The dark web is a spooky-sounding phrase that refers to the part of the internet not accessible by our everyday search engines. When most people hear of the dark web, they immediately register illegal activity like drug trafficking, identity theft, or even child pornography. However, there are a number of legitimate and legal reasons you might want to use the dark web. Before we get into these, let’s first break down how the internet is structured.
3 main parts of the internet
Think of the internet like an iceberg. Where just a small part of the iceberg may be visible above the water’s surface, there’s usually a huge chunk concealed in the deep. Similarly, the part of the internet we surf on everyday engines like Google and Bing is just the tip of the iceberg. To that end, there are 3 main parts of the internet:
The surface web
This makes up about a tenth of the entire internet. It refers to anything you can access by entering search terms on typical search engines.
The deep web
This refers to the part of the internet that is protected by passwords, paywalls, authentication forms, and other firewalls. For instance, your personal Facebook or Twitter account is part of the deep web. Similarly, your online banking account, your Netflix account and your email are all part of the deep web. Whatever you need to enter login information qualifies as this part of the internet.
The dark web
Finally, we get to the belle of the ball. The dark web is a part of the deep web that is not indexed by search engines. Getting on the dark web requires an encryption-friendly tool, the most common of which is The Onion Router (TOR).
This aptly named network works by routing your browsing activity through different overlay networks, akin to the layers of an onion. Each of these layers helps to encrypt your traffic, effectively obfuscating your IP address and browsing activity.
Deep web vs. dark web: how do they differ?
The deep web is simply any content that you need to enter login credentials to access. Usually, sites on the deep web are secured using paywalls, passwords, and authentication forms to prevent unauthorized access. You can still access these sites on normal browsers such as Chrome and Firefox.
Though a part of the deep web, the dark web differs from the former in that it requires special software to access.
What is the dark web used for?
There are a number of legitimate reasons why one may want to use the dark web. Mainstream companies like Facebook and the New York Times have dark web versions of their sites. These are used by political activists and journalists who wish to share sensitive information.
Whistleblowers also use the dark web, especially when they are located in oppressive political regimes. Authorities like the FBI and CIA use this encrypted Internet section to monitor terror groups and criminal profiteers. Companies could also use the dark web to search for their leaked credit card information or corporate account credentials.
Is the dark web safe?
Much like the surface web, dark web exploration is usually safe. However, it can get risky depending on the sites you visit and what you do on the dark web. For instance, downloading files from illegal marketplaces may come with many threats.
For one, these files may contain dangerous malware. Marketplaces are also filled with scammers who steal your credit card information and put it up for sale. You can also fall prey to spyware from governments and terrorist cells alike.
Is it legal to access the dark web?
Depending on your local laws, accessing the dark web may be illegal. In most places, however, there are no legal restrictions to accessing the internet’s underbelly.
There are several sketchy marketplaces on the dark web. Here, you can find all sorts of things on sale, from drugs to weapons, even human organs. The Silk Road, one of the most famous marketplaces, was known for selling such illegal items. Though it was shut down in 2013, its founder, Ross Ulbricht, is currently serving a double life sentence plus forty years in Tucson, US.
What can you do on the dark web?
You can use the dark web to get around paywalls of academic articles, books, or other research material. Additionally, you could visit special forums otherwise inaccessible on the surface web. You can also trade crypto anonymously on the dark web.
How to access the dark web safely?
- Use a VPN
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) help conceal your browsing activity from your ISP and authorities, which may be keeping tabs on Tor. A VPN works by rerouting and encrypting your traffic through different servers, making you anonymous.
- Install Tor or Tails
Tor is the most commonly used tool to access the dark web. Alternatively, you can download Tails, a pre-configured Linux operating system that runs on a USB drive. Popularized by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, this OS can run on most computers. It encrypts your traffic, so your browsing activity is not tied directly to your device.
- Visit dark web websites
You can access several websites privately on the dark web, provided you know what you’re looking for. Usually, you can identify a dark website by the “.onion” extension on its URL.
- Prioritize your data safety
Though Tor’s and Tails’ encryption is strong, it is not impregnable. As such, always use anonymous emails, usernames and crypto wallets for all transactions. Never give away your personal data on dark web marketplaces.
How to keep your information off the dark web?
Even if you never open the dark web, your sensitive information can still get on there and appear for sale. If you wish to prevent hackers from accessing your private information, consider using Duckist. This web-based tool lets you share sensitive information, such as passwords and files, over the internet. It works by encrypting your message right on your browser, after which you send a link to the intended recipient. Once they view the message, it automatically self-destructs. This way, anyone else who breaches the communication only gets an expired link, rather than the original message.
The internet is divided into the surface web, the deep web, and the dark web. The latter emphasizes anonymity and is naturally notoriously popular among criminals. As such, it is essential to take security measures such as using a VPN to access the dark web. Additionally, never share sensitive personal information on its marketplaces. If you wish to send such information over the web, consider using Duckist.
Also if you want to learn how to check website safety, you can also read this free article: How To Check Website Safety – Browser Security Tips