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What is the Dark Web?

What is the Dark Web?
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The next time you're on a boat, or a yacht or a cruise ship, take a few moments to look out at the water. Everything may seem calm on the surface, but there's a flurry of activity taking place just below and in the darkest depths.

Something similar is happening with the internet. No matter how many websites you visit, comments you post, photos you share, videos you watch and forums you join, you're barely scratching the surface of what's out there. In fact, even if you visited every single website you could find, you'd still only have access to about 3 to 4 percent of what's on the internet.

So, where is all of this content hiding? That's what we're going to talk about today: The Dark and Deep Web, where things are happening online that most of us don't see or have access to.

Understanding the internet's structure

Before we dive into a discussion on the Dark Web, it's helpful to know how the internet is structured, and other key terms that often get confused or intermixed.

The graphic below shows one of the easiest ways to visualize the structure of the internet, by thinking of it as an iceberg.

Above the water is the Surface Web. Beneath the water is what's known as the Deep Web, and a part of this Deep Web is called the Dark Web. Keep reading for a breakdown of each of these terms' definitions to see how they're different from one another.

dark-web

  • Surface Web: This portion of the web, which is also known as the Visible Web, Indexed Web, Lightnet or Clearnet, is easily accessible for everyone. You do not need any special software to access it, and it houses all of the sites you frequently visit including Facebook, Netflix, Twitter, Tumblr, Amazon and others. Everything that takes place on the Surface Web is tracked and traceable.
  • Dark Web: It's likely that you've never seen this portion of the web before. The Dark Web is an encrypted network of "Darknets" that makes up a portion of the Deep Web. Accessing this hidden section of the web requires a special encryption software called Tor.
  • Deep Web: The Deep Web is often used as a synonym for the Dark Web, but they're actually two separate things that are not interchangeable. In its simplest terms, the Deep Web is basically online data that is not registered with any type of search engine (and therefore can't be found by a web search). This information is typically stored on the private networks of corporations.

Common myths about the Dark Web

The phrase "Dark Web" probably sends shivers up your spine, but really, it's just a label that has been assigned to this portion of the internet that lies just beyond what the average internet user sees. That's what makes it so easy to believe some common myths about what the Dark Web is, and what it does. Here are five of the biggest myths out there.

Myth #1 - Everything on the Dark Web is illegal

Like many things, there is nothing wrong with the Dark Web. In fact, there's nothing "Dark" about the true intent of the Dark Web at all.

Originally, this network was designed with privacy, security and anonymity in mind. You might notice that these are all things we frequently warn you about here on Komando.com: Browse anonymously, stop Google and Facebook from tracking your every move, use secure passwords, etc.

The Dark Web itself isn't illegal. In fact, even legitimate sites such as Facebook have sites or operating versions on the Dark Web, and many people do use it for what it was originally intended. That is, to browse the web without being tracked by their internet service provider, web services or even the government.

However, we can't pretend that the Dark Web isn't home to some pretty horrific things.

A thread on Reddit titled, "What's the worst thing you've seen on Dark Web" is riddled with comments that describe unimaginable crimes and graphic content. Evidence of kidnappings, hitmen for hire, prostitution, child pornography, drugs, guns... you name it.

Myth #2 - The Dark Web is more massive than the Surface Web

This is why it's important to understand the correct terminology when talking about the Dark Web. While it's true that the Deep Web is estimated to be around 500 times larger than the Surface Web, the Dark Web is actually believed to be much smaller. Some might even call it a Dark Nook in comparison.

There are billions of websites available on the Surface Web; however, the Dark Web is estimated to have somewhere between 7,000 to 30,000 sites that are hidden from everyday access.

Myth #3 - It is difficult to access the Dark Web itself

Anyone who really wants to access the Dark Web can. However, to access it, you'll need a special software called Tor. This software isn't difficult to get and it's not expensive either. It's actually a free download and the site does accept donations.

In the About section on the Tor Project's website, the software is described as follows: "The Tor network is a group of volunteer-operated servers that allows people to improve their privacy and security on the Internet. Tor's users employ this network by connecting through a series of virtual tunnels rather than making a direct connection, thus allowing both organizations and individuals to share information over public networks without compromising their privacy."

There is nothing on the Tor Project's website that indicates any wrongdoing whatsoever. However, the site does outline the Tor Project's intentions for the future, stating: "We want software that meets users' needs. We also want to keep the network up and running in a way that handles as many users as possible."

Beyond easy access to the necessary software, there are also online tutorials that walk people through the process of entering the Dark Web should they choose to do so.

Myth #4 - The Dark Web is not policed and is impenetrable

To an extent, this is true. Due to the anonymity the Dark Web provides, it is more difficult for law enforcement officials to track down and stop illegal activities. But, the tools that make it possible for these criminals to connect on the Dark Web also make it possible for members of the FBI to create fake profiles.

On October 2, 2013, a man by the name of Ross Ulbricht was arrested by the FBI, believed to be the founder and administrator of a site on the Dark Web called Silk Road. The Silk Road was a retail site that sold many illegal items including drugs, stolen credit cards, fake IDs, banned products and more.

In March 2015, German police made a gigantic drug bust by tracking criminals through the Dark Web. They raided 38 locations and arrested seven key individuals involved in the sale of illegal drugs on the internet. In addition, they were able to confiscate 700 pounds of cocaine, ecstasy, LSD, hash, marijuana, amphetamines and methamphetamines, keeping it off the streets.

Later that year, here in the U.S., the FBI hacked thousands of computers that were tied to a child pornography site called Playpen. The site had nearly 250,000 members and the bust led to the arrests of more than 1,500 individuals. More arrests are still taking place in ties to Playpen, as law enforcement officials pinpoint the predators behind the members' usernames.

Tracking down criminals and revealing their true identity is no easy task, but it can be done and is a major focus of law enforcement agencies worldwide.

Myth #5 - The Dark Web is more dangerous than the Surface Web

Don't let the name Dark Web fool you into believing that this hidden online alcove contains every evil that exists on the internet. That's simply not the case, and it's a myth that can get you into trouble.

The truth is, the regular web - the one you use every day to search for your daily news, shop, check Facebook and watch viral cat videos - can be just as bad. Many cybercriminals and other ill-intentioned predators hide in plain sight. If you have any doubts about that, check out this article about three types of online creepers that are out there, and how to avoid them.

Almost everything you can find on the Dark Web can also be found on the regular internet. This includes drugs, solicitation, stolen data, terrorism groups and various types of pornographic material. This is why we're constantly warning you about the latest threats, and sharing tips on online behaviors that will get you in trouble. Click here for seven things you need to stop doing online immediately.

Understanding how the Dark Web works can be confusing, especially since it's not something the majority of us use or have ever seen. If you're feeling overwhelmed, listen to Kim's two-part podcast on the Dark Web where she breaks things down even more.

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