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A casual stroll by the mysterious deep web

Guest Commentary by Lakhijyoti Deka

The "dark web" - sounds like mysterious! Doesn't it?

Yes, I think your gut feeling says it is, but here I will make you aware how it works, what really happens on the dark web, and how you can check it out for yourself.

Computer network
Photo: Matthew Henry/Burst
As you know, the internet comprises of servers, computers, and other devices connected together form networks inside of larger networks. It is divided into two parts, namely the clear web or surface web and the deep web.

The surface web is that portion of the Internet most people are familiar with. The surface web pages are searchable in Google. While the deep web comprises the majority of the web, the surface web makes up a tiny portion of all the content on the web that accessible through a standard web browser.

The Deep Web is the full body of the iceberg and the surface web is just like the tip of the iceberg. And finally the dark web is a very small and hard-to-access section of the Deep Web.

The dark web is a piece of the internet that isn't indexed by conventional search engines. The dark web is decentralized network of websites make users as mysterious as possible by routing all their communications through multiple servers. It is used for keeping internet activity anonymous and personal, which may be helpful in both legal and illegal applications. Like, anyone can buy master card numbers; counterfeit money, online market place of various drugs, guns, stolen subscription credentials, hacked accounts, password and software that help anyone forced an entry into other people’s computers.

Dark web browser:

You may think that navigating the dark net is very easy. But it isn’t. To accessing the dark net it requires a browser known as Tor (“The Onion Routing” project) browser.

If you have a legitimate need to access the dark web, make sure that you stay safe using it.

Tor browser provides users access to reach the websites with the “.onion” registry operator. Browsers with the appropriate proxy can reach dark web sites, but others can’t. These web sites use a scrambled naming structure that creates URLs that are impossible to remember often.

This browser was originally developed by the United States Naval research laboratory. An early version of Tor was created to cover spy communications. Sooner or later, the framework was repurposed and has since been made public just like the other browser we all know today. Anyone can download it free of cost. Tor browser uses a random path of encrypted servers referred to as "nodes" which enables users to connect to the deep web without worrying of their actions being tracked.

Dark web versus deep web:

The dark web and the deep web are also often mistakenly used interchangeably. At first glance, the dark web and the deep web seem similar as both are difficult to get to through the web search and require either clicking a direct link to the page or to typing the address into the browser you want to access.

The deep web refers all the pages or content that you cannot find with a search engine. Deep web content requires sign-in credentials, such as online banking, medical records, pay sites, membership websites, and confidential corporate web pages etc. The dark web is one small portion of the deep web.

The deep web is so large that it is impossible to discover exactly how many pages or websites are active at one point of time. While comparing the deep web with dark web, deep web consisting of mostly harmless and digitized data and the dark web is better known for illegal and sometimes disturbing content. But, not all the dark web is used for illicit purposes. The websites in the Dark Web are categorized by their use of encryption software that makes their users and their locations unsigned. 

Enabling mechanisms of the dark web:

Apart from the tor there are two key elements that serve practical purposes in enabling the dark web. Those two are the Hidden Wiki and Bitcoin, which provide a solution that enables the dark web to be accessible and usable.

Though the hidden Wiki offers some assistance to content on the dark web, but it also includes some illegal websites.

Hidden wiki site contains a listing of all the Dark internet sites that are presently operating, user feedback on those sites, and knowledge about what are often accessed through each site. Bitcoin is the crypto-currency which enables two parties to conduct a trusted transaction without knowing each other’s identity. The dark web has been a big factor in the expansion of bit coin and vice versa.

Advantages of the dark web:

The legality of dark web is based on how a user engages with it. Some might fall to the edge of legal lines for many reasons and some may act in ways that are illegal for the safety and security of others. Using of the dark web usually means you're attempting to interact in activity that you simply couldn't perform within the limelight.

Not everything is illegitimate in the dark web. It has a legitimate side also. Privacy is much more concern for many people threatened by stalkers and other criminals. In this case dark web helps people to take care of privacy and freely express their views.

On the dark web, users can seek out the benefits of the user anonymity, ability to take illegal actions for both users and providers and the virtually untraceable services and sites. In fact, a lot of people use it in countries where internet access is criminalized. As an anonymous communications channel the Tor network serves an important function in helping individuals communicate in environments which are hostile to free speech.

One of the foremost advantages of the dark web is the difficulty of blocking it. Common forms of censorship do not work with encrypted overlay networks. The dark web is more challenging to surveillance by governments and Internet service providers. Many organizations including journalists, political dissidents, abuse and persecution victims, human Rights and other professionals support the use of and access to the dark web to communicate sensitive information.

Disadvantages of the dark web:

The dark web is the den to the criminal activities.

The most important portion of dark web traffic is child abuse. The vast of traffic to hidden dark sites via Tor is for screening and distributing images of child abuse, illicit pornography and buying illegal drugs. Using the dark web one can make it easier to commit a number of of the worst crimes.

The grouping of the dark web and crypto currencies supposedly makes it much easier to hire someone to commit a murder or some other illegal activities. While some uses the dark web for their privacy concern and for others it may be the violation to their privacy as the private photos, documents, financial records have been stolen from the dark web.

The subject that is most commonly associated with the dark web is drug trafficking which is an integral and largest part of dark web marketplaces. Silk Road was one of the largest and most infamous dark web marketplaces till 2013. But the shutdown of Silk Road was not the end of dark web marketplaces. Replacements have sprung up to fill the vacuum selling anything that traders want to put online.

By nature, the dark web is anonymous and incompetent of discriminating between criminals and common users. There are many dark web sites set up by scammers to avoid the rage of their victims. Many e-commerce sites even exist for a while and suddenly disappear with the money they are holding on behalf of customers.

Enforcement officials must address this issue by campaigning that maintains the privacy of the typical user while unmasking the criminal. They are getting better at finding and prosecuting owners of sites that sell illegal goods and services. User can easily utilize the Tor in an attempt to pirate copyrighted content from the dark web and share illegal pornography, or engage in cyber terrorism.

The two specific grey areas of dark Web activity are whistleblowing and hacktivism. Those are not categorized as entirely beneficial, but have some commendable characteristics.

computer and coffee
Photo: Sajjad Hussain M/Burst
If you have a legitimate need to access the dark web, make sure that you stay safe using it. For safe access to the dark net you have to trust your intuition. You have to separate your online role from real life, employ active monitoring of identify and financial theft and you have to avoid downloads of dark web files. You should consider using a secondary non-admin local user account for all daily activities and always restrict access to your Tor-enabled device.

Be sure to educate yourself on the risks of the dark web before you get mislaid in the dark underbelly. It is smart to be selective about the websites you access if you willing to venture to the dark web. Rather than finding the illegal users one has to find the illegal sites.

The debate on the dark web is by no means over.

There are many things in the dark web yet to be known. It is still in progress. As policy-makers move forward, they need to monitor vigilantly the evolution of the dark Web and make sure that enforcement agencies have the resources and legal support to police successfully the dark web. Dark web policy must be thoughtful to strike the balance between the requirements of privacy-minded users and the government’s responsibility to prevent criminality.

It is always preferable to practice safe internet habits with necessary precautions to protect yourself from the illicit world.

Lakhijyoti Deka is computer engineer in New Delhi, the capitol city of India. In her free time she likes recite poetry, sing and gathering information latest technology.

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