What Is the Dark Web? Understanding the Internet’s Dark Side

You’ve seen the headlines, and you’ve read the scare stories. But what is the dark web, and should you take measures to protect yourself?

The dark web entered the public conscience in 2013, when notorious drug trafficking website the Silk Road was shut down by the FBI. Since then, the dark web has become emblematic of all of the worst things about the online world; drugs, weapons, and stolen credit card details were just some of the illicit wares that were readily available through this mysterious ‘other’ internet. But just what is the dark web? And are there measures you should be taking to protect yourself?

What Is the Dark Web?

It all started with the Tor anonymity network. In the mid-90s, the US Military developed Tor, or ‘The Onion Router’. Tor was used to allow intelligence agents to send communications completely anonymously, which was a key requirement for those operating in dangerous totalitarian states.

In order to further protect their intelligence agents, Tor was released by the US Military to the general public in order to hide their agents’ communications within the noise created by other users.

Since it was released to the general public, the Tor network has become a key component of the dark web. The dark web has gained increasing popularity amongst people wishing to keep their online presence and activities under wraps, whatever the reason.

How Does the Dark Web Work?

The dark web is generally accessed via the Tor browser. The Tor browser is an integrated package that includes the browser, along with the Tor networking layer with all the anonymity settings configured. Hackers may download the Tor networking layer on its own, for use with applications they use to hack whilst covering their sources.

At the most fundamental level, the dark web is a part of the internet that can’t be found through traditional search engines. To understand how this works, it’s probably worth going back to basics.

The term ‘the web’ (or ‘world wide web’) refers to a series of interconnected web pages. The actual connectivity between these webpages is provided by the communications network known as the internet. Confusingly, the term ‘the internet’ has come to have the broader meaning of the collective of both the communications network and all the associated content, including the world wide web.

The dark web is a series of interconnected web pages the same as the web, but it only exists inside the Tor network, accessed for the most part via the Tor browser. The Tor browser uses a series of proxy servers to route your web page requests, making your IP address impossible to identify or trace.

Although webpages hosted on the dark web appear very much like standard websites, they have the domain suffix ‘.onion’ and use scrambled names that are difficult to remember. What’s more, webpages hosted on the dark web often disappear and pop up again in completely different locations, if they appear again at all.

Browsing the dark web is a frustrating, disorienting experience. Search engines exist for the dark web, but they are fundamentally unreliable due to the transitory nature of most dark web content. If you do choose to download the Tor browser and explore the dark web, visitor discretion is very much advised.

Protect Yourself from the Dark Web’s Dangers

The truth is, the dark web isn’t dangerous in and of itself. It’s what goes on there that you should be aware of. Besides the ethical considerations of drug trafficking, it’s the trading of stolen credit card details, ransomware viruses, and cloud service usernames and passwords that should concern you and your business.

So how do you protect yourself? The best way is to implement security best practices throughout your business. Email security, web filtering, perimeter firewalls, and antivirus services should be underpinned by strong internal processes such as strong passwords, file sharing restrictions, device encryption, and mobile device management.

If you’re looking for some support when it comes to implementing IT security best practices, MMRIT can help. Our Cyber Security Services deliver end-to-end security to professional organisations, incorporating leading technology solutions, consultancy, and end user training. Contact us to learn more.

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