The dark web is a lot like rodeo riding: many have heard of it, few understand it, and most are too intimidated to get anywhere near it. The dark web maintains a popular perception as a virtualized back alleyway, rife with shady activity and clandestine clientele. Indeed, much of this perception is fueled by its portrayal in the media. The dark web gets a lot of attention as the ultimate destination for sensitive company information after a data breach, where threat actors turn huge profits by selling the leaked information to the highest bidder.
Given its daunting and enigmatic reputation, most people have never witnessed what exists on the dark web. In fact, most would not know how to get there, even if they tried. In this series, we aim to demystify the dark web as we take our audience on a journey to explore what lies in the shadows of the internet.
What is the dark web?
The dark web is a hidden part of the internet that can only be accessed through a special web browser. It allows users to operate completely anonymously due to a complex routing scheme that shrouds their communications in layer after layer of encryption. The dark web provides users around the world the ability to use the internet without revealing their identity.
This fully anonymous capability of sharing and retrieving content acts as a double-edged sword. Because all activity, including criminal activity, cannot be traced back to any individual, the dark web becomes a hive for all sorts of sordid endeavors. One can find markets dedicated to the buying and selling of drugs, weapons, and stolen information, such as corporate data and personal identities. On the other hand, the guaranteed anonymity can be used to circumvent government censorship and avoid persecution; this enables journalists, bloggers, and whistleblowers to publish important information that may otherwise remain suppressed. Finally, the dark web is used by people who enjoy a strong sense of privacy while browsing innocuous sites. Using a dark web search engine also allows users to avoid any search engine bias based on previous browsing habits.
Before going further, we would like to offer a quick vocabulary lesson to distinguish the surface web, deep web, and dark web. The surface web is comprised of web sites that can be indexed by a search engine. This means any web page that comes up when you do a Google search is part of the surface web. This blog post is on the surface web, as well as news sites, company web pages, and video streaming sites, like YouTube.
The terms ‘deep web’ and ‘dark web’ are often used synonymously, but they are not the same thing.
The deep web refers to any web page that cannot be indexed by a surface web search engine, meaning all web pages that you cannot find through a Google search. Roughly 90% of the entire internet is considered on the deep web, and it includes database-driven content, private profiles on sites with login pages, and the dark web itself. To draw an analogy, if ‘deep web’ referred to all professional athletes, then ‘dark web’ would be a specific type of athlete, like a baseball player.
How do I get there?
Popular surface web browsers, such as Chrome, Safari, and Firefox, cannot be used to access the dark web. Instead, one must use the Tor browser. What makes Tor so special? Tor (an abbreviation for The Onion Router) is distinguished from its surface web counterparts by its ability to perform onion routing in order to untraceably relay messages between client and server. Essentially, onion routing bounces a message between several intermediary servers along the way to its destination, applying a new layer of encryption at every stop (a detailed explanation can here), and only at the very end of the path are those layers of encryption “peeled” away to reveal the message to its recipient.
But enough about the tech specs. We are here to crack open this box and see what we can find inside. We invite you to join us next month as we dive headfirst into the darkness to bring you the things that aren't meant to see the light of day.
Send Us Your Comments
What did you think of this article? Send us a note to let us know what you liked, would like to see more of, or what we can do better. And don't be surprised if we reach back out with a small 'thank you' gift for your feedback.