The Dark Web Explained: How It Works & Why It's So Dangerous

By Haseeb Awan
"About 60% of the data on the Dark Web could be damaging to companies." (Boring.com)

One of the internet's most contentious transformations has been the so-called "Dark Web" growth since its inception in the 1990s.

While adults may be wary of young people venturing onto the 'Dark Web', we should remember that, like everything online, the technology itself is not to blame for any issues that arise. Instead, it is how people choose to use (or misuse) the tools at their disposal.

If you're worried that a young person is using the internet, knowing the crucial information about these areas of the web may assist you in giving practical and honest assistance to teens.

Are 'Open Web', 'Deep Web' and 'Dark Web' Different?

Yes, let's look closely into each one of it to have more clarity.

Open Or Surface Web

Open web or surface web is the publicly visible part of the internet that most people use daily, and it can be accessed through search engines like Google or Bing.

Deep Web

The deep web is the less explored inner sanctum of the internet--away from the interfering prying eyes of search engines. It mainly comprises databases that can be accessed securely through the 'open web.' Examples include hotel booking sites, online retailers, medical records and banking information which are only accessible to authorized persons (i.e., employees) with a password.

Dark Web

Most people use a device with an IP address to go online. This unique identifier allows networks to deliver information, like emails, to the right place. You can use someone's IP address to trace and watch internet activity.

The Dark Web is notoriously difficult to access and even more challenging to trace. Users can remain anonymous by using dedicated software that conceals their IP address. The most popular software used is Tor, short for The Onion Router.

What Is Dark Web and Why Do People Use It?

The dark web, sometimes known as the deep or hidden web, is a part of the internet where users may access unindexed online material anonymously via various encryption methods. It is a hidden network of websites that can only be accessed using specific software, configurations, or authorization and is often used for illegal or illicit purposes. The dark web is sometimes referred to as the "dark net" or "deep web".

The intelligence community, media workers, whistleblowers, and ordinary citizens are all users of the dark web who use it for lawful or unlawful reasons.

How Does The Dark Web Work?

Each time you connect to the internet, your device is given a unique IP (Internet Protocol) address. This ensures that your data gets where it needs to go.

All you need is a person's IP address to keep track of their internet behavior. Because all you have to do is obtain their IP address, you may learn as much information as you desire about their online activities. On the dark web, sophisticated techniques are employed to disguise a user's actual IP address, making it challenging to identify the sites that a device has visited. One of the most popular anonymizing technologies is Tor (The Onion Router).

The term "onion" regarding software encryption means that the Tor network layers each message with protection before sending it through different nodes or computer relays operated by other Tor users. The message then bounces from node to node, and a layer of encryption is removed so that it can reach the next node until there are no more layers left and the receiver gets the decrypted message. This method makes tracing back to where the message originated much more complicated, if not impossible.

How Do You Get On The Dark Web?

Dark web sites are decentralized and not indexed like traditional websites, so you'll require an onion link—a combination of numbers and letters followed by a .onion extension—to access them. If you're planning to do any browsing on the dark web, you must take some precautions first:

Set Up A Virtual Private Network

By utilizing a VPN, you're ensuring yourself a secure connection while illegally browsing the dark web. Although rewards could come with casual surfing, authorities could be scanning your every move if they believe criminal activity is afoot--which would subsequently result in them raiding your house. A VPN allows you to bypass these roadblocks and surf anonymously.

Download a Supported Browser

If you're looking for anything on the dark web, don't use your default browser. They all have tracking systems, making it simple for authorities to observe your activities.

Tor is the best browser to preserve your anonymity and safety while browsing the internet, especially the dark web. When you connect to a VPN (a virtual private network) before using Tor, your request will be first encrypted by Tor. This method is known as "Tor over VPN." The IP address is concealed through a VPN server, which happens as the traffic passes from country to country. The request is distributed among numerous Tor nodes before being linked with the appropriate website. You may use a Tor Browser combined with a VPN to access the Dark Web securely and pseudonymously more effectively than just using Tor alone.

