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The Dark Web, Deep Web, Precautions & Access
What is the dark web? The dark web is but a fraction of a much larger part of the internet that’s inaccessible to search engines like Yahoo, Bing, and Google. It’s part of the internet that thrives on anonymity thanks to several layers of encryption and several relayed server jumps that hide the actual locations of both ends of a connection.
The Dark Web Is Not Accessible Via Conventional Browsers
Browsers such as Chrome, Firefox, Edge, and Safari without using special software and plugins but the most common way to reach the Dark Web is via a special browser called known as the TOR Browser.
When it comes to the dark web, the first thing that comes to mind for most people are illicit transactions involving drugs, firearms, access to credit cards, access to website data leaks and child porn. The dark web is also ripe with tales of right-wing hate speech, white supremacy organizations, terrorism, and subversive communications.
It’s all that and more. The dark web is said to be larger than the actual world wide web or Clearnet, which is the visible part of the internet that’s accessible to search engines. But the dark web is also just a part of the bigger deep web. Sometimes, us normies or muggles mistake the deep web for the dark web; meaning in casual circles, the terms are interchangeable.
What Is The Dark Web?
The deep web is basically all the internet data or pages not accessible by search engines.
It’s mostly data that’s stored behind secure accounts owned by government agencies, private corporations, and individuals. Much of the data within Facebook, for instance, conversations within Facebook Messenger, within Instagram, the files stored in Box accounts, in Onedrive, web pages within the Department of Defense and all other private websites and forums. Basically, all data accessible through the internet that requires bypassing some sort of security. Imagine the deep/dark web as that gigantic part of an iceberg that’s under the water compared to the tiny part that’s afloat.
With the dark web, the content within is stored, fragmented, and encrypted in secure servers all over the world, much like the files within a torrent stream. The dark web is secure enough that it requires special means of access. Plus, the website URLs (onions) aren’t as easy to enter as ordinary URLs (dotcoms). Accessing a website on the dark web means having to jump across several intermediate servers in order to hide the viewer’s identity.
Speaking of identity, the primary function of the Dark Web is to provide anonymity to all its users. The ability to remain anonymous, to not be tracked by anyone, to use the web freely, to freely share information, views, and opinion without being censored much like the internet of old and unlike the internet of today where people are monitored, tracked, blocked and censored.
Through the dark web, people can still communicate freely in countries with heavy censorship. People can share dark experiences without being judged. Groups can freely share opinions against oppressive regimes without being caught. Unfortunately, much like in the real world, there are people who use the darkness to hide their illegal trades, activities, and vices. Thus as of the present, they comprise much of the dark web giving it it’s shady reputation.
There are still some bright spots in the dark web though if you know where to look. Large sites such as Facebook even have a presence there. There are even some innocent cat videos to be found as opposed to animal snuff. Keyword for the dark web is anonymity. To be able to browse safely without worry of being tracked. There’s still that possibility though, which will be discussed later; as given time, nothing in the realm of computing is impossible.
How to Access the Dark Web?
Accessing the dark web is quite easy for those brave or adventurous enough to try. It’s as easy as downloading and running what’s called the TOR Browser. TOR stands for The Onion Router. The Onion Router is the original project name for the TOR anonymity network, basically, an internet overlay that allows for anonymous communication.
This network that consists of over seven thousand relays is a free service that conceals the dark web’s users from anyone using surveillance and traffic analysis. This means, if you browse for a phone on eBay, you won’t be bombarded by phone ads on YouTube and Facebook nor will anyone be calling you to subscribe to a plan promoting the very phone you browsed. There are ads though, not targeted, and some are for what you expect in the dark web. Back to the TOR Browser, users need only to download it from the TOR website. The browser itself is easy to use as it’s based off Mozilla Firefox.
Once downloaded and run, users are basically inside the dark web. The TOR browser instantly scrambles the user’s whereabouts so they can browse in private. Browsing the dark web, however, is not as easy if you don’t know where to go from the get-go. If the standard domain name suffix for websites is .com, the standard domain name in the dark web is .onion. Sounds easy enough. However, URLs are quite different for the dark web as websites most often consist of unintelligible sequences of letters and numbers, much like great product serial numbers that end in .onion.
An Example Of A Dark Web URL
For example, a URL can be typed as MyWebsite.com, in the dark web, it’s dahsajkd76e73ehjwdh.onion
The dark web is very dynamic, especially for a place where the majority of its denizens are into illicit activity. One website can be up for a day, a week, a month and suddenly be dead. That website can pop up the next day under a different name, and no one’s the wiser. So if you’re new to the dark web, expect plenty of dead links.
A good starting point for using the dark web is via a search engine. Google has a presence in the dark web, but because sites in the dark web are difficult to index, search results can be sparse. Other search engines such as Torch might have better luck. However, search engines can provide links, whether dead or alive, for users to go to as entering URLs can be a chore. Chancing upon a portal (sites like Yahoo, MSN, Geocities, Lycos, America Online) would be great as portals are good jumping-off points to various web sites.
