It’s the spookiest time of the year, but it won’t be the costumes that scare you tomorrow. If you thought search engines gave you access to the entire web space, you’re in for a surprise. Ever heard of the dark web? Recently, the dark web has made headlines as a digital place for criminal and illegal activity. As law enforcement continues their mission to control the dark web it is important that we educate ourselves on this topic and understand just how terrifying it really is. Ready to get spooked?
What is the Dark Web?
There are three parts to the world wide web: the surface web, deep web, and dark web. The dark web is a term that refers specifically to a collection of websites that exists on an encrypted network that cannot be accessed through traditional search engines or browsers. The main appeal of the dark web is its anonymity. These hidden sites are likely to be selling illegal products or even illegal services paid for by the cryptocurrency, Bitcoin. In a recent study, Carnegie Mellon researchers found that drug sales on the dark web have totaled $100 million per year. Bitcoin has made it difficult to track purchases on the dark web by using “mixing services” that enable the transactions to be hidden completely. The dark web is also a place for groups that want to stay hidden from the government, most commonly used by pedophile groups, terrorists, and criminals, but has also been utilized by whistleblowers to communicate with journalists. While some of these sites are scams, it is not clear how accessible it is to purchase these illegal products and activities. Recently, law enforcement agencies have had great success in bringing down and arresting the criminals behind some of these dark websites.
Dark Web vs. Deep Web?
When discussing the dark web, you may also hear the term “deep web”. The deep web refers to all web pages that search engines cannot find, therefore, the deep web includes the dark web. The deep web also includes all databases, webmail pages, registration-required web forums, and pages behind paywalls. If you use an online bank account, the password-protected bits are on the deep web. It is estimated that the deep web is 500 times larger than the surface web. It is important to note that the dark web is only a small fraction of the deep web and is only accessible through specialized software. Another term you need to know is “dark Internet,” which is sometimes used to describe more examples of networks, databases, and other websites that cannot be reached via traditional web browsers. However, while the “deep web” and “dark web” can be used by reporters to refer to dangerous, secret online spaces, the dark Internet is also a place where scientists store raw data for research.
How to Access it?
Tor, short for The Onion Router, is the most popular software used to access the Dark web. Tor passes messages through a network of connected Tor relays to provide secrecy and anonymity. Using Tor you can access websites whose address ends with the “.onion” extension. Tor can also be used to spoof your location making it appear that you are in a different country than you’re actually in. To visit a dark website using Tor encryption, the web user must also be using Tor. While anyone can visit the Dark Web, it is difficult to know who is behind the sites and dangerous if you make a mistake and your identity is discovered. The FBI is now able to use a range of techniques to reveal Tor user’s actual internet addresses making the future of the dark web uncertain.
Uses for the Dark Web?
An infamous example of the dark web is the Silk Road: a website used to buy and sell recreational drugs as well as a plethora of other items. This black market website was shut down by the FBI in October of 2013, which led to over 130 arrests. While most of the dark web is used for illegal activity, there are also legitimate uses of the dark web. The dark web can be used in totalitarian societies as a way to communicate with the outside world. Furthermore, recent news on the US and UK government snooping on web use have led some people to feel it is sensible to take their communication to the dark web. The famous whistleblower, Edward Snowden, used the dark web to send information to reporters and media outlets exposing the U.S. government’s mass surveillance program. Journalists and activists both use the dark web to avoid being tracked by autocratic governments and other individuals who could harm them.
Governments around the world have recently been cracking down on the dark web and finding ways to combat its illegal nature. In fact, the UK government launched a dedicated cybercrime unit to fight the dark web.Needless to say, it is imperative that we as internet users understand the wicked nature of the dark web and avoid accessing it at all costs.
“By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.” – William Shakespeare