The internet has come to be so developed, complex and ‘intelligent’ that, at present, you could say it is alive (like Skynet or The Matrix predicted?). Billions of people are online, every day, using the internet for work, entertainment, advice, you name it -it’s probably on the internet. We are now in the age of Artificial Intelligence and Big Data (or A.I for short). This period is an evolution, a transformation in the digital industry. Not only are petabytes of data being circulated on the internet (millions of terabytes); with A.I and Big Data all of this data is being put to use. This is effectively teaching the internet about user behavior, increasing the knowledge-base and making the internet into a neural-network able to ‘think’ for itself.
That’s all fine and dandy, but what about the dark side of the internet? Well, the evolution of the internet has spread so wide on countless digital channels and platforms, that the need to regulate and police the internet has risen. On such a vast network, there are countless dark organizations and cybercriminals looking to use the practicality of the internet as a communication tool for illegal activity. This can mean hacking and stealing data in the virtual realm, and it can also translate to the worst kinds of illicit activity imaginable in the physical realm.
So, let’s look at what lies beneath, in the underground world beneath the internet which is called the Deep Web. Then we’ll go even deeper down, and find out why the Dark Web is a dangerous and hostile place.
What are The Different Layers of The Internet?
The internet we use, as everyday Joe’s and Jane’s, can be referred to as the ‘surface web’, or ‘clear web’ where you have your Google, Youtube, Facebook and all the rest. Think of it as an iceberg above water. Below the water, the size of the iceberg is unknown and can be vast; that is what we call The Deep and Dark Web, respectively. So, it is important to distinguish three things;
- The Deep Web is enormous, cannot be indexed by search engines and does not necessarily include ‘dangerous’ information or activity, and it contains The Dark Web.
- The Dark Web is like an underground sewage system below The Deep Web, accessible only with browsers such as Tor, and holds much more cybercrime and illicit activity (although again, not all of it necessarily).
- The ‘surface’ (innocent) web that we are familiar with, is content that any search engine can get to (index), and is tiny in comparison to the Deep Web.
According to official research; the Deep Web is “4000-5000 times larger than the surface web”, however it is “almost impossible to measure the size of the Deep Web” and “the Deep Web is growing exponentially and at a rate that defies quantification”.
Screenshot taken from: https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R44101.pdf
Why You Shouldn’t Venture Into The Dark Web
The Deep Web accounts for the majority of all websites, where private information as well as networks for governments, organizations, private and public databases are stored. This is data that is password protected, or simply data that is not categorized on search engines for public viewing. This can mean financials, email data, legal files and miscellaneous data -not necessarily dangerous at all, just a lot of background data that isn’t linked to in the classic sense.
Further down into The Deep Web, however, there are sections for e.g pirated data such as torrents or pirated live streams. Further still into the abyss is where we enter the lair of The Dark Web. Essentially, The Deep Web and The Dark Web are entangled and share data in some ways; the difference being that The Dark Web is strictly anonymous, strictly no-indexing and traditional browsers cannot access it. Sections of The Dark Web are sometimes only accessible via password, or some form of authentication.
This section of the internet has had its fair share of trouble with the government, due to its anonymous and risky nature, as well as full of scams and malware. The kind of data found on The Dark Web includes;
- Stolen financial data for sale
- Stolen credentials from businesses
- Stolen identity information
- Counterfeit currency
- Forged documents
- Fake pharmaceuticals
- Various hacking services
- The purchase and sale of weapons and drugs
- Fraud and malware tools useful for cybercriminals
- Criminal media
Why Would You Want to Use The Dark Web?
Transactions on The Dark Web are usually done with BitCoins, to keep anonymity at a high level. It is easy to see how you can get arrested or scammed just casually browsing The Dark Web via an anonymous browser. One of the most notorious ‘marketplaces’ on The Dark Web called ‘Silk Road’ that participated in selling drugs, for example, was shut down by the FBI in 2013. Following this incident, several other ‘dark markets’ (Silk Road 2.0) were shut down trading in several different, sometimes unmentionable, things. Incredibly, it seems that Silk Road is still up, in yet another version.
Lets not forget that the dark part of The Deep Web does not only include ‘illegal data’, there are also harmless categories such as;
- Information for activists
- Anonymous political and sports-related social media sites
- Items for sale via BitCoin
The Dark Web is becoming more and more commercialised each day, perhaps pointing to the fact that it is becoming, ‘safer’? With so many privacy and anonymity issues, a lot of people that have nothing to do with crime are also turning to the Dark Web. Also, cybercriminals and criminals in general are not as comfortable as before, and a lot of them have been caught.
If The Dark Web interests you, a list of Dark Web websites can be found online -but it is recommended to avoid it if it isn’t necessary for you. You can also find a lot of Dark Web related discussion on Reddit. While it is not technically ‘illegal’ to browse Dark Web portals, be very careful what you choose to browse on there, because authorities have their eyes set on this corner of the internet, and many individuals are in jail for life due to their activities. It is true that also the military and the government regularly scan The Dark Web for any threats of a national nature.
Internet Safety Tips
It must be stressed that browsing The Dark Web is not recommended for your internet safety, unless you are Edward Snowden and are on a mission of some sort. If you choose to do so for legal purposes like research or information gathering, or some form of activism, then make sure that you;
- Always have your Virtual Private Network (VPN) activated before you browse
- Never open or download any illegal material, never participate in discussions
- You will have to use the Tor browser for this activity
- Use of The Dark Web is not recommended, someone may target you
Again, for most of us, all we have ever known is the surface/clear web, and will be all that we will ever need from the internet. As for the rest of the web, we’ll see what the future holds and whether one day these corners of the internet will be ‘safe’ to browse.
Mirza Silajdzic Author
Tech researcher & communications specialist for VPNOverview
My educational background is in Global Communications; I’ve worked in advertising, marketing, journalism and television over the years, having lived in several different countries. I am now working to consolidate news and outreach at VPNoverview.com, while in my free time I work on documentary projects, read about sociology and write about world events.