Everything You Need To Know About The Dark Web

The internet is a modern phenomenon that has grown well beyond the imaginations of those who first envisioned it many years ago. On the one hand, it’s the world’s most valuable resource. An incredible learning platform where, altruistically speaking, we can learn from each other’s cultures, discover new areas of research, share ideas and knowledge and become better and more worldly people. You could look it as the gateway to the next step of human evolution, if you will.

On the other hand, however, and from a pessimistic point of view, where there are good human intentions there will inevitably be bad ones too. This area of the internet is generally known as the Dark Web. As the sinister name suggests, the Dark Web hosts some of the more vile and despicable aspects of humanity. Such examples include the buying and selling of recreational drugs, the buying and selling of weapons, hiring a hitman, accessing hacking information and stolen credit card details, and certain terrible pornographic images which we don’t want to go into here.

However, the Dark Web is also a place that individuals, who are behind some form of totalitarian firewalled state/country, can access the outside world to inform others of what’s going on inside their country. It’s a double-edged blade, indeed, and for every honest use there are probably ten dishonest uses. But what exactly is the Dark Web?

The Deep Dark Web

Essentially, the Dark Web is an area of the internet that’s hidden from the view of the usual search engines behind layers of anonymity.

The main bulk of the Dark Web uses the Tor network to anonymise and hide its identity from the rest of the world. Tor is a set of encryption tools, services, and computer nodes that will hide and change your public IP address as well as encrypt the data to and from your computer. By using it, as an individual, you are effectively hidden from those who monitor the internet and can traverse the internet without fear of detection or from others knowing your browsing history.

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When you apply that model to a webserver it has the same effect, and as such the content on that website can only be accessed by the Tor network – or similar – and its owners are safely anonymous.

There’s a lot more to it, of course, and the various layers of how the IP address of the server is hidden is something which, from the networking engineer point of view, is really quite fascinating. As such, and since it can be complex, we’ll leave you to find out how it all works.

An infamous example of the Dark Web is the Silk Road and the various evolution of it with every time it’s taken down, or the perpetrators are dealt with. More frequently we hear of hacks that have compromised thousands of individual’s personal data, this data will usually find its way on to the Dark Web within hours of the hack taking place.

Importantly though, the Dark Web isn’t to be confused with the Deep Web or Invisible Web. On the surface they are similar, in that normal search engines can’t scour them, but the Deep Web is an area that houses research papers, university databases, company intranets, specialist forums and such. Overall it’s a harmless environment. The Dark Web though is a little harder to access and as we said, includes the stuff you really don’t want to view if you can help it. Here be dragons, as the saying goes.

To emphasise the other half of the Dark Web though, it’s worth repeating that due to its ability to hide the end user and webserver, there are people out there who are using it to reveal to the world the terrible things that are going on behind the closed borders of some countries. To that end, we applaud their bravery and the fact that they are using a powerful tool to send a message.

What is Tor?

We briefly touched on what the Tor network is, but to help clarify it better the following is quoted from the Tor network’s Overview:

“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. Along the same line, Tor is an effective censorship circumvention tool, allowing its users to reach otherwise blocked destinations or content. Tor can also be used as a building block for software developers to create new communication tools with built-in privacy features.”

With it you can access other countries that are blocked from the rest of the world – to some degree – or use it to boost your security and privacy online.

As the Tor overview further explains, journalists use it to talk to whistleblowers, or to discover a company’s illicit dealings.

In short, without it you won’t be able to access the Deep Web or anything relating to it. And if you try, you’ll be blocked and run the risk of being logged by your ISP as trying to access content that may be restricted by your country – which we imagine won’t work out too well for you.

A final warning

The Dark Web is the kind of place you’ll never really need to enter, unless you’re trying to contact someone who is in another country that has some pretty extreme restrictions.

Let’s face it, 99% of the Dark Web is a, to quote Obi Wan Kenobie, ‘A wretched hive of scum and villainy’. Even those who frequent the Dark Web avoid some of the more dreadful areas of it. There is stuff in there that will make you physically sick, so please tread carefully or even better, leave it well alone.

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