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What Is The Dark Web And How Do You Access It?

What Is the – Is it a haven for freedom or a hotbed of crime? Learn the risks and how to access it (safely!)

by Editorial March 16, 2024 in What is Reading Time: 9 mins read 0

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The internet is vast and interconnected, but not all are easily accessible through routine browsers and search engines. If we dive deeper into the surface, we'll come across the “” and the “dark web.”

These terms are often used interchangeably, but they represent distinct parts of the online world. In fact, statistics show that over 90% of the internet is hidden from search engines!

But what exactly is present beneath the surface? Is the dark web a haven for whistleblowers and free speech, or a breeding ground for cybercrime and illegal activities? In this post, we'll talk about the dark web, what you'll find on it, what it is used for, how you can safely access it, and much more!

What Is the Dark Web?

The Dark Web is a collection of websites, forums, and stores that are inaccessible through normal search engines like Chrome, Edge, etc.

The Dark web can be accessed only via the Tor browser, granting its users a degree of anonymity that is handy for cybercriminals, hackers, and anyone wanting to keep their identity in the shadows.

If you want to understand how the dark web is constructed, there are a few layers that make it a privacy haven.

  • No indexing of web pages by search engines. The pages on the dark web are not discoverable or searchable by Google or any other mainstream search engine.
  • “Virtual traffic tunnels” via a randomized network infrastructure.
  • Invisible to ordinary web browsers because of its registry operator. It's also inaccessible because of networking security features such as firewalls and encryption.

What is the difference between dark web, deep web, and surface web?

The internet we see and use daily, with its search engines and familiar websites, is just the tip of the iceberg. Below the surface lies a huge and mostly hidden world called the deep web.

Imagine the internet as an iceberg. The surface web, the part visible above water, represents the websites indexed by search engines like Google and Bing. This is what most people access and interact with daily.

However, the deep web makes up the much larger portion, hidden beneath the surface. It encompasses all the content not indexed by search engines, including:

  • Private databases: These contain sensitive information like medical records, financial data, and legal documents. They require specific authorization for access.
  • Dynamic content: This includes web pages generated on the fly, like personalized search results or online shopping carts. These pages are not static and cannot be directly indexed.
  • Password-protected content: This covers any website or platform requiring login credentials, such as your email inbox or social media accounts.

Now, you must understand that the deep web is not inherently illegal or malicious. It simply refers to the vast amount of information not publicly accessible through standard search methods.

Now, when we go deeper into the deep web, we'll find the dark web. This is a much smaller subset, often portrayed as mysterious and dangerous. Unlike the deep web, which requires no special software to access (just the right credentials or knowledge), the dark web is deliberately hidden and requires specific tools like the Tor browser to browse.

Websites on the dark web use anonymizing techniques to mask their location and identity, making them virtually invisible to standard search engines and web crawlers. While the dark web facilitates some legitimate activities like anonymous communication and censorship circumvention, it also harbors illegal marketplaces dealing in drugs, weapons, and stolen data.

Dark Web Vs. Deep Web: Are They the Same?

Most of the available digital content in the world is not indexed by search engines on the web. Much of this information – almost every online activity that happens – is contained on the Deep Web (or ‘hidden web'): a pre-Web network of billions of pages that could only be accessed through obscure text.

Indeed, you are already using the Deep Web every day. You are on the Deep Web whenever you read your email, log on to your online banking account, or upload to a social media site.

Some things on the Deep Web require a username and a password. This is mainly for privileged and secure purposes.

Some elements of the Deep Web include:

  • Databases
  • Social media apps
  • Online banking
  • Email
  • Intranets
  • Forums
  • Paywall-protected content

These activities often and typically involve documents containing personally identifiable information (PII) in the guise of medical records, legal papers, finance reports, academic work, IP, corporate data, etc.

And while you might not be uttering the words Deep Web every day – just ‘ever', to be more precise – it's there in your life far more than you think.

Why Is the Dark Web So Dangerous? What Will You Find on the Dark Web?

The dark web isn't inherently dangerous, but its anonymity attracts both good and bad actors. It uses special software like Tor to hide users' locations and activities, making it a haven for privacy-seekers like journalists in repressive regimes. However, this very privacy fuels its danger.

So, what can you find on the dark web?

  • Illegal Marketplaces: Think of virtual black markets. Here you might find illegal drugs, weapons, stolen data, and even (disturbingly) listings for horrific services. Just by browsing, you could stumble upon something incriminating.
  • Malware Galore: The dark web is a breeding ground for malicious software. Clicking on the wrong link could infect your device with malware designed to steal your information or hold your data hostage.
  • Scams and Fraud: If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Fraudsters exploit the dark web's anonymity to peddle fake goods or services, leaving you empty-handed and frustrated.
  • Unsettling Content: The dark web can host disturbing and illegal content, including child exploitation material. It's important to be aware and avoid accidentally encountering such material.

What Is the Dark Web Used For?

