Just recently my cousin called and asked me what the Dark Web was. He wanted to know as it had been in the news recently and he wasn’t exactly sure what The Dark Web was, how it worked or if in fact, The Dark (Deep, Shadow or Invisible) web, just a fairytale. I assured him The Dark Web was in fact a living growing area of the internet that can be used for malicious or benevolent reasons.
Now the Dark Web can be a very fun place to visit or it can be a very scary place depending on what data rabbit hole you fall down. However, there are rules that apply…Mainly the Rule of Secrecy. What you see on the Dark Web Stays on the Dark web.
The vast majority of us have only ever seen the Surface Web, or Clearnet portion of the Internet in our surfing activities. This refers to that part of the Internet which can be accessed and indexed through search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing. The Deep Web, then, refers to all sites and pages which are invisible to those same search engines. This can happen in several different ways. Some webpages are private, and not designed to be accessed by the general public. Others, for one reason or another, have simply not been indexed by the search engine crawlers. Some others, however, are purposefully kept from the public and are only meant to be accessed by those whose computer proficiency grants them the knowledge of how to browse the Internet anonymously. These sites make up the Dark Web.
If you happen to have, in your digital possession, a bookmark to a Dark Web page (which generally consists of random numbers and letters followed by a .onion extension), and you plug said address into the address bar of your browser, your browser is going to tell you that it’s a bad address. There are certain, specific ways in which one can access the Dark Web. The most popular way to gain access to the Dark Web is to use a Tor browser. Tor (an acronym for The Onion Router) is a program that anonymizes your computer’s IP address, which is used to identify your computer’s location on the World Wide Web. The software can be tailored to make your computer appear to be located anywhere, in any country. The Tor Browser bundle, after connecting you anonymously to the network, then uses a Firefox-based browser that has been customized to access .onion websites. The Tor software maintains the privacy of both the source and the destination of information and the people who access it. For political rable rousers and criminals alike, this kind of anonymity shows the immense power of the dark Web, enabling the sale or free trade of information, goods and services, legally or illegally, much to the dismay of law enforcement and governments around the world.
Once connected, the Tor browser will be pretty useless unless you already have a .onion address ready to cut and paste into the browser’s address bar. There are several Dark Web sites which provide good landing pages for anonymous browsing activity. One is called the Hidden Wiki. This .onion page provides links to other .onion sites on the network. One of the more popular of these is called Silk Road, which is an Ebay/Amazon-like marketplace selling only highly illegal goods. If you are able to pay for your products in Bitcoin (a digital form of currency which is difficult to trace to its source, but not impossible), you can buy a kilo of cocaine, a box of AK-47s, or even hire a hit man to kill someone you don’t like.
The gist of the Dark Web is completely unrestricted freedom, so there is quite literally no limit to what one can find in its shadowy halls.
On the other hand, one can find libraries full of digital books on every topic imaginable. You can also visit regular, Surface Web sites through your Tor browser without being bombarded with location-based popup ads and anything else that uses your IP (Internet Protocol) address to identify you. If you are not a fan of government surveillance in general, this might be a technology in which you’d be interested. Just remember, if you want to do something illegal with the Dark Web, there is still a good chance of getting caught, no matter how ‘anonymous’ you think you are.
If you would like to see more about the Deep Web and what it contains, just go to this infographic: http://domainqueen.com/portfolio/the-dark-web/