What is the Dark Web?
One of the earliest forms of the dark web was created by the US military. The Onion Routing (Tor) Project was created by the US Naval Research Laboratory in the mid-90s as a way to store their vast amount of data so that it could not be traced by anyone and to protect their private communications.
The dark web is the hidden part of the internet that is only accessible by a specialized web browser. It is used for keeping internet activity private, which can be helpful in both legal and illegal activities.
In this blog, we will discuss how to access the dark web, how it differs from the surface web and deep web, as well as some of its bad and good features.
How Do I Access the Dark Web?
To access the dark web requires the use of an anonymizing browser called Tor. Tor is free to download and can be installed on Windows, macOS, Linux, or Android. For iPhone users, there is an open source platform version called Onion Browser that can be downloaded on the App Store.
Tor is a web browser like Google Chrome or Firefox, but it uniquely accesses the internet. Instead of taking the most direct route between your computer and the web, Tor uses a random path of encrypted servers called “nodes”. This will allow an IP address to be unidentifiable and untraceable. This process may seem seamless, but it can take some time, so connectivity to Tor can be very slow.
Dark websites look pretty much like any other site, but there are important differences. The biggest is the naming structure. Instead of ending in “.com” or “.org”, these sites often end in “.onion”. The .onion naming structure indicates that the hidden site is only reachable via Tor.
If possible, it is recommended to connect to a VPN first, then open Tor. This is known as “Tor over VPN” or “Onion over VPN”. This will give you all the privacy protections of the Tor network, plus extra protection that prevents other Tor nodes from seeing your home IP address.
You will also not have to worry about being flagged by your home network for using Tor, because all the internet provider will see is encrypted traffic from your VPN service.
Surface Web vs Deep Web vs. Dark Web
It is important to understand the breakdown of how the internet is accessed. Only a small portion of the internet is publicly available, a large portion is available but protected, and another portion is largely hidden and can only be seen through specific channels.
The “surface web,” or open web, is the visible layer of the internet. The surface web is like the small top portion of the iceberg that is above the water. This is only about 5% of the total internet. All common websites accessed via traditional browsers like Google Chrome and Firefox are contained here. These are websites that end in “.com” or “.org” and can easily be searched.
Often, you may hear the terms deep web and dark web interchangeably. However, they are completely different. The term “deep web” refers to all web pages that cannot be found by search engines. The deep web is the middle part of the iceberg that is hidden beneath the water. Deep websites may be hidden by passwords or firewalls.
The deep web rests below the surface and accounts for about 90% of all websites. Some of the largest parts of the deep web include bank accounts, email, private enterprise databases, HIPAA sensitive information, or legal files.
The “dark web” refers to websites that are not indexed and are only accessible by specialized web browsers.
If the dark web were an iceberg, it would be the bottom tip of a submerged iceberg. Many experts believe that the dark web is only about 5% of all internet activity, but there is so much of the internet to be discovered, it may be higher.
In contrast to the surface and deep web, the dark web is often linked to criminal intent or illegal activities, although there are legal uses for it. The dark web cannot be stumbled upon as easily as the surface or deep web, so its risks are greater.
The Bad and the Good
As anonymous as the dark web is, it is very dangerous to use. The largest threat the shadow internet has is the risk of malicious software. Malware is fully alive across the dark web. Hackers will place malware in a lot of sites through phishing, ransomware, trojans, DDoS attacks, or botnets. If you choose to browse the dark web, you can put yourself at risk of these attacks. Thankfully, most malware attacks that are used can be caught if you have solid antivirus software.
Many Tor-based sites are being overtaken by authorities. Just by visiting a website on the dark web, there is a chance you could become a government target.
By using custom software to infiltrate and analyze activity, law officials can find out the identities of patrons and bystanders. Even if you never make a purchase, you could be watched and potentially incriminate yourself for other activities later in life.
The Tor network started as an anonymous communications channel, and it still serves a valuable purpose in helping people communicate in places that are hostile to free speech.
There are a variety of private and encrypted email services. There are several social media sites where you can have discussions about current events anonymously. Dark Web Facebook has a large and active presence!
The dark web offers a vast array of resources and knowledge databases. If you want to learn all about privacy protection, there is plenty of material. If you are looking for hard-to-find books or unfiltered news, there are resources for that.
Many people turn to the dark web for protection. Journalists and whistleblowers often work together to expose corruption at corporations and government agencies. They might use the dark web to communicate with each other without being detected by the same organizations they are investigating.
The dark web is useful to people in countries run by oppressive or authoritarian governments. You might be a citizen of one of these countries and might not be able to use traditional web browsers to access news sources critical of your government. The dark web will allow you to access that information anonymously.
The dark web is proof that we have not come close to the vastness of the internet. There is a bit of gray area when using it; because there are so many sketchy activities, it is easy to overlook the benefits of privacy and anonymity the dark web provides.
If you decide to use this tool, be mindful of all internet security practices. You should detach from your normal and online life. Any common names, emails, passwords, and credit cards should never be used on the dark web. Create throwaway accounts, use prepaid cards and identifiers.
If you must download any files, scan them extensively. Malware is extremely common on the dark web, and it will often come in the form of a download.
You must decide how far you are willing to go to ensure your anonymity. Without proper care and research, the dark web can put you at risk from hackers and government officials, even if your intentions are pure.