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What is The Dark Web?

The dark web

Many people have heard of the dark web before, but they have never seen it for themselves. This is because the dark web is a section of the internet that can only be accessed using a special browser.

For years many have believed that the dark web is a place just for cybercriminals and hackers. However, you may be surprised to find out that many government agencies and legal parties also use it due to its superior anonymity and security.

There is a lot more to the dark web than just illegal websites and marketplaces. It’s important to know what exactly it is because it will allow you to understand how it works. Read on to find out more about the dark web.

To put the deep and dark web into perspective, let’s use a visual analogy in the form of an iceberg. The web we all use daily is the surface web. This is what we use to access our email, access search engines like Google, and watch YouTube through standard web browsers like Firefox and Chrome.

Below the surface web is a much larger part of the iceberg called the deep web, which includes everything that standard search engines do not index. These are only accessible via Tor. Most of this material is not illegal and includes things like intranets, locked software, and content. Not to mention, paid applications and other data from large websites.

It is more like a big administrative storage room. The dark web is even deeper down the iceberg and constitutes a tiny part of the internet that can be very dangerous (mostly.) It contains risky material such as; drug sales, weapons, Wikileaks documents, and cybercrime marketplaces. However, it also includes things that are not necessarily illegal such as private communications, confidential files, rare books in digital format, and sensitive journalism.

The Dark Web

The dark web is a section of the internet that is hidden away from the public eye in a sense. This is because the dark web can only be accessed with a Tor browser (The Onion Project). This is a special browser originally developed in the late 1990s by the United States Naval Research Laboratory. The initial development was made to allow spies to communicate securely without worrying about interception of their communications.

Eventually, the program was changed and repurposed into the anonymous browser (similar to Google or Firefox) that it is famous for today. Nowadays it is used to access the collection of ‘hidden’ websites and browse the internet anonymously. Anyone can download the Tor browser free of charge.

The Tor browser uses a random path of encryption through servers known as "nodes." This allows Tor users to browse the dark web anonymously without anyone tracing their actions. This means that their browsing history is also not kept track of. Furthermore, websites on the dark web use Tor or another type of anonymous software such as I2P (Invisible Internet Project). This means that websites will also remain anonymous. You won't be able to find out who's running them or where the hosting is.

Is The Dark Web Illegal?

The dark web was once known for being a notorious ‘underground’ section of the internet. The perception is that cybercriminals take advantage of it being secure and use it to be anonymous online. Thus, the dark web has been synonymous with illegal activities and websites.

However, being on the dark web is not illegal and it is not illegal to access it. Many legal parties and government agencies also use the dark web. Especially if they are working with sensitive information that the public can not know about and to avoid leaks.

There are three main benefits to using the dark web as opposed to the ‘surface’ web;

  • User anonymity
  • Untraceable websites and services
  • The ability to take illegal actions for both users and providers

The dark web attracts users who need to remain anonymous. While this is especially appealing to cybercriminals, it can also be helpful for other users who wish to keep their identities confidential. Whistleblowers, censored journalists, abuse and persecution victims, and political dissidents have been frequent users. Especially when they need to hide their identities for safety.

The legality of the dark web is dependent on what content the user is engaging with. This is based on which websites the user accesses and their actions while using it. In this way, it is similar to the ‘surface web’ that the everyday public uses on a daily basis.

Is The Tor Browser Illegal?

The Tor browser itself is not illegal either. In fact, anyone can install it for free, and it is also available on all major app stores. Many people now also use the Tor browser to access the dark and surface web privately.

The Tor browser provides excellent security and privacy to users which is important in our modern digital age. Many businesses and governments use unauthorized surveillance of people’s internet traffic. This allows them to keep a record of your browsing habits and what you do online.

Some users have to use the Tor browser if they find themselves in a region that has censored internet access. For example, China. Many countries around the world use internet censorship. This blocks users from being able to access some websites while they are within the country’s borders.

What You Need to Look Out For

While browsing the dark web there are some risks that you might face, just like on the surface web. Below is a list of some of the key factors you need to be aware of if you’re accessing the dark web;

  • Malicious software - much like the surface web, the dark web can be riddled with malware such as viruses, spyware, and even ransomware. If you’re not careful, malware can end up on your device.
  • Government monitoring - while the Tor browser is anonymous and unable to track your internet traffic, there are some websites that authorities are in charge of. They will monitor which devices access the website, and you can become a government target simply for visiting a website on the dark web.
  • Scams - just like the surface web, there are scams. Cybercriminals will sell products or services and never deliver. However, it is much more difficult to track down a scammer here due to its anonymity and privacy.

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