However, being in the dark web can be very slow due to all the encryption involved. Links would often load very slowly. Patience is a requirement.
Another way to access the dark web is via conventional browsers using TOR plugins. TOR plugins are available for most browsers which adds an anonymity layer when browsing the internet. This allows for increased privacy by directing conventional internet traffic over the anonymity network.
There is also the Tails operating the system. Tails is a Linux distribution based on Debian you can either run live or install on your computer. Tails will automatically route internet connections into the Tor network, enabling entry into the dark web. Moreover, lastly, some VPNs include a built-in TOR service. By subscribing and enabling, users can gain access to the dark web. However, end-to-end encryption is not a guarantee of privacy. There are still precautions that must be taken after or before gaining access to the dark web through the TOR network.
Safety Precautions When Accessing the Dark Web
As mentioned, the dark web is a haven for illicit/illegal activity and is also a haven for hackers. End to end encryption is not a guarantee for these people.
The only guarantee when surfing the dark web is freedom from activity trackers, data collectors, and the watchful eye of the ISP that has records of all unencrypted web traffic.
Hackers, on the other hand, keep a watchful eye on their domain, ready to pounce on rookies looking for original web content and ready to blackmail unsuspecting users. The government might also be watching. The evidence of which is the news where law enforcement catches drug dealers and pedophiles and shut down their sites by agents whose jobs are to lurk and watch the dark web.
- The first and foremost safety precaution before downloading TOR and surfing the web is to subscribe to a VPN. A VPN is the first step at losing watchful eyes equivalent to spewing out a smokescreen at the start of a race. VPNs also mask the real IP/identity of the user by relaying traffic to other servers and sending out a different IP than that of the user. Hackers and even the government will have a tough time tracing their dark web target. Her’s a list of the best VPNs for 2019.
- You are keeping your browser up-to-date. Hackers are always on the lookout for vulnerabilities in software. Moreover, since the TOR or a TOR-enabled browser is one way for them to trace their targets, any vulnerability could be exploited. Keeping your TOR browser up-to-date will patch any holes for hackers to peep through. While you’re at it, keep your operating system and anti-malware software up to date as well.
- If possible, run the Tor browser within a sandbox. A protected area or memory where various apps can run without them being able to affect other parts of the operating system. Also, TOR advises not to maximize the browser screen as hackers can track their victims through monitor size, among other advisories that wouldn’t hurt to be followed.
- Tons of content can also be downloaded from the dark web. Much of which is illegal while some are legit. In any case, take the same precautions when downloading stuff from the conventional web. Try to verify if the source is trustworthy. If not, scan the file/s first with anti-malware software before opening.
- Trust no one, just like Fox Mulder. Add an extra layer of wariness when browsing the dark web. Transactions can be a hit or miss when buying products or services as there are plenty of scammers ready to raid your bitcoin wallet or credit card. You can make friends on the dark web as social sites do exist but maintain your anonymity.
Possible Dangers in the Dark Web
The Dark Web is the wild west during the days of the Oregon Trail or can be described as dense jungles during the early colonization and exploration of Africa. Its denizens are ready to scam you or eat you alive if you’re not careful. Anyone can be a tourist but if you don’t know what you’re doing, stay in the wagon. There are plenty of dangers when browsing the dark web, and here are some of them.
Malware and Ransomware – the foremost danger of surfing the dark web is malware, especially ransomware. Downloads from the dark web cannot be explicitly trusted, so users must be equipped with updated operating systems, browsers, and anti-malware programs. If need be, browsing the dark web should be done through a sandbox.
False Transactions – if you’re going to the dark web to shop for guns, fake IDs, passports, assassination services, drugs, and child porn, be ready to be disappointed and have enough money just in case. The anonymous nature of the dark web makes it easy for criminals to run away with your money. Shops open and close all the time in the dark web. Should the owner collect enough and is tempted to run away, the site owner will close shop and open another one with another URL. It’s that easy. Then again, there is some honor among thieves and transactions do push through.
Surveillance – The dark web isn’t as private as many would think. Appropriate government agencies are tasked with monitoring some websites within the dark web, for instance, political sites. They’re on the lookout for subversive members and affiliates. They are also on alert for people browsing and downloading illicit material such as child porn and of course, the government can find ways to trace drug transactions to customers. Hackers can also do the same and much worse. They’re on the lookout for dark web tourists to track, acquire their identities and spam their way to the user, provide irresistible but fraudulent offers, and steal financial details.
For the casual internet user, the dark web can be considered a cesspool of almost untraceable sites of nasty porn, hate, drugs and firearms deals. For others, it is a refuge from the watchful eyes of oppressive or abusive authority figures as well as the eyes of large corporations that seek to monetize all internet activities. It is where some are free to express anything they wish without judgment or scorn, consequence, or retaliation. It’s like the internet of old, only more anonymous and a bit more dangerous. Feel free to go down the rabbit hole but proceed with caution.