You’ve probably heard of the dark web.
But not many people know exactly what it is, however, and who uses it and for what purpose. The common understanding is that it’s a hive of criminality.
It isn’t quite that simple though.
The dark web is a deeper layer of the world wide web that we all know and use daily. The difference is that whereas you and I use Chrome, Safari, or Microsoft Edge (other browsers are available) – you can only access this darker layer of the web via an internet browser called TOR (The Onion Router). This browser, which is perfectly legal, encrypts a users’ IP address, making the user virtually anonymous online.
Political activists and freedom fighters use TOR for its anonymity.
But of course black markets, such as the now infamous Silk Road, have found a home on the dark web, carving out an industry worth over £1 billion.
What is the dark web?
There are essentially three layers of the internet:
Surface Web – This is the internet as most people know it. This surface of the internet includes search engines such as: Google and Bing where your IP address can be tracked.
Deep Web – This surface is a reasonably safe place. This is the part of the internet that sits just below the surface. It includes web pages that search engines can’t access. This part of the internet is often used for social privacy. Governments, banks, and other industries that rely on safeguarding data use the deep web to hold secure their sensitive data.
Dark Web – This is a layer of the internet network where users conduct largely untraceable online activities. It is heavily relied on by black markets and is typically used for more contraband purposes than the deep web.
Think of the world wide web as an iceberg. The surface web is the tip of the iceberg that everyone can see. The deep web lies just below the ocean surface and can’t be seen by all. The dark web is the bottom-most point of the iceberg and can only by diving down to the darker depths of the ocean.
An important distinction to make is that the dark web and the deep web are not explicitly the same thing. They are two separate layers of the internet and they perform very different roles.
Any website on the dark web ends in ‘.onion’ instead of your typical ‘.com, .org or .co.uk’. This is because any website with ‘.onion’ is not available to regular search engines. The onion name comes from the layered complexity of the dark web, which makes tracking difficult.
Bitcoin currency is a form of cryptocurrency that is used on the dark web. This currency is decentralised. meaning it is without any direct oversight from banking governance or regulation. Bitcoin wallets allow the currency to be sent directly from one user to another without a middle man. This allows secure transactions to take place anonymously.
So, who uses it?
Believe it or not 60% of funding for the dark web comes from government. The US government give such a large amount of funding into TOR because users remain anonymous. The funding is in place to help authorities, such as the FBI, to help tackle the online black markets.
Although the dark web gets a fair amount of negative press, in can be used for good. Remaining anonymous is a key benefit and is often used by the authorities trying to tackle cyber crime.
Where the reputation comes from, however is from its harbouring of those who partake in illegal activities. There are many illicit products and services for sale which has therefore carved out an industry for those willing to wade into criminality. As a seller, remaining anonymous is highly attractive as it increases their chance of getting away with illegal activity.
The history of the dark web
The dark web has been around for as long as the internet back in the 1970s. TOR was created by the US government to help activists remain anonymous. Integrated into the dark web was the Silk Road – a creation which came to life in 2011 – essentially an online black market where users couldn’t be tracked.
The creator of the Silk Road was a man from Arizona called Ross Ulbricht. He created the software in 2011 and ran the browser for around 3 years. In 2014 he was arrested and then in May 2015 he was sentenced to life in prison for his software creation. Ulbricht was found guilty of charges including conspiracy to commit drug trafficking, money laundering and computer hacking.
Successors to the Silk Road such as ‘Silk Road 2.0’, ‘Project Black Flag’ and ‘Black Market Reloaded’ have since been shut down following Ulbricht’s sentence. The dark web is still very much up and running, and Ross Ulbricht still proclaims his innocence – tweeting from inside his cell with the help of family and friends.
How and why is it used?
The general perception of the dark web is that it is a global black market for criminals to buy drugs, weapons and access illegal material such as pornography or incredibly graphic content.
This is not entirely accurate.
The New York Times and the Guardian receive anonymous tip offs about developing news stories. This is a benefit for these two organisations as they can receive breaking news quicker than other news companies.
A user on the dark web can access hidden services that aren’t visible, or even available, on the surface web.
Again, however, its anonymity makes it very difficult to track who runs that website and who uses it.
Terrorist groups make use of the dark web’s anonymity in order to gain vital attack information.
Suffice to say – its users are diverse, and their motives equally so.
Dark web threats and how to combat them
If you have experienced a data breach, then there is a chance your data will be sold on the dark web. If this does happen, it can cause chaos for your business, as you will have no idea who has access to your data.
Should you access this layer of the web, which we do not recommend, there a few things to be very wary of. Notably:
- Viruses – Never download anything from a website that you don’t trust. There are lots of websites on the dark web that could affect your devices if you download malicious content.
- Hackers – There are numerous forums for hackers on the dark web and they could be targeting your devices.
- Webcam capture – There are hackers who, rather cunningly, will try to install a Remote Administration Tool (RAT) onto your device. Simply put, this gives a hacker direct access to your webcam letting them see what you’re up to.
In short, you don’t want your data making its way on to the dark web.
Dark web monitoring scans the dark web to discover whether your business credentials are being sold on the black market. We chose ID Agent as our partner because of their industry-leading experience in monitoring the more hidden layers of the web.