The internet is not what we think it is. Sure, it’s home to our daily memes, scandals and sometimes propaganda, but it has grown from what it was initially. Everyday users, such as you and I, are not familiar with the other side of the World Wide Web. Google, Facebook, Spotify and Netflix are names we associate with the internet, but that is not all of what is out there. Then again, we mainly hear of these sites when it comes to privacy-related talk…
The internet can be split into two halves. One half contains what anyone can see, and the other contains things that need special software to access. What we use as our daily drivers are a part of the Surface Web. Here we find popular websites and online services. To understand how the internet is divided, we can look at it as an iceberg. The part of the iceberg that is above water is what we all see (and sometimes run into that iceberg, think Cambridge Analytica), and this represents the surface web. Below water, we find The Deep Web. Basically, the Deep Web is not open to everyone, as services found here are not listed by search engines. This also includes private profiles, so if you don’t show up in a quick search, congratulations. You are a part of the Deep Web. Information found here can also include hospital databases to government records. At the bottom of it all, we find the Dark Web. Everything from terrorism to illegal drug purchases can be found here.
Here’s the catch: The Dark Web cannot be accessed by a standard browser. Using special software can help you gain access to the Dark Web. These websites exist in an encrypted space, which needs a browser that is capable of decrypting it to allow a user access to it. This is what keeps individuals private as everything is anonymous. What makes the Dark Web really interesting is the sheer power it has. Although it accounts for 6% of the internet as a whole, it has several booming marketplaces that thrive on the unseen part of society.
Tor was created for the US Military to communicate over the internet without being traced. However, as this free service became popular for secure online browsing, others found ways to make their illegal business fit in to the new era of technology. And I mean they knew what they were doing, they are bringing in more profit than ever
All of this activity, this vision of a bustling marketplace, might make you think that navigating the dark web is easy. It isn’t. The place is as messy and chaotic as you would expect when everyone is anonymous, and a substantial minority are out to scam others. Accessing the dark web requires the use of an anonymous browser, such as Tor. The Tor browser routes your web page requests through a series of other computers operated by thousands of volunteers around the globe, rendering your IP address unidentifiable and untraceable. Tor works like magic, but the result is an experience that’s like the dark web itself: unpredictable, unreliable and extremely slow.
Dark web sites look pretty much like any other site, but there are important differences. One is the naming structure. Instead of ending in .com or .co, dark web sites end in .onion. Dark web sites also use a scrambled naming structure that creates URLs that are often impossible to remember. Many dark websites are set up by scammers, who constantly move around to avoid the wrath of their victims. Even commerce sites that may have existed for a year or more can suddenly disappear if the owners decide to cash in and flee with the escrow money they’re holding on behalf of customers. Law enforcement officials are getting better at finding and prosecuting owners of sites that sell illicit goods and services, with a recent seize of DeepDotWeb, a website that contained a list of illegal online drug stores.
I don’t want to leave you with the impression that everything on the dark web is nefarious or illegal, although a majority of it is. The Tor network began as an anonymous communications channel, and it still serves a valuable purpose in helping people communicate in environments that are hostile to free speech. If you want to learn all about privacy protection or cryptocurrency, the dark web has plenty to offer. There are a variety of private and encrypted email services, instructions for installing an anonymous operating system and advanced tips for the privacy conscious.
Journalists use the Dark Web to share information and to receive sensitive information from anonymous whistle-blowers — for example, the New York Times has a secure lock-box on the Dark Web that people can send files anonymously to. It’s becoming a haven for those who need to share information safely. There’s also material that you wouldn’t be surprised to find on the public web, such as links to full-text editions of hard-to-find books and collections of political news from mainstream websites. And yes, websites that provide pirated content are available (even though they are being taken down constantly) which are available on the Surface Web. There are several whistle-blower sites, including a dark web version of Wikileaks. Pirate Bay, a BitTorrent site that law enforcement officials have repeatedly shut down, seems to be thriving on the Surface Web using proxies and the same goes for the Dark Web. Some things really do have a broad user base.
More and more legitimate web companies are starting to have a presence there, it shows that they’re aware, they’re cutting edge and in the know.