The term dark web pertains to online content encrypted beyond regular levels. It is hardly indexed by conventional search engines. Assessing the dark web is not easy as only a few browsers (like the TOR browser) provide users access to it. Moreover, a lot of privacy and anonymity comes in with using the dark web and dark web links as compared to accessing traditional websites.
Most of the attention on the dark web is placed on online marketplaces where illicit and illegal goods and services are exchanged. This is how people perceive it. Despite all this, there are often legitimate reasons why people use the dark web, especially political dissidents, concerned citizens wishing to keep their information private and keeping a watch on all the bad stuff.
A lot of people often ask What is the dark web? The dark web is a secret network which exists in the internet underground i.e. the underworld of cyberspace. The dark web comprises a selected set of websites heavily concealed from the general public. They cannot be accessed through traditional search engines (not even Google) and can only be accessible through special browsers.
Traditional search engines return results due to links of legitimate websites indexed in their data books. They are ranked because they are based on both keywords and relevancy (of both keywords and content).
Conversely, the dark web uses information not available on other search engines. That content is from individual accounts, like email, social media, banks, information from personal and professional databases, along with any legal and medical documents present online.
It is also referred to as the darknet. The dark web is like the broader internet, the internet each user experienced during the late part of the 20th century. A lot of material and content is published on it daily. They are in the form of dark web links. Also, not much is present to do for users once they reach there.
Both the public and experts who have accessed and keep accessing the dark web (and dark web websites) reveal the content and material present there is quite amateur and unverified. However, it is easy for anyone to set up a website on the dark web. Numerous reputed technology firms and large media organizations have had minimal influence on the dark web, as of 2020, despite their best efforts.
Considering the internet of the early days, the dark web is reputed for being a haven of illegal activities. Moreover, it is frequently implicated in illicit and criminal activities.
Though it has played a role in illegal and unethical activities and transactions, the place has become a social outlet for individuals who have been ostracized and persecuted for certain beliefs, identities, ideologies, viewpoints and the like.
This also gives rightful and legal authorities the needed additional tools to apprehend perpetrators of wrongful and illegal activities.
Some exceptional considerations
The public often confuses the dark web with cryptocurrencies. Why? Because they have been used there for making purchases. Yet there is a stark contrast difference. The dark web allows ease in setting up and accessing dark web websites because of a greater degree of anonymity for those involved in negative and nefarious activities.
Meaning if anyone got swindled on the dark web, then capturing the swindler is impossible. They are able to conceal their tracks easily there.
A lot of dark web websites constrain just information instead of the ability to purchase or sell something. Though it is true that cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Monero were often used for transactions on the dark web, individuals do not have to use the dark web to utilize these cryptocurrencies. Yet they do it to download files from dark web links.
A brief history of the dark web
Unlike the dark knight, the dark web first appeared officially in the early 2000s, thanks to the creation of Freenet. Ian Clarke developed it to secure users against both cyber attacks and state intervention. It is available today and it allows users to express their views freely without the fear of online tracking and surveillance.
Not so long ago, a project titled ‘The Onion Router (TOR)’ was funded by the Research Laboratory of the United States Navy. It offered intelligence sources a way to communicate freely, easily and safely in hostile areas where personal safety was always at risk.
The browser now ranks among those which are commonly used. Not only is it used for accessing dark web websites but it also uses databases to help people obtain what they want.
The rise of cryptocurrencies have raised the popularity of the dark web and cybercriminals have utilized that popularity. Digital currencies often provide a great degree of anonymity for people purchasing and selling on the dark web.
Because of this, there have been calls for regulating the dark web. Both the G20 and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) have been requesting cryptocurrency organizations to provide information about buyers and sellers regarding online transactions on the dark web. This can aid law enforcement track criminal organizations and stop illicit activities.
Comparing the Dark Web with the Deep Web – the differences
Both the dark and deep web have been used erroneously in interchangeable terms many times. The former is just a fraction of the deep web whereas the latter is what lies underground and is beyond just content. It is known as the invisible and the hidden web too.
The information present on the deep web is encrypted and cannot be found on indexes in the manner the traditional web does it.
This includes all the pages that do not popup when users conduct an internet search. It also contains each thing requiring a login. It resembles the following sites
- Online Banking websites.
- Paid entertainment websites (Netflix, Amazon).
- File hosting services like Dropbox (Competitors included).
- Private databases.
Advantages and disadvantages of the Dark Web
The dark web has been advantageous, in the context that it helped people maintain privacy and express their views freely. Privacy is fundamental today, especially for those who are pestered by stalkers, hackers and other criminals.
The Rising tendency of employers to track social media posts has made it difficult for many to engage publicly in debates and discussions. The popularity of the dark web (and dark web websites) with criminals makes it perfect for undercover law enforcement officers to communicate and even nab criminals and other crooks.
However, the power of the dark web is abused as it has become a hub for criminal activities. For instance, combining the dark web and cryptocurrencies in theory makes it easy to obtain services of criminals for hire.
Despite the fact that the dark web promises users privacy, it has been used for violating the privacy of others. Medical records, private photos, financial information and other kinds of both private & personal information stolen by hackers and criminals have been shared, and even sold at a price on the dark web.
An example of the dark web
Let us consider an example of a person going on the dark web to see the kind of information present there. The TOR browser can be installed on normal systems but only through usage of a virtual private network (VPN). This will allow them to easily use a public network when they are transmitting data and information to a private network. A VPN’s usage gives users the needed privacy on the internet. But it consumes a lot of internet bandwidth.
As people surf the dark web, they’ll observe that the website addresses on it have the extension .onion instead of the typical extensions (.com, .edu, .org etc.). A word of warning: it would be wise to have security software installed because on the dark web, users will come in contact with malware, spyware, ransomware and phishing scams.
Is accessing the dark web illegal?
Surprisingly, it is not illegal to access the dark web. It actually provides people with both anonymity and privacy in comparison to the typical internet. People can access the dark web and post their thoughts and opinions without any fear of surveillance or arrest.
How to see if information on the dark web is present or not? And what to do if it is present there?
Anyone’s personal information (banking credentials, social media accounts, email addresses and social security numbers) might be up for sale on the dark web. If people want to see if any of their information is floating around, they can scan the dark web.
Alternatively users can sign up for a dark web monitoring service. These tools alert them whenever they find any of the user’s information present there.
In case the information is present, steps can be taken to protect it. All passwords should be changed, credit card reports and bank statements must be checked for transactions. Also, debit/credit cards can be frozen to prevent more unnecessary transactions.
The dark web is a new concept, especially when considering the internet’s history as a whole. It can be used by users to remain anonymous without any fear of repercussion, especially if they want to express themselves freely.
However, such privacy has also hurt its reputation as a forum for criminals, crooks, hackers, con artists, and other negative individuals. Using a VPN and a private browser is necessary when accessing the dark web.