Mentions of the dark web are pretty commonplace. Barely a day goes by without a news article detailing some new malware or stolen credentials available on the dark web. But even though many internet users may have heard of the dark web, not many will have actually accessed it.
This is not due to a glitch in an individual’s web browser or an over-zealous internet security suite. The dark web is challenging to access by design. The following article will go into more detail regarding what the dark web is, how it can be accessed, and whether you should be wary of this mysterious part of the online world.
What is the dark web?
The dark web is a collection of websites not available through conventional internet routers. Instead, specialized solutions must be used to access sites on the dark web. Websites on the dark web rely on encryption to keep the identities of visitors and website owners private.
Given that the dark web is more difficult to access than the standard internet, it understandably contains a much smaller number of websites. These sites are not indexed by search engines, whether Bing or Yandex, and often have niche or - more often - criminal appeal.
How do you access the dark web?
Although accessing the dark web may be difficult, it is far from impossible. In order to access the dark web, you will first need to download Tor, which stands for The Onion Router. Tor is a browser originally developed by the US Navy and allows individuals to connect to the internet anonymously.
However, even if you’ve downloaded Tor, your journey into the dark web is not complete. This is because Tor won’t tell you the URLs of sites on the dark web - and they are often not the most memorable. What’s more, many sites on the dark web are pretty transitory. So by the time you find one you want to visit, it may be defunct.
Even though Tor provides a level of anonymity, you might also want to employ a VPN if you decide to visit the dark web. This will provide a greater amount of protection but remember to be vigilant. Don’t divulge any sensitive information - it’s a good habit to get into anyway but it’s especially important on the dark web.
Why do people use the dark web?
It has to be admitted that the majority of people using the dark web are involved in criminal activity. The dark web is a haven for individuals looking to profit from drugs, pornography, stolen personal credentials, and other illegal material. As such, it is also frequented by individuals looking to purchase those items.
Researchers have shown that the majority of sites that can be found on the dark web are illegal in nature. A 2019 study by Dr Michael McGuire, a senior lecturer in criminology from the University of Surrey, found that 60% of dark web listings could be used to access business networks. Since then, this figure may well have risen,
But although the dark web is closely associated with illegal activity, there are legitimate reasons why an individual may want to access these sites. Political dissidents and whistleblowers are among those who require the anonymity that the dark web provides. Journalists are another group that you may find on the dark web, keen to keep the identities of their sources private.
And, of course, the dark web is also used by individuals who don’t have a particularly noteworthy motive at all - except for the fact that they want their online activity to remain private. Some of the more mundane websites available on the dark web include social networks and video games. Not everything is illegal on the dark web, but the unregulated nature of its content is certainly worth bearing in mind.
Dark web or deep web: What's the difference?
The terms “dark web” and “deep web” are sometimes used interchangeably but the two concepts are actually quite different. The deep web simply refers to all the websites that aren’t indexed by search engines. This includes intranets, government databases, and all manner of other benign sites that aren’t publicly available.
Approximately 90% of all websites are classified as being part of the deep web. Many of these are completely safe and uninteresting. This might include in-progress blog posts that aren’t ready for publication yet or those that have simply requested search engines to not list them.
Delving further, however, there is a portion of the deep web known as the dark web. This includes the sites that are only accessible via a specialized browser - such as Tor. The dark web represents a tiny portion of the much larger deep web. Many parts of the deep web can be accessed via conventional software, unlike the dark web.
Is the dark web safe?
The dark web has a reputation as a hotbed of criminal, unsettling, and dangerous activity. And that’s not entirely unjustified. If an individual is seeking illegal material, they’ll probably be able to find it on the dark web, which is why it’s important to exercise an added level of caution if you are using the dark web. As well as individuals looking to purchase and see illicit items, the dark web is also home to many hackers - so never reveal any of your personal information here.
Other precautions to take when browsing the dark web include using cryptocurrencies if you decide to engage in a transaction. Cryptocurrencies like bitcoin have resulted in a major uptick in the popularity of the dark web, enabling individuals to purchase items anonymously. There’s no longer any need for credit card information or bank details to change hands.
Ultimately, whether the dark web is safe or not depends on how you use it. There are legitimate reasons to use the dark web and safe ways of accessing it but it’s definitely a good idea to be extra cautious when surfing the dark web. It’s not recommended for casual online users - but if you are experienced and curious, then the dark web might be exactly what you’re looking for.