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What is the dark web?
Dark Web is part of the internet that isn’t visible to search engines and requires the use of an anonymizing browser called Tor to be accessed.
The dark web is the world wide web content that exists on darknets: overlay networks that use the internet but require specific software, configurations, or authorization to access.Through the dark web, private computer networks can communicate and conduct business anonymously without divulging identifying information, such as a user’s location.
The dark web forms a small part of the deep web, the part of the web not indexed by web search engines, although sometimes the term deep web is mistakenly used to refer specifically to the dark web.
Dark Web Definition
It is a part of the internet that isn’t indexed by search engines. You’ve no doubt heard talk of the “dark web” as a hotbed of criminal activity — and it is. Researchers Daniel Moore and Thomas Rid of King’s College in London classified the contents of 2,723 live dark web sites over a five-week period in 2015 and found that 57% host illicit material.
A 2019 study, Into the Web of Profit, conducted by Dr. Michael McGuires at the University of Surrey, shows that things have become worse. The number of dark web listings that could harm an enterprise has risen by 20% since 2016. Of all listings (excluding those selling drugs), 60% could potentially harm enterprises.
You can buy credit card numbers, all manner of drugs, guns, counterfeit money, stolen subscription credentials, hacked Netflix accounts and software that helps you break into other people’s computers. Buy login credentials to a $50,000 Bank of America account, counterfeit $20 bills, prepaid debit cards, or a “lifetime” Netflix premium account. You can hire hackers to attack computers for you. You can buy usernames and passwords.
A dark net or darknet is an overlay network within the Internet that can only be accessed with specific software, configurations, or authorization, and often uses a unique customized communication protocol. Two typical darknet types are social networks (usually used for file hosting with a peer-to-peer connection),and anonymity proxy networks such as Tor via an anonymized series of connections.
The term “darknet” was popularized by major news outlets to associate with Tor Onion services, when the infamous drug bazaar Silk Road used it, despite the terminology being unofficial.
Technology such as Tor, I2P, and Freenet was intended to defend digital rights by providing security, anonymity, or censorship resistance and is used for both illegal and legitimate reasons. Anonymous communication between whistle-blowers, activists, journalists and news organisations is also facilitated by darknets through use of applications such as SecureDrop.
Deep web vs. dark web: What’s the difference?
The terms “deep web” and “dark web” are sometimes used interchangeably, but they are not the same. Deep web refers to anything on the internet that is not indexed by and, therefore, accessible via a search engine like Google. Deep web content includes anything behind a paywall or requires sign-in credentials. It also includes any content that its owners have blocked web crawlers from indexing.
Medical records, fee-based content, membership websites, and confidential corporate web pages are just a few examples of what makes up the deep web. Estimates place the size of the deep web at between 96% and 99% of the internet. Only a tiny portion of the internet is accessible through a standard web browser—generally known as the “clear web”.
The dark web is a subset of the deep web that is intentionally hidden, requiring a specific browser—Tor—to access, as explained below. No one really knows the size of the dark web, but most estimates put it at around 5% of the total internet. Again, not all the dark web is used for illicit purposes despite its ominous-sounding name.
Dark web tools and services
The Into the Web of Profit report identified 12 categories of tools or services that could present a risk in the form of a network breach or data compromise:
Infection or attacks, including malware, distributed denial of service (DDoS) and botnets
Access, including remote access Trojans (RATs), keyloggers and exploits
Espionage, including services, customization and targeting
Support services such as tutorials
Intellectual property/trade secrets
Other emerging threats
The report also outlined three risk variables for each category:
1.Devaluing the enterprise, which could include undermining brand trust, reputational damage or losing ground to a competitor
2.Disrupting the enterprise, which could include DDoS attacks or other malware that affects business operations
3.Defrauding the enterprise, which could include IP theft or espionage that impairs a company’s ability to compete or causes a direct financial loss
Ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) kits have been available on the dark web for several years, but those offerings have become far more dangerous with the rise of specialized criminal groups like REvil or GandCrab. These groups develop their own sophisticated malware, sometimes combined with pre-existing tools, and distribute them through “affiliates”.
The affiliates distribute the ransomware packages through the dark web. These attacks often include stealing victims’ data and threatening to release it on the dark web if the ransom isn’t paid.
This business model is successful and lucrative. IBM Security X-Force, for example, reported that 29% of its ransomware engagements in 2020 involved REvil. The criminal groups that developed the malware gets a cut of the affiliates’ earnings, typically between 20% and 30%. IBM estimates that REvil’s profits in the past year were $81 million.
Dark Web Browser
All this activity, this vision of a bustling marketplace, might make you think that navigating the dark web is easy. It isn’t. The place is as messy and chaotic as you would expect when everyone is anonymous, and a substantial minority are out to scam others.
Accessing the dark web requires the use of an anonymizing browser called Tor. The Tor browser routes your web page requests through a series of proxy servers operated by thousands of volunteers around the globe, rendering your IP address unidentifiable and untraceable. Tor works like magic, but the result is an experience that’s like the dark web itself: unpredictable, unreliable and maddeningly slow.
Dark Web Search Engine
Dark web search engines exist, but even the best are challenged to keep up with the constantly shifting landscape. The experience is reminiscent of searching the web in the late 1990s.
Even one of the best search engines, called Grams, returns results that are repetitive and often irrelevant to the query. Link lists like The Hidden Wiki are another option, but even indices also return a frustrating number of timed-out connections and 404 errors.
Dark Web Websites
Dark web websites look pretty much like any other site, but there are important differences. One is the naming structure. Instead of ending in .com or .co, dark web websites end in .onion. That’s “a special-use top level domain suffix designating an anonymous hidden service reachable via the Tor network,” according to Wikipedia. Browsers with the appropriate proxy can reach these sites, but others can’t.
Dark web websites also use a scrambled naming structure that creates URLs that are often impossible to remember. For example, a popular commerce site called Dream Market goes by the unintelligible address of “eajwlvm3z2lcca76.onion.”
Many dark websites are set up by scammers, who constantly move around to avoid the wrath of their victims. Even commerce sites that may have existed for a year or more can suddenly disappear if the owners decide to cash in and flee with the escrow money they’re holding on behalf of customers.
Is the dark web illegal?
We don’t want to leave you with the impression that everything on the dark web is nefarious or illegal. The Tor network began as an anonymous communications channel, and it still serves a valuable purpose in helping people communicate in environments that are hostile to free speech. “A lot of people use it in countries where there’s eavesdropping or where internet access is criminalized,” Tiquet said.
If you want to learn all about privacy protection or cryptocurrency, the dark web has plenty to offer. There are a variety of private and encrypted email services, instructions for installing an anonymous operating system and advanced tips for the privacy-conscious.
There’s also material that you wouldn’t be surprised to find on the public web, such as links to full-text editions of hard-to-find books, collections of political news from mainstream websites and a guide to the steam tunnels under the Virginia Tech campus. You can conduct discussions about current events anonymously on Intel Exchange. There are several whistleblower sites, including a dark web version of Wikileaks. Pirate Bay, a BitTorrent site that law enforcement officials have repeatedly shut down, is alive and well there. Even Facebook has a dark web presence.
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