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Some of you may have heard the terms “deep web” or “dark web” already, but still aren’t any wiser about what these terms actually mean. And to be fair, technical terms are often littered with jargon that makes talking with a technical expert feel like talking to someone who speaks a foreign language.
And the modern cinema certainly doesn’t help, either. In just about any action or espionage film, you’re going to hear a lot of hacking and technical terms. They refer to the dark web, among other concepts. But today, we are going to unveil and demystify the deep web and dark web. This in order to put many of the associated misconceptions to rest.
Get ready to rediscover the web – there’s a lot out there that you probably never even knew existed.
The Public Internet Versus the Deep Web
Think of the entire Internet in the same way as an iceberg. We can easily see the top 10% above the water, but there is another 90% hidden deep below the surface. That’s the deep web. Most people seem to think that Google is “the Internet,” but Google (and other search engines) only index pages to help people find information.
So, let’s go ahead and define the term “deep web” as any website or network resource that can’t be indexed by a search engine such as Google. Whenever you type keywords into the Google search bar, you are really just sorting through and filtering all of the websites that Google has been able to find.
Think of Google like a telephone book, but instead of listing telephone numbers, it contains URL addresses. And Google builds this database of listing by using a tool that is commonly referred to as “spiders.” It’s the spiders’ job to crawl around the Internet, from page to page, by following interconnected links.
After it finds a page of content, Google then applies a complex algorithm to rank those pages in order of relevancy.
But the spiders simply don’t have access to all of the Internet, because sometimes they encounter pages that deny them access, thus inhibiting their ability to index the page. Security tools, login credentials, and other similar types of blocked pages won’t permit a spider to catalog their site.
But what’s contained in these pages that are secured under lock and key? Do they contain nefarious criminal organizations, stomping grounds for hackers, and illicit activities?
In some places in the deep web, there’s sure to be these kinds of clandestine activities. But on the whole, it’s mainly content and information that isn’t available to the public.
For example, banking systems, gated content that requires a username and password, and other indexes of information are too sensitive to allow any old schmuck to access that data.
A large portion of the deep web is basically comprised of websites that are database driven and just about anything that is hidden behind a login page. And though it is the exception and not the rule, sometimes websites opt out of being crawled and indexed by websites.
Some portion of the deep web is called the dark web, which we will describe in detail next.
The Dark Web
Some networks on the dark Web use services such as entire networks built upon VPN tunnels, Tor, and other obfuscating rely on networks. They do this to protect anonymity and mitigate attention from the public.
Not only can people using these types of networks browse the web anonymously, but they can even host websites anonymously, too. Some of the services they provide are only accessible through a private network.
For example, you may have heard of a rather shady website known as the Silk Road. I wouldn’t advise trying to access that site, either, because it is essentially an online/e-commerce site that is basically a black market.
A large part of its trade dealt with illegal drugs, but it has been reported that there has been the buying and selling of guns, illegal weapons, and even hitman services. This is probably the exciting imagery you had in your head when you first heard about the deep web.
It was first operated as a hidden service via the anonymity network Tor, and its online users could browse and trade anonymously with the peace of mind that there wasn’t any traffic or activity monitoring. Ironically enough, the Tor’s burgeoning embryo had its roots as a project in the United States Navy.
And if you think you want to hop online and trade illegal items, think again. Tor has been infiltrated several times by the FBI in response to criminal activity and child pornography.
You might be thinking that paying for goods or services online would leave a paper trail through the federal banking system or the ACH (Automated Clearing House) – and you’d be right. That’s why their favorite form of payment methods are Bitcoins because they are the most anonymous form of payment in the world as they lie outside of governmental banking systems.
The Deep Web, Dark Web, and Ethics
So, is the dark Web good or bad? Well, that’s quite a philosophical debate. I think most of us would agree that we’d like the government to respect our privacy, but unfortunately, governments around the world have been caught red-handed in wiretapping scandals. Even the United States government (NSA) was caught eavesdropping on domestic communications.
This is a massive invasion of privacy, but without security tools like VPNs and anonymity networks like Tor, you’re really easy pickings for hackers, governments, and ISPs. So, in order to combat these threats to privacy, many security and privacy purists have created tools to hide Internet traffic. But here’s the catch: these tools are often used by criminals who want to hide illegal activities.
In a perfect world, people wouldn’t abuse security tools. But, as stated previously, there are many unsavory sites on the dark web, such as child pornographers. Does that mean that you shouldn’t use or advocate a privacy service because it has been abused and taken advantage of?
Ultimately only you can answer that question, but realize that these security tools are inanimate objects, and they aren’t inherently good or evil.
Instead, they are much like firearms in the sense that it depends on who wields them. Anonymity tools like the Tor network can be used for a variety of purposes. That said, I would highly caution you to abstain from visiting websites on the dark web out of idle curiosity.
The darknet is a bit like Knockturn Alley from the famed Harry Potter books and movies. There’s really some seedy things going on there, and it’s better to err on the side of caution and keep your nose clean.
Precautions When Accessing the Deep Web and the Dark Web
Before you go over to the dark side, there are a few things you’re going to need. It is moderately safe as long as you use the right tools and know how to setup your software correctly. So let’s keep the following in mind:
- Never use your real email address if you register for a website on the dark web. Just make an email account that you can throw away. Another option is using a public mailbox which other users share as well as anonymity. And NEVER link that email address to your social profiles or use your real name.
- If you choose to make a payment in a commercial transaction on the deep web, make sure that the site is trustworthy. And don’t pay with a bank card or credit card, because someone can track you easily. Instead, use an anonymous payment method like Bitcoin. I would even stay away from Paypal payments.
- I would strongly advise against downloading files from questionable sites. However, if you feel the site is trustworthy, make sure you always scan the file for viruses before opening it.
- If Tor isn’t immediately available at your current location, you may want to look into finding a Tor Bridge to facilitate the connection. Simply visit their site and check out the bridges page to protect your anonymity.
- Use good judgment. The strongest security tools in the world are never an adequate replacement for common sense. If you meet strangers on the dark web that are questionably friendly, stay away.
- Use Tor in conjunction with a VPN tunnel to give yourself an extra layer of protection.
Accessing Pages and Services Hosted in the Deep Web
Now we have come to a bit of chicken and egg scenario. If a website isn’t indexed by a search engine, how do you find it in the first place? Well, you really have to know about it beforehand. There are plenty of message boards that will help educate you on different sites and connection techniques such as Reddit, Onions, and Tor threads.
You’re going to have to set up the Tor browser or a Tor plugin for your browser of choice and connect to the Tor network. I still have qualms about using the Tor service. This since the issue with NSA in the past…However, it remains one of the most popular ways to access sites hosted on the deep web.
Last but not least, you’ll want to check out the multitude of hidden services that are hosted on the Tor network. And remember, we certainly don’t advocate any illegal activities or the misuse and abuse of security and anonymity services. Proceed with caution: the deep web can be a dangerous place if you’re looking around because of idle curiosity.