Have you’ve ever been in a conversation and heard the ominous term “Dark Web”, when referencing nefarious characters and illegal activity on the Internet and found yourself wondering “what exactly is the Dark Web?”
You’re not alone.
Simply put, the Dark Web is a hidden communication series of systems on the Internet designed to share information securely and anonymously.
The Dark Web emerged in 2000 with the creation of Freenet, a peer-to-peer sharing network, and took further foothold in 2002 when open-source software was made public for the Tor web browser (a.k.a. The Onion Router) which allowed people to travel the web anonymously– or in “dark mode”. It has evolved over the years with many new networks, sites, browsers, and technologies emerging, including the invention of Bitcoin in 2009, which introduced a non-traceable digital currency to purchase items anonymously.
There is not one single “Dark Web”; and it’s not managed by one single organization, like Facebook or LinkedIn. Rather, the Dark Web is a collection of different systems and networks managed by different people used for a range of differing purposes. These systems are still connected to and are part of the Internet; however, with 38 currently active Dark Web marketplaces, it accounts for only 5% of the information currently found on the Internet.
The Dark Web is not searchable using conventional browsers due to coded site names, and you can rest assured that Dark Web sites will not pop up in your Google search. To access the Dark Web, you need to install browser-specific software, that allows you access to others using the same network, such as Tor, Zeronet, Freenet, and I2P. When you connect to web servers using these browsers, your encrypted traffic travels through other computers also using the same application anonymizing the data and changing the source IP multiple times– which makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to trace activity.
It’s widely known cybercriminals are drawn to the Dark Web, but it may surprise you to learn there are also many legitimate uses for the Dark Web.
As its main draw is the ability to allow users to remain anonymous, it's easy to understand why it’s the ‘go-to’ place where criminals lurk. For cybercriminals, it allows them to conduct illegal activities such as purchasing drugs, guns, counterfeit money, or selling gigabytes of stolen data to other cybercriminals.
On the legitimate side, Journalists use it to ensure their sources can remain anonymous. Whistleblowers use it as a way to communicate and expose corruption without being detected. Dissidents who fear political prosecution use it to protect their identities, and citizens living under strictly governed censorship regulations may use it to privately find worldly information that has been censored from them.
The Dark Web can be a dangerous place to browse around. Not only are many sites used for illegal purposes, but many will also use your computer in a peer network. Depending on the sites visited, and potentially dangerous downloads, you could also be exposed to scammers and cybercriminals who could attempt to infect your device with malware or steal your personal information. Even the curious act of exploring illegal sites could lead to prosecution and jail time, so, it is best to steer clear of the Dark Web.
But if you must access the Dark Web, be very mindful of the sites you are visiting, and do not divulge any of your personal information.
We'd love to hear from you and share strategies you can leverage to keep your entire organization cyber-aware throughout the year.