Download And Set Up A Virtual Machine Software

Malware is less likely to spread from a virtual environment to your local device, so it's best to use VMs when accessing the dark web. Examples of VMs you can use include Oracle VM Virtualbox, Red Hat Virtualization and Microsoft Hyper-V. If you're worried about any malicious activity while using these operating systems, consider disposable OSs that don't rely on physical storage devices--this will help reduce your risks.

After you've set up and configured Tor, you may now go online and explore. Although the material isn't indexed, Hidden Wiki and Grams are an excellent place to start when looking at the dark web. It is most well-known for illegal activities but has essential features such as news platforms, e-commerce sites, social media platforms, email services, and advocacy organizations.

When visiting the darknet, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, don't use your credit or debit cards for purchases. Second, only visit websites that appear to be trustworthy, so you're not involved in any unlawful behavior. Finally, remember that law enforcement is actively monitoring some of the darknet's channels due to criminal activity.

What Type Of Dark Web Services Can Cybercriminals Use To Their Advantage?

Cybercriminals' services on the dark web are vast and varied. In addition to traditional criminal services such as drug dealing and money laundering, some services facilitate identity theft, hacking, and other forms of cybercrime.

Several services support cybercriminals, such as forums where they can share information and tips or marketplaces where they can buy and sell stolen data. The anonymity of the dark web makes it a haven for scammers, and the range of services available means that there is something for everyone.

While the dark web can be risky, it is also home to several legitimate businesses and services. For example, there are a number of TOR-based email providers that offer encrypted email services, and there are also many legal websites that offer information and resources for those who want to stay anonymous online.

In addition to trafficking personal data and hijacked accounts, cybercriminals also peddle the tools required to launch digital espionage and other malicious activity on the Dark Web.

The following are examples of dangerous software that may be used to attack your company's data, systems, and networks. 

  • Malicious programs (malware) - ransomware, keyloggers (to record every key pressed on a device), information stealers, rootkits (notoriously difficult to detect and eliminate), adware, spyware, Trojans and worms (capable of replicating themselves)
  • Software Vulnerabilities -  Unknown to the software maker at the time of release (zero days), can be used by cybercriminals to infiltrate organizations.
  • Exploitation tools (exploit kits) - cybercriminals use software to breach system vulnerabilities for distributing malware.
  • Malware-as-a-Service - A-based model that rents the software and hardware cybercriminals need to execute attacks, including malicious code, a distribution network, several targets, and even technical support, well as a personal dashboard to manage the project. 
  • Cybercrime infrastructure - A broad term that encompasses the networks and computers used by criminals for a variety of purposes, from data storage to money laundering.
  • Ransomware - This is an extortion malware program that encrypts user files and extorts payment in exchange for decrypting them (usually using irrevocable encryption). 
  • Security Operations Center - The SOC is designed to receive real-time alerts from security sensors throughout the environment so it can immediately provide relevant information about potential risks/attacks before you have time to react.
  • DDoS - Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks flood a victim's systems with traffic from multiple sources, overwhelming their ability to respond and causing them to go offline. DDoS attacks are often launched using networks of computers controlled by attackers known as botnets.
  • Money laundering (money muling) - allows criminals to move around the money they steal, extort, or otherwise acquire from their victims and transform it into clean, undetectable cash.

Dark Web Tools And Services

Even though dark web surfing isn't as simple as normal internet surfing, a few tools are available to assist you in following your progress. Dark web search engines and platforms like Reddit might help you find reputable dark sites, but you'll need a specialized dark web browser to visit them.

Dark Web Browsers

Tor Browser is the most popular dark web browser because it directs your browser traffic through the Tor network to access the darknet. Your data is encrypted and bounced between at least three relay points, known as nodes, during its passage through Tor. Because of this, the Tor Browser will have slow browsing than a standard web browser.

