The dark web is a part of the internet containing websites and content that cannot be accessed through a search engine, commonly associated with illegal activity. It forms a part of the deep web, which in itself is a part of the World Wide Web.
Web pages on the dark web can only be accessed through an anonymizing browser, such as the Tor browser.
Although the dark web does not entirely consist of illegal content, due to its anonymizing capabilities, it is mostly used for and associated with illegal activities. Including phishing, scams and the sale of drugs. However, in and of itself, it is not against the law to use Tor to access the dark web.
The sites that are used to conduct this kind of activity possess hidden IP addresses and encryption software. The deep web is estimated to be around 400-500 times larger than the common internet and the dark web is a small subset of this. However, the size and extent of the dark web is immeasurable, due to the fact there is no index for the number of sites.
What type of content is stored on the dark web?
The dark web is a location where (often illegal) information and services are purposefully hidden.
Websites on the dark web look very similar to any other website that you would find on the surface web. However, they differ in that they utilize encryption software, this feature keeps the identity of both the visitors to these pages and the creators of the websites themselves completely anonymous.
The transfer of data, finance (through cryptocurrency), services, and content can take place completely anonymously. As a result, illegal activity commonly occurs on the dark web.
The kinds of services that occur on the dark web include:
- The transaction of firearms
- The purchasing of illegal drugs
- Threats to personal security, such as phishing scams
- The stealing and sharing of personal data
- Malware or attacks on cyber security
- The exchange of private intellectual property or the sale of trade secrets
However, it is important to note that not all of the services that take place in the dark web are criminal. In fact, the Tor browser network was first developed by employees of the United States Naval Research Laboratory. The aim of the encryption software and its anonymizing browsers was to protect the online communications of the U.S. intelligence service.
For example, the dark web can be used by activists and journalists who are attempting to use the internet to end the existence of tyrannical regimes within their country. These users can communicate through the Tor browser network without putting their own lives or personal liberty at risk.
Within the dark web, sites offering tools such as private emails and anonymous operating systems exist. The dark web can also be used to access books that are difficult to find, take part in anonymous discussions (on, for example, politics), or act as a whistleblower.
What is bitcoin?
Bitcoin is a type of crypto-currency - an alternative form of online currency which enables commerce to take place through sites on the dark web. It leaves transactions, and the individuals who undertake them, completely anonymous.
Bitcoin is purchased online. Users need to set up a bitcoin wallet, then bitcoins can be purchased (by using conventional online payment methods) and stored in this digital wallet.
Bitcoin makes a financial transaction undertaken on the dark web far more secure, and it also means that the two individuals can conduct a transaction without needing to know the identity of the other. As a result, making payments on the dark web with bitcoin an untraceable form of crypto-currency. This privacy capability means that bitcoin is commonly used throughout the dark web.
There are other providers of online currency options, but Bitcoin is the most commonly used. The majority of these e-commerce options feature an escrow service, which ensures that the funds of users are retained by a third party, and then will be released upon fulfillment of the product or service. However, due to the nature of the dark web, the security of your finances within this type of transaction cannot be guaranteed.
How is content on the dark web accessed?
As with the rest of the deep web, the dark web includes online content that is not included in the indexes of search engines. This means that the information on these sites cannot be accessed via a search engine. As a result, the privacy of both the searcher and the web page creator is guaranteed.
Instead, this type of content requires users to go through a piece of software which acts as an anonymizing browser. The most commonly used piece of software of this nature is the Tor browser (also known as The Onion Router system).
The starting page of the Tor Browser
When you conduct a web page request, Tor will make your IP address untraceable by routing your keyword search through a number of different proxy servers, masking the original IP. These proxy servers are located all over the world. This guarantees the privacy of the searcher.
Websites that exist on the dark web differ in the naming structure of their web address. The URL domains end with ‘.onion’. This ensures that only individuals using the Tor browser network can have access to the content that is stored on these domains.
Despite its complexity, law enforcement officials across the globe are becoming increasingly adept at prosecuting criminals who use the dark web.