Written by: Aamir Sharif
Internet surfing has become a norm and if you must know, we have 5.18 billion internet users worldwide. Isn’t it jaw-dropping? Well, it is. Undoubtedly, from YouTube to Wikipedia, we can search for anything.
Still, there’s a lot of stuff that can’t be accessed so easily. For them, we always have to surpass tricky ways. For example, some websites want you to sign in and others just want you to follow a few protocols to access the data. Hence, a few pieces of information are secured under different layers, commonly known as Dark Web.
Before we dive into the Dark Web, let’s have a quick look into the categorization of the internet.
Three Layers of Internet
1. Surface Web
This is the basic part of the web which a user can easily access within a simple browser. Also, searching and accessing data don’t require you to use your credentials or acquire special permissions. It includes YouTube videos, News Articles, Forums, etc.
2. Deep Web
It constitutes almost 96% of the entire World Wide Web, this is the part of the Internet that is available only to authorized users. It includes your emails, bank accounts, and other personal information.
3. Dark Web
Deep inside the deep web is a world of data and networks that is not easily accessible to everyone and is secured using different layers, it is known as the Dark Web.
What is the Dark Web?
You won’t find proper indexing against these sites on web browsers. Interestingly, to access such web content, special tools or software are used.
The Dark Web also sometimes referred to as Dark Net is a project initially started by the US military as a means for the safe and secure transfer of information. To this day, it is still being funded by the US military and is being used for most of its operations.
How Does it Work?
We will understand by putting forward an example:
Suppose we have two points A and E. Information needs to reach from former to latter but unlike the normal web, the information has to go across several layers (let’s say) B, C, and D. At each point the information is encrypted and the receiving point only knows the previous point it came from and which next point it will send to.
None of the points know the whole path of data transfer and the information cannot get leaked within this path. From a technical point of view, it means that each time you request a content from resource, your IP has to go through several nodes on the network keeping your identity hidden, and each time your IP will be different on network calls; hence making it unable to track the user’s activity. This concept of changing IP addresses is known as onion routing.
How to Access it?
In order to access it we need a special browser called TOR. TOR browser is specially designed to work with the onion routing mechanism. This browser is often used along with a Linux distribution called Tails making up the combination of Tor on Tails. The main drawback of tails is that each time you load it up, whatever activity is done is destroyed on shutting down and never saved. Tails can be run on a live bootable USB or in a separate virtual machine.
Unlike traditional websites that start with a human-friendly name and a .com or .net domain, website URLs of the dark net are not that simple. It is made of a hexadecimal set of characters that end with the .onion domain. Dark Web offers its own set of search engines like DuckDuckGo on which you can search for different content being produced over the network, each URL starts with random gibberish and no one can guess what is behind it unless it is browsed.
Benefits of Dark Web
It is imperative to know the key benefits of using the Dark Web before you incorporate it into your crucial search.
One of the biggest benefits of the dark web is the aspect of anonymity. Most journalists and activists use this tool in order to protect their identity when publishing sensitive information.
Accessing Censored Content
It is a must to know that some of the content is inaccessible over the normal internet in various parts of the world. In order to bypass it, the TOR network has become the only possible solution. Just like we use VPN to search for public content over a private network, TOR offers privacy on a public network.
Cons of Dark Web
While TOR offers a great of handling anonymity and bypassing censorship in most places, it comes with its own set of hazards and risks.
Hub For Criminals
It is the most widely used platform by criminals. From Cybercrime to Drug dealing, due to anonymity, each type of criminal activity can be taken out in this place. One of the biggest Drug marketplaces SilkRoad was recently shut down by the FBI which was in heavy operations.
Scams and Malware
It is very easy to fall prey to scams and frauds on this platform. We have often seen cases where the whole data of your computer gets encrypted due to some malware downloaded from insecure sources. A note asking for ransom in Bitcoin and a link to a dark web platform saying if the ransom is not paid in time, the victim loses the ability to decrypt it and data gets lost. Most of the victims fall prey to this scam and never get the data back.
Lack of Trust
It is almost very difficult to know the exact person sitting behind the screen, due to lack of regulation and authority, which makes it impossible to trust the sources on the Dark Web.
Conclusion: Is the Dark Web Illegal?
Even though it is a hub for criminals all over the dark world, it is not illegal to use the TOR network. In fact, to this day, it is still being funded by the US military, making it a network that provides privacy and anonymity not being offered by traditional websites on the normal web. People can go to this network and express their thoughts without the fear of being tracked by government bodies and other groups.