TechTalkTuesday – The Dark Web

It’s #TechTalkTuesday – where tech terms are defined, explained, and no longer a mystery.

Today we’re talking about the dark web.

Just what is the dark web? Is it real? Or is it something that only exists in the imaginations of screenwriters?

The dark web is real. It’s a harder-to-access collective made up of websites that can only be accessed using specific anonymous-capable web browsers. The dark web, also sometimes mistakenly referred to as the deep web, is a way to keep internet activity both private and anonymous. This is useful for both legal and also illegal purposes.

Some users may use the dark web as a way of evading censorship, particularly in countries around the world where censorship is an issue. But the dark web is quite often known for being used for illegal activities.

Getting through the web layers

The internet that most of us know is made up of millions of servers, databases, and websites that are all running around the clock. These websites, readily accessed using popular search engines and browsers, are just the surface level of the internet. Also known as the open web or visible internet, think of them as the very surface layers of an onion.

The exterior portion of the visible web can be thought of as those exterior layers of an onion. They’re easy to access, and easy to see. Statistically speaking, however, the visible internet collective of websites makes up less than 5% of the internet.

The traditional and popular browsers are used to access these public-facing websites, and the sites generally end with a .com, .net. and .org. The websites are easily searched for and accessed using those popular browsers and search engines.

Peel back the layers a little bit and you’ll discover the deep web.

The deep web is often interchangeable used with the term dark web. However, much of the content found on the deep web is legal and safe. The deep web accounts for about 90% of all websites that are out there. It’s significantly larger than the surface web, to the point that it’s quite impossible to figure out how many websites and webpages are active on the deep web at any time.

Some of the parts of the deep web include databases and intranets, which can be expansive.

  • Databases can be both public and private. They may not be connected to other parts of the internet and can only be searched within themselves.
  • Intranets are the internal-only network that many universities, school districts, government agencies and enterprises use to communicate privately within their organization.

So, if you access the surface web with your browser how do you access the deep web? There are good odds that you already access it every day you’re online. Deep web refers to those websites and web pages that search engines cannot identify. They may be hidden behind security walls or may issue commands for search engines to not crawl and index them.

Some of the other hidden content on the deep web could include pending content that hasn’t yet been published, temporary pages that are generated when you log on to pay a bill, or a personal page that is hidden behind a password.

Generally speaking, the hidden content on the deep web is safe and will not pose a threat to your computer.

Delving deeper into the layers of the deep web will see you uncovering things of a more questionable nature. Perhaps pirated music and movies. While some of this content is strictly accessible using an anonymous browser, there is some that lurks between the dark and deep web. Much of the deep web can be accessed using your regular internet browser, which is how you can find yourself accidentally on a piracy website, one that shares graphic and violent content, or a radical political forum.

The dark web layers

The websites within the dark web are those that are not accessible or indexed by the most commonly used browsers and search engines. They can only be accessed with an anonymous web browser. Significantly smaller than the visible and deep web, the dark web can be thought of as that innermost layer of the onion.

The dark web is a very concealed section of the deep web. Very few internet users will see it or interact with content on it.

There are a few layers of the dark web that make it the perfect sanctuary for anonymous users.

  • Popular search engines cannot search for or index the pages that are contained inside of the dark web.
  • Traditional web browsers cannot access the pages, due to firewalls, encryption
  • A randomized network infrastructure that results in virtual traffic tunnels.

The dark web has a reputation of being connected to illegal content, criminal efforts, and sites where illicit services and products are traded. That said, it’s not unusual to find perfectly legal activities taking place on the dark web; with parties just looking for an anonymous place to conduct their business.

The dark web itself is not considered to be an illegal virtual space. Illegal cyber activity is certainly present, but you may not necessarily simply stumble onto it if you happen to find yourself visiting the dark web.

Threats to be aware of on the dark web

If you’re thinking about going onto the dark web to seek out privacy and anonymity, you might be wondering if there are any threats to be aware of. The truth is that the dark web can be a potentially dangerous place to wander to.

There are threats that you may encounter while browsing the dark web.

  • Malware, including keyloggers, ransomware, and phishing malware. If you explore any of the sites on the dark web, you are at an increased risk of being targeted by hackers.
  • Real world risks. The potential dangers can reach into the unplugged world if your device or network has been exploited. Anonymity is a cornerstone of the dark web, but any activity online can drop identity breadcrumbs if someone is looking to exploit individuals.
  • The potential for law enforcement monitoring. Law enforcement agencies around the world routinely monitor the dark web. Even if you don’t engage in illegal activities, you may be observed by certain agencies due to now being linked to those illegal activities you casually browsed. This could extent past cybersecurity risks into illegal drug and trafficking issues.

Should you visit the dark web?

This is a question only you can answer. It’s definitely not a good idea to access the dark web using a business device. Not only does your organization likely have a policy in place against this type of online activity, but you may inadvertently expose your company to malware and other threats.

For most of us, there really isn’t any reason to wander onto the dark web. If you’re looking to stay anonymous, there are other tools that you can put to work for you. Stay safe online, protect your personal and professional assets. Skip the dark web for now.