The dark web is a hidden portion of the internet that anonymizes users' activity by encrypting and bouncing their connection through various servers, making it difficult to track their origin. This anonymity attracts users for both legal and illegal purposes:

What Are the Legal Uses of the Dark Web?

  • Protecting privacy in censored countries: In countries with restricted internet access, individuals use the dark web to access information and communicate freely without government surveillance. Journalists and activists may also utilize it to research sensitive topics and share information anonymously.
  • Whistleblowing: Individuals seeking to expose wrongdoing or corruption might use the dark web to leak information securely.
  • Accessing restricted content: Some academic journals and research papers reside on the dark web, allowing access for those who wouldn't normally have it due to paywalls or regional restrictions.

What Are the Illegal Uses of the Dark Web?

  • Selling and buying illegal goods and services: The dark web is infamous for marketplaces offering illicit drugs, weapons, stolen data, and other illegal items. These transactions often use anonymized cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin to further conceal the parties involved.
  • Facilitating criminal activity: Cybercriminals might use the dark web for communication, planning attacks, and selling malware or hacking tools.
  • Spreading harmful content: Unfortunately, the dark web can host illegal content like child sexual abuse material and violent extremism.

How to Access the Dark Web?

The Tor Browser is the safest and the easiest way for someone who wants to access the dark web. You can download and install the Tor browser for free from the official website.

You can use a VPN and the private or incognito mode of your existing browser to hide your download of the Tor Browser.

Currently, the Tor Browser is compatible with Windows, Mac, Android, and Linux operating systems. Upon connection, users gain access to darknet websites known as “Tor hidden services,” which have addresses ending in “.onion” instead of “.com” or “.org.”

Imagine Tor as a web browser similar to Google Chrome or Firefox. However, instead of taking a direct path between your computer and the deeper parts of the web, the Tor browser routes your connection through a series of encrypted servers called “nodes.”

This method allows users to access the deep web without the risk of being tracked or having their browsing history exposed.

Websites on the deep web also use Tor or similar software like I2P (Invisible Internet Project) to remain anonymous. This means that you cannot discover the identity of those running these websites or their hosting locations.

7 Tips for Safely Accessing the Dark Web

If you have a legitimate or practical need to access the dark web, it's important to prioritize your safety. Here are 7 Tips for safely accessing the dark web:

  1. Trust your instincts: To avoid scams, it's crucial to be cautious and smart online. Not everyone is trustworthy, so be mindful of who you interact with and where you browse. If something feels off, remove yourself from the situation.
  2. Avoid downloading files from the dark web: Malware risks are higher in the dark web, so use real-time file scanning from an antivirus program if you must download anything.
  3. Use a non-administrator local user account for daily activities: Malware typically needs administrative permissions to function. By limiting your account's privileges, you can mitigate the risk of exploitation.
  4. Separate your online and real-life personas: Use unique usernames, email addresses, passwords, and credit card information exclusively for the dark web. Consider using throwaway accounts and prepaid, untraceable debit cards. Avoid using any information that could identify you.
  5. Disable ActiveX and Java: These frameworks are often targeted by malicious actors. Avoid this risk by disabling them in your network settings.
  6. Restrict access to your Tor-enabled device: Protect your family members, especially children, from accessing inappropriate content. If you're curious about the deep web, explore it yourself but keep it away from children.
  7. Monitor your identity and finances actively: Many security services offer identity protection tools. Take advantage of these services to safeguard your identity.

Key Takeaways

  • The dark web is a part of the internet that isn't normally visible to search engines.
  • Accessing the dark web is not illegal; engaging in a prohibited or illegal activity is.
  • The dark web has things like credit card details, personal data, disturbing content, malicious software, illegal marketplaces, etc.
  • The Tor browser is the only safe way to access the dark web.
  • If you want to access the dark web, make sure that you take steps to prevent yourself from cyberattacks and data breaches.

FAQs

Is it illegal to go on the dark web?

No, visiting the dark web itself is not illegal. It's similar to accessing a private library section with restricted access. However, engaging in illegal activities on the dark web, such as buying or selling illegal goods or accessing harmful content, is absolutely illegal.

Is my info on the dark web?

There's a possibility your information might be on the dark web, especially if you've experienced a data breach. However, it's difficult to determine definitively without further information. You can check if your email address has been compromised in a data breach using online tools and services.

Is my password on the dark web?

Similar to the previous point, there's a chance your password could be on the dark web if it was involved in a data breach. It's crucial to use strong, unique passwords for different accounts and enable two-factor authentication whenever possible to add an extra layer of security.

Who created the dark web?

The dark web wasn't created by a single person or entity. It's a byproduct of technology designed to enable anonymous communication, originally developed by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory.

How much of the internet is the dark web?

The dark web is a significantly smaller portion compared to the surface web, which is the part of the internet most people access daily. Estimates suggest the dark web makes up around 6% of the entire internet.

Can I remove my email from the dark web?

Unfortunately, removing information from the dark web is challenging. If you suspect your information is exposed, focus on mitigating the damage by changing your passwords, notifying relevant authorities, and monitoring your accounts for suspicious activity.

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