Dark Web Search Engines

While popular internet search engines can't access the dark web, search engines mainly designed for the dark web can help you find what you're looking for. DuckDuckGo is a robust privacy-oriented search engine that lets you maintain your anonymity when you use it across the internet. Haystack, Not Evil, Ahmia, and Torch are other popular dark web search engines. The subreddit r/deepweb is a great place to start if you're looking for advice from more experienced users on how to find what you want on the dark web. And lastly, The Hidden Wiki is a compilation of links to sites on the dark web — but beware that many of these links may be broken or lead to dangerous websites.

Dark Websites

Websites on the dark web can only be accessed with special software, and their addresses are usually long strings of random numbers and letters - unlike standard website URLs.

The Hidden Wiki is a website on the surface offering links to dark websites. However, not all these links work, and thus may not be safe. But before visiting any dark websites, ensure you have robust cybersecurity software to prevent potential threats.

Is the Dark Web Beneficial in Any Way?

While some use the dark web for illegal activity, others use its anonymity for more innocuous means, such as journalism and whistle-blowing. Tor was explicitly created for anonymous communication and provided a vital service in countries that persecute free speech.

It's especially useful for law enforcement and cybersecurity professionals, since it can be used to monitor the dark web. These businesses may keep track of dark web technologies and strategies utilized by scammers by monitoring the dark web. The New York Times is one of many prominent media corporations that frequent the dark web to stay up to date on such sites.

Is the Dark Web Legal or Not?

On the dark web, people can buy and sell illegal goods or services, such as drugs or hacking services. This network is underground and not easy to access. One of the most well-known dark websites was The Silk Road, which became infamous for the variety of drugs that could be purchased on the site. In 2013, Ulbricht was arrested and sentenced to life in prison, leading to the FBI shutting down The Silk Road. Another famous dark web market with illicit content, AlphaBay, was shut down by authorities.

Tor is legal in most countries, with a notable exception of those with authoritarian governments that restrict internet usage. The dark web is another story though only half the sites offer illegal material, according to "The darkness online," a study by King's College London in 2016.

It's up to you to be cautious of what you access and who you interact with if you decide to utilize Tor and the dark web. This prevents you from unintentionally viewing or accessing illegal material, making several police departments angry.

Is It Safe to Use the Dark Web?

The short answer is yes, the dark web is safe to use. However, there are certain risks that come with using any part of the internet, so it's important to take precautions when browsing.

When accessed through a secure connection, the dark web can be a safe place to browse and communicate anonymously. However, there are scammers and criminals who also operate on the dark web, so it's important to be aware of these risks.

It's pretty difficult to shop for anything on the dark web, especially illicit products. Besides the danger of jail time for purchasing unlawful material, the dark web trade lacks quality control. It's impossible to know who to trust when both the vendor and buyer are hidden. Even vendors with long track records and excellent feedback have been known to vanish with their would-be client's Bitcoin unexpectedly.

Is It Possible For My Personal Information To Be Sold On The Dark Web?

The answer is yes if you are wondering whether your personal data can be sold on the Dark Web. However, it is important to note that not all of the information on the Dark Web is accurate or up-to-date. In addition, some of the information sold on the Dark Web may be outdated or no longer accurate.

That being said, there is a market for personal information on the Dark Web. This market is fueled by criminals who are looking to use this information for identity theft, financial fraud, and other types of dark web fraud. If you have had your personal information compromised, it is important to take steps to protect yourself from these criminals.

What Should I Do If My Personal Information Is Stolen on the Dark Web?

If your personal information is found on the dark web, there are a few things you can do: 

1. Change your passwords - criminals could gain access to your accounts and steal sensitive information if your password is compromised. Be sure to use strong, unique passwords for each account.

2. Monitor your credit report - keeping an eye on your credit report can help you spot identity theft early on and take steps to resolve it quickly. You're entitled to a free annual credit report from each central credit bureau (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion). Check for new accounts or activity that looks suspicious.

3. Place a fraud alert or security freeze on your files - this will make it more difficult for someone to open new accounts in your name but may also make it harder for you too since businesses will need additional verification before approving any applications made in your name

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