Dark Web is hampered by sites often having a short lifespan, rendering links unusable.

IS THE DARK WEB ILLEGAL?

Anybody who’s heard of the Dark Web will no doubt wonder whether it is illegal or not or whether it’s somewhere they could or should ever visit.

It’s not actually illegal to visit the Dark Web or to download and use the Tor browser.

In fact, there are some perfectly legitimate reasons why some people would want to visit it.

The anonymity it provides users means it has been used in countries where free speech is under threat and where internet use is restricted.

Citizens can use the Dark Web to communicate and potentially coordinate activism.

And you’re not necessarily in any danger, if you’re simply browsing out of curiosity. However…

IT’S CALLED THE DARK WEB FOR A REASON

Whilst it does have some legitimate uses and isn’t strictly illegal to use, there’s definitely illegal activity going on there.

If something’s on the Dark Web, the chances are it’s there because the owners don’t want it to be found.

People thinking about browsing the Dark Web should be under no illusion of the type of content that can be found there. There might not be quite as much as reports make out but it’s definitely possible to accidently stumble across something you don’t want to see.

The biggest criminal use of The Dark Web is the selling and purchasing of drugs and other contraband such as weapons, illicit services and more.

But it’s also where people share, distribute and comment on illegal, harmful and disturbing images and videos.

The authorities are fully aware of all this and as such are on the hunt for illegal activity.

For some years now, the UK has had a dedicated police unit to tackling crime on the Dark Web.

As such people have been arrested and prosecuted for their activity online and entire markets have been shut down.

Even if you’re not actively seeking out or buying illegal content or contraband, because of an increase of surveillance from authorities, you could still get into trouble.

If you landed on something by accident, that in itself could be enough to arouse suspicion and land you in hot water if you were caught.

CYBER SECURITY RISKS POSED BY THE DARK WEB

Another reason to be extra cautious around the Dark Web is the cyber security risks it poses.

Often this is where would-be cyber criminals acquire software needed to launch attacks, attack other users and put stolen personal data up for sale.

Ransomware as a Service and other forms of malware are distributed here to affiliates who then go on to use it in their own attacks.

But if you are simply browsing the Dark Web you could be at risk simply by clicking on links that have hidden malware.

You should certainly never download files from the Dark Web as the chances of it being malicious are much higher.

OUR ADVICE

All in all, it’s probably best to avoid the Dark Web if you can help it.

The reality is that’s pretty easy to do. For a start you’d have to download the Tor browser to access it in the first place so we’d imagine if you were interested, you’d probably have done it already.

Even then the benefits of logging on simply out of curiosity are not enough to outweigh the risks associated with visiting.

Most of what you really want to see on the internet is already available to you.

Leave the Dark Web browsing to people surveying the internet underbelly and keeping us safe. It’s good to know about and a good tool for those who really need it but it’s also unfortunately used for some pretty horrible stuff. 

One thing it may be worth doing is running a scan through your cyber security provider to check if any of your personal data is hanging around on the Dark Web.

It’s good to know if you need to be more careful.

If you have any questions or want to talk to us about your cyber security needs, get in touch.

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