This is a guest post by Morgan M. Nelson, technology writer and a self-proclaimed privacy nerd.
Almost everybody thinks that Google lets you search the entire internet and nothing is hidden from Google. No search engine, be it Google or Bing hasn’t indexed the entire internet.
It is estimated that Google has just indexed about 4% of the internet, when we ‘Google’ something we are just scratching the surface – literally the surface. Internet is vast and constantly growing.
Understanding the Web
World Wide Web as we know it is actually made up of Surface Web and Deep Web. The surface web is what is indexed by your favorite search engine like Google, Bing etc. How does Google do it? Google bots (spiders) visit all the websites they can and keep clicking all the links from the various pages and send every bit of information from that URL back to Google. This is how they index any website and so the term indexing. These spiders are taught very specific things i.e. click on links and send that information back to the search engine, that’s it. If the spider cannot reach a page through a link, it will not report it back and it won’t get indexed.
Dark Web is Part of Deep Web
There are a lot of pages the spiders cannot reach the most common are pages which need login like your Facebook Feed, Bank Account etc; these need your account data which the spiders don’t have. Even websites which only give a certain page if searched (spiders don’t know how to search a website they just click links), many government websites, open libraries, databases, archives etc just have a search box for anyone to search for information they seek. These pages do not get indexed by Google. These un-indexed pages are part of the web which is called ‘Deep web‘ or invisible web.
Besides these pages there are a few special pages Google cannot index, at the corner of the deep web is a dark place which is not only hard for spiders to reach but also for people like you and me. This is what is called dark web. Dark web is on darknet and these terms are used in conjunction to refer dark web activities and both terms can be used interchangeably. Just like its name, dark web is part of the deep web which is dark and never gets indexed. Dark web is intentionally hidden and made inaccessible through standard web browsers. and that is why spiders and even most humans cannot access it normally. There is no way you can accidentally end up on a website or a page that is made for dark web.
Everything done online is traceable and possibly monitored except in the dark web. Dark web is hidden by layers and layers of obscure identities making it impossible to use via our standard way of accessing the web. Making dark web inaccessible and impossible for you to get tracked making you anonymous if you use it.
Why use Dark web?
Using Dark web is the most assured way of staying anonymous. This might not be so appealing to everyone but in this age of mass surveillance by our own government it is crucial that we take our privacy very seriously. Edward Snowden, the whistle-blower who exposed the government-run mass surveillance programs, used dark web to send the information to media.
Dark web can be used to bypass government censorship and which helps journalists & activists alike to not be traced while they communicate and report from regions where such censorship exist. These censorship also at times block social network websites like Facebook, Twitter to stop people from protesting online. Dark web helps get around this censorship and so Facebook too has their own Onion website which can be only accessed via dark web. Most of the time when you read about dark web it is only when a criminal or illegal activity is reported. This casts a very bad light at the dark web and its real usage.
Dark net was actually created by US Navy’s advanced research division to create a secure communication platform which can be used by American assets globally to communicate back home without being traced. Later over the years various decentralized hidden services emerged which are not controlled by any entity but only operated and kept alive by public organizations to run similar dark net.
Since Dark web guarantees anonymity. This quickly attracts illegal activities, criminals and hackers. For quite sometime people were scared of dark web as it was only associated to illegal activities like sale of drugs, guns, stolen credit cards and alleged contact killing. This perception was mainly because of one of the most famous cases in recent times about a online marketplace for illegal trade, Silk Road. It was famous for being the first online black marketplace created on dark web. The founder of Silk Road, Ross Ulbricht is now serving a life sentence. The marketplace was estimated to be about 600,000 bitcoins (approximately $1.2 billion at that time).
Since then many silk road clone websites have popped up and were shut down within months.
How to Access Dark Web?
Dark web can only be accessed through special encrypted software like Tor (The Onion Router) or I2P(Invisible Internet Project) which can be installed by anyone. Tor being much popular and easier to use, this post will refer accessing dark web via Tor. Tor hides the source and destination of your Internet traffic, this prevents you from getting tracked or monitored. It achieves this by routing everything through multiple encrypted computers all over the world bouncing around randomly before reaching the host.
The easiest way to use Tor is use the ‘Tor Browser’ bundle‘, it is a customised Firefox browser which once started connects only and only to dark web thus making it easy for anyone to get connected to the dark web as and when they want without the need to install and understand Tor.
Word of caution : Since Tor bounces your traffic between multiple computers randomly, browsing on Tor is considerably slow.
Even though it sounds easy and tempting, make sure you use Tor and dark web very carefully. Dark web’s key factor being anonymity could make you a target, illicit players and malicious hackers who might feed malicious content via untraceable onion websites could end up targeting if you aren’t cautious. So only visit onion websites which you are aware of and are sure are safe. This way you can steer safe from trouble and use dark web it responsibly.
Onion websites can be found out all over the internet and its reliability is just common sense. Hidden Wiki and Reddit can be your starting point as reliable source for onion websites.
Word to the wise : If you really care about your privacy and want to browse anonymously read our tips here, switch to a good secure public DNS and use a good VPN service. It would foolish for you to think ISPs, law enforcement and your government isn’t tracking Tor users. The first line of defense is to change your default ISP DNS to something that is secure. The second layer of defense and most important one is to use a good VPN service to mask your traffic. We recommend PIA VPN. This not only encrypts your web traffic so that no one can snoop to monitor & trace you but it will also hide your dark web browsing. Effectively making it impossible for your ISP to know you even accessed the dark web.
This article is intended as a guide to understand Dark Web and clear some myths & misconceptions about it – we do not encourage readers to use dark web for illegal activities or unethical behavior because of its nature of anonymity.