Have you ever heard of the Dark Web? Are you curious about what it means and who uses it? We were and did some research to find out more.

What's in this article

    Introduction to the Dark Web

    The Dark Web sounds very dramatic.   It is essentially part of the internet only accessible by use of a special web browser called "Tor".   This browser allows users to remain anonymous, which creates special challenges for governments and law enforcement organisations.

    The "normal" web that everyone uses, is also know as the Surface Web or also referred to as the Visible Web, Indexed Web, Indexable Web or Lightnet.

    The idea of an anonymous online networking for communication goes back to the 1960's when ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) was created.  This was an experimental network, predating the internet.  The military found a use for it during the cold warThe idea was to create a way of sharing information over great distances.

    Hypanet / Freenet is another tool , a project by a University Student at Edinburgh.  It is "a decentralized replacement for the world wide web" which aims to be an aleternative to the world wide web.  The Freenet site points out that the world wide web is controlled by a small number of huge organisations and Freenet as a result, whats to offer an alternative, which delivers individual freedom of communication.

    Is it illegal to look at the Dark Web?

    Using the Tor browser or visiting the Dark Web is not unlawful in itself, but what you choose to do there that may mean you end up on the wrong side of the law!

    Illegal activity on the Dark Web includes: Viewing indecent images of child abuse, promoting terrorism, comitting fraud and joining and helping hacking groups.  Drugs and arms dealing are also prolific on the dark web.

    However, you can use the Dark Web legally if you live somewhere where there is a high level of government censorship and monitoring, so browse the internet anonymously.

    What happens if you go on the Dark Web?

    According to PNAS, only 6.7% of global users actually use the dark web.  As I mentioned above, a lot of the activities on the Dark Web are illegal so you need to consider who you will meet and the risks of being involved in any dealings, or what you may be exposed to when you go to Dark Web sites.

    Norton point out, that there is a risk of suspicious links and viruses that could infect your devices.  Law enforcement officials operate in the Dark Web, so there is also a risk of being caught if you get involved in any criminal activity.

    The dark web is anonymous, but you may not want to be exposed to some of the content that is present there. 

    TL; DR: You could be mentally scarred for life and if you partake in illegal activities you could be caught out by law enforcement.

    Tor Browser

    The Dark Web and your safety and security

    As always, it's a good idea to keep your device up to date and make sure you have anti-virus software installed.  Malware and viruses are a risk of browsing the Dark Web, but that is the case even on the Surface Web.  Consider a VPN to add an extra layer of security.

    One thing to consider is that the dark web is full of highly experience individuals who may circumvent standard security measures.

    Children should stay well-away from the Dark Web, they may see indecent imagery or be approached by sex offenders or other criminals.

    What is the Dark Web used for?

    The Dark Web is used to stay anonymous, so users cannot be tracked.  The Dark Web also contains "Hidden Services", also known as "onion services".  The IP address of the site is hidden so that it's origin cannot be identified.

    Hidden services can include marketplaces, forums and secure communication platforms.

    The .onion Top-Level Domain (TLD) is used for hidden service names.  These domains are designated not by ICANN, but by The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) for services with a high level of confidentiality.

    It is also used to carry out illegal activities such as weapon selling, drugs and other things that people want to keep anonymous.

    How many people in the UK use the Dark Web?

    According to IT Security Guru, most Brits don't know what the Dark Web is.  Most people have heard of the Dark Web, but can't accurately describe what it is.

    While most Brits – 80% of those surveyed – have heard of the dark web, only 31% accurately answered that the dark web is a part of the Internet that can only be accessed using specialist browsers.

    According to the Daily Mail, 160,000 people in Britain have had their bank details sold on the Dark Web, for as little as £4.61 each!

    They were third globally behind the US and India – despite having a fraction of their populations.

    But Britain doesn't make the top 5 users of the Dark Web according to Cybersecurity expert Naomi Levi.

    Anonymous Internet User

    How many websites are on the Dark Web?

    According to Wikipedia, in 2020 there were around 76,000 websites, which has no doubt grown in recent years and around 18,000 with original content, but according to gitnux there are around 30,000 hidden websites.

    So, it's very hard to say for sure and tulane.edu say that around 90% of websites are on the deep web, where the Dark Web exists.

    What are the positive things about the Dark Web?

    The Dark Web helps people to remain anonymous and private, which gives them freedom to express their views.  Privacy is important for those who are pursued by stalkers and other criminals.

    Some employers track social media, so some users feel like they are under constant scrutiny.   Users may not want their activity to be easily discoverable by everyone, so the Dark Web allows private browsing to avoid that.

    Dark Web monitoring can help organisations keep track of their sensitive data and notify them if that data is found.  So this is useful for identifying data breaches and reducing the impact of them.

    The Dark Web also offers secure cloud storage that is only available by entering your credentials.

    There is a lot of knowledge on the Dark Web, with some of the largest virtual libraries.  Scientific data that has been hidden from the public eye can be found, that would otherwise be hidden away.

    What's next for the Dark Web?

    With the rise of crypto-currency, the Dark Web will be used more for transactions.

    Sometimes illegal Dark Web sites are shut down by the FBI or Europol, such as the Silk Road in 2013, which was selling drugs and weapons.  However, more sites have since opened up to take its place.

    As cyber-crime becomes more prolific, we can imagine there will be more personal data available on the Dark Web, despite the increasing controls to try and keep it safe on the Surface Web.

    There is certainly a demand for the Dark Web's services, whether using it illegally or not.  Currently, it is very easy to access by downloading Tor, but will it become harder to access in the future?


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