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What Is the Dark Web and Where Do I Find It?

By Kaleigh Alessandro | Thursday, September 3rd, 2015

If you’ve seen or read the news lately, there’s been a lot of talk about the recent Ashley Madison hacking scandal, by which a group of hackers known as Impact Team attempted to blackmail the site into shutting down – or risk having the information of some 37 million members released. Member information, including account details and payment transactions, was ultimately released over the Dark Web. Sounds spooky, yes? But what exactly is the mysterious Dark Web? And how can you access it? Here’s what you need to know about the Internet’s black sheep.

The Dark Web: What exactly is it?

In essence, the Dark Web is a cloaked portion of the Internet only accessible to users with specific software or authorization. It is part of the Deep Web – a section of the World Wide Web not indexed by search engines, meaning your standard Google and Bing crawls won’t do the trick.
 
Much of the concern surrounding the Dark Web has to do with the types of activities generally perceived to take place there. As you can see in Figure 1, according to Dr. Owen Gareth’s presentation “Tor: Hidden Services and Deanonymisation,” the majority of so-called hidden services lurking in the Dark Web are worrisome. Drugs, fraud, counterfeit, hacking, porn, abuse, guns, gambling: the list goes on. And let’s not forget the identities of the alleged cheaters from Ashley Madison.

How Do I Access the Dark Web?

As we’ve established, the Dark Web is not accessible via your standard Internet browsers. Rather, networks like Freenet, I2P and Tor (originally known as The Onion Router) must be used to access hidden content and browse anonymously. Tor is the most notable of the anonymous browsers, and according to its website, “protects you by bouncing your communications around a distributed network of relays run by volunteers all around the world: it prevents somebody watching your Internet connection from learning what sites you visit, it prevents the sites you visit from learning your physical location, and it lets you access sites which are blocked.”
 
Tor’s use of “onion routing” dates back to the mid-90s, before the software itself was even launched (that came in 2002). It is a common misconception that the use of Tor enables an Internet user to remain completely anonymous. Instead, Tor allows for data protection in transit, making it so that sites cannot easily track a user’s location. As explained above, much of Tor and the greater Dark Web is used for illegal and illicit activities, including gaining access to censored information, soliciting and hiring hackers and communicating with whistleblowers. Infamous whistleblower Edward Snowden used Tor back in 2013 to communicate with The Washington Post and The Guardian, for example.

Is It Safe to Browse the Dark Web?

If your curiosity is getting the better of you, and you’re inclined to check out what the Dark Web has to offer, proceed with caution. If your goal is to browse the Internet under the veil of pseudo-anonymity, you’re probably okay. But depending on what you’re searching for, you could still invite trouble to come your way. General assumptions are that Tor is more secure than most traditional Surface Web browsers (e.g. Chrome, Firefox, IE), but that doesn’t mean it lives without the potential to come under attack. Botnets and Dark Web-malware are still prevalent; as recently as 2014, the banking Trojan dubbed ChewBacca stole credit card information – and came at the hands of a server-controlled botnet hidden in the Tor network.

Users should exercise caution when trolling the Dark Web, as they should with searches and functions within the Surface Web. The Internet is still the Internet – and it’s better to assume someone is always watching.
 
Photo Source: Wikipedia

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