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What Is This Deep, Dark Web and What Does It Mean to Your Privacy, Your Money and Your Business
The deep, dark web sounds like it could form the backdrop of a horror film or a spooky story told around a campfire. And until recently, that’s probably what most people would assume when they heard the term.
In reality, the deep web and the dark web make up the majority of the Internet that can’t be accessed through traditional methods. Believe it or not, Google can’t find everything.
What is the Deep Web?
To illustrate the deep web, think of the Internet like an iceberg. It might seem monumental above the ocean’s surface, but the majority of the frozen structure lies beneath the waves, unseen by the naked eye. Also known as the invisible web or the hidden web, the deep web – 90 percent of the total World Wide Web – consists of URLs not indexed by standard search engines, such as Google, Yahoo and DuckDuckGo.
The deep web isn’t nearly as shady as its name implies. Its contents include anything hidden behind HTML forms, including web mail, online banking services and content such as online publications and video-on-demand that is hidden behind a paywall.
Deep web content may not be found via search, but it generally can be accessed via direct URL or IP address, although it could require a password or other credentials to access the page. Some large web publications, such as HuffPost, don’t even index all of their content. Therefore, even though it’s published on a very public site, it can’t be found via search and therefore is part of the deep web.
A History of the Deep Web
Most modern users are unaware, but the World Wide Web was once entirely “hidden.” The Internet as we know it today is the child of the 1970s-era ARPANET, a computer network the U.S. government developed to share sensitive data. Later, ARPANET’s networks evolved into the single worldwide network we know today.
But the World Wide Web we now recognize was born in 1991. Earlier version of the internet only sent and received data, such as emails, chat rooms and discussion forums. Suddenly, the Internet became a place to store data, and web pages were built to provide information on everything under the sun. But how could users find it?
Search engines were introduced to solve that dilemma. Of course, the earliest search engines were far more primitive than today’s Google. They didn’t predict a search, they couldn’t decipher queries with multiple words to determine what was being asked. And they certainly didn’t efficiently crawl trillions of pages in seconds.
Even so, the introduction of search engines created what we now call the surface web. Before then, every web page in existence would be considered the dark web (although the term didn’t exist at the time).
What is the Dark Web?
While the terms are often used interchangeably, the deep web and the dark web aren’t the same entity. The dark web is a part of the deep web that exists only on what are known as darknets, networks within the Internet that require specific software, configurations or authorizations to access. Whereas, the deep web makes up the majority of the Internet, the dark web forms only a small part of it.
Because sites on the dark web can’t be accessed by traditional web browsers such as Chrome or Firefox, they can only be accessed with special software such as The Onion Router, or TOR. Once inside, however, users can surf most of the dark web much as they browse the surface web.
Still, some dark websites are more like the deep web – they aren’t indexed for search and can only be accessed by typing the URL directly. Often such pages are used in illegal activities – sales of drugs and illegal firearms, child pornography, money laundering and sex trafficking, all paid for by anonymous cryptocurrency. In fact, bitcoin can even be used in a crowdfunded “Assassination Market,” which allows dark web users to pay towards having someone assassinated.
Who Uses the Dark Web?
It might be easy to assume that only criminal types – pedophiles, terrorist groups, drug dealers and the like – could ever want to use the dark web. After all, the reason criminal illegal activities take place there is because it’s use is almost completely anonymous. There are no browsers or search engines tracking use of the dark web. But just because someone accesses TOR doesn’t mean he or she is breaking any laws. There are plenty of kitten photos on the dark web, too.
Some people browse the dark web out of nothing more than curiosity. But it also serves some important purposes. Whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden have utilized the dark web to anonymously gather sensitive information, as have law enforcement agencies and investigative journalists.
Both the deep web and the dark web also appeal to privacy advocates, who want nothing more than to shield their Internet use from advertisers and the ever-watchful “big brother.” It’s also become a haven for legitimate consumers from certain parts of the world to purchase items and visit sites that might be otherwise prohibited by an over-reaching government.
How Is the Dark Web Accessed?
Because sites on the dark web mask their IP addresses, they cannot be accessed with traditional web browsers. But TOR and other encryption-friendly software allows users to view this secret network of sites. TOR, an open-source project that developed a Firefox-fork web browser features security and encryption enhancements that can not only browse the dark web but also scrambles a user’s IP address into secrecy.
The FBI has cracked the TOR code, although those holes may have since been recoded, so law enforcement may be tracking those who access the dark web. Therefore, it’s now recommended to access TOR and other dark-web browsers through a Virtual Private Network. VPNs hide Internet usage secret by encrypting it and even providing a fake IP address. They also prevent hackers from stealing users’ identity or personal files.
If you’re not sure what you’re looking for, you can check out the Darknet Market List, which includes many of the “best” black market websites in the deep web. Or, check out available lists of the hidden web sites and tested .onion sites.
Remember, the dark web can be a scary place. Fortunately, there are ways to protect yourself. Check out Jolly Roger’s guide to staying safe in the deep web. No matter what, don’t use the same passwords you use anywhere else, don’t provide your name or other identifying information and don’t make purchases from your primary cryptocurrency account.
What the Dark Web Means to Your Privacy and Your Money
Ever wonder how hacked information is traded? When identity thieves access thousands of account numbers, what do they do with them? Mainly, they sell them on the dark web. Credit card numbers can sell for anywhere from $5 to $30 each. Sometimes criminals steal it just because, and “dump” thousands of account numbers for anyone to access.
While some access the dark web to protect their privacy, it’s also a prime location for identity thieves to gather information. And once data is there, little can be done to save it from theft. There’s a good reason users are advised to create strong passwords and change them frequently. Also, be sure to always use antivirus software on all devices – it does more than stop computer viruses!
If you become aware of a data breach, notify your bank or other issuing institution immediately. Don’t wait for fraud to occur. Even after accounts are cancelled or frozen, be sure and monitor them for suspicious activities. Email and social media accounts could also become compromised, so it’s a good idea to change all your passwords. Regular monitoring – and if necessary, freezing – of your credit reports can also protect you from further identity theft.
What the Dark Web Means to Your Business
Denver-based OWL Cybersecurity recently released a report showing nearly every Fortune 500 company has been exposed and has a presence on dark web. And many of these are companies with the highest levels of protection available.
A company’s firewall and other system protections generally stop external hackers from infiltrating its network and servers from traditional sources, not the dark web. Protecting a business from the dark web requires tracking outgoing information, since hackers often steal data in small amounts over a period of time.
To ensure your outgoing business information is continuously tracked, be sure the company network monitors it and flags any suspicious activity. Firewalls block suspicious incoming traffic, but they often don’t filter information that’s going out, so don’t assume yours is keeping you safe.
Be sure that even one-person virtual businesses are operated through a sufficient network firewall, and no matter what don’t allow any type of dark web browser to be installed on any company device.
Companies can also protect themselves by:
2. Creating backups of all files and formulating a disaster recovery plan. If a network is compromised by Ransomware, often the only way to recover is through a full system restore.
3. Educate employees on cyber security. Cybercrime often occurs from social engineering, phishing or email errors.
4. Use dual-factor authentication and strong passwords. With dual-factor authentication, even a stolen password doesn’t equal a “key to the kingdom.”
5. Consider cybersecurity insurance. Even the best efforts don’t remove all risk. In the event of a hack, the insurance could help you recoup your damages.