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Dark Web vs Deep Web

Just about everyone's heard of the “dark web” by now. Most think it sounds ominous and mysterious, and it can be. Let's shed some light on it.

In a simple description, the dark web is a decentralized network of internet sites that try to make users as anonymous as possible by sending all their communications through multiple servers and encrypting it at every step.

You might be surprised to hear that the dark web was conceived and prototyped by researchers at the U.S. Naval Research Lab, scientists who’d already recognized that the open internet was extremely susceptible to surveillance.

Extending their work, the Tor (The Onion Router) Network went live in 2002, making the dark web widely available for the first time. In 2008 the Tor Project released the Tor Browser, designed to make the dark web somewhat easier to navigate - easier, not easy and not fast as we're used to on the public Internet. Tor has said its network now includes several thousand servers and a huge number of users.

So what happens on the dark web? What are all those users doing in that mysterious "underworld" of the Internet? Some people feel very strongly about their privacy and would rather hang out where they can’t be watched even if it's online gaming. Other people want to communicate beyond the reach of governments and law enforcement they consider oppressive or tyrannical. As an example, Tor claims its network was heavily used by activists and dissidents during the 2010 Arab Spring uprisings. Human rights and media organizations host SecureDrop on the Tor Network to help sources and whistleblowers safely send sensitive files.

Not surprisingly, many of the dark web’s most widely known sites have been criminal in nature. For example, Silk Road market, used for illegal goods, was taken down by the federal government in 2015. The founder of Silk Road now sits in prison, convicted on charges related to money laundering, conspiracy, drugs, and hacking. A few years later US Federal investigators broke a ring of dealers in Fentanyl and other dangerous illegal drugs who sold through marketplaces such as the now-closed AlphaBay. In May 2019, InterPol/EuroPol took down two more dark web marketplaces: Wall Street Market (WSM) and Valhalla Market (a.k.a. Silkkitie).

Just how much of the dark web is about illegal activity? Back in 2016, researchers attempted to find out how much was in the dark web. They identified over 5200 sites with nearly 48% apparently inactive and containing no content. Of those that seemed active, well over half appeared illicit, hosting a widely diverse set of illicit activities.

At the top of the list: over 420 sites apparently trading or manufacturing illegal drugs, including illegally obtained prescription medicines. 320+ sites apparently facilitated financial crime, such as money laundering, counterfeiting, or trade in stolen accounts or credit cards. The researchers found 140 sites embracing "extremist ideologies” or “support for terrorist violence,” some with how-to guides or extremist community forums. Some 120 sites contained pornography involving children, violence, animals, or materials obtained without consent.” Also found was a smaller number of hacking tools and marketplaces; a few dozen sites trading weaponry; and 17 sites claiming to offer hitmen for hire or facilitating violence in other ways.

Of course, that’s a snapshot in time in 2016: one key characteristic of the dark web is its inherent instability. Sites come and go quickly, especially illegal sites run by criminals and organized crime, who’ve been known to repeatedly move operations to evade the law enforcement and sometimes, unhappy customers.

Now that you know what the dark web is, and what you might find there, how would you visit if you wanted to? You’d start by downloading and installing the Tor browser. Tor sites and services end in .onion and don’t have user-friendly names; you have to find them, and conventional search engines like Google and Bing and Yahoo won’t work. You have to use a specialized dark web search engine.

If you do decide to explore using the dark web, it’s not hard to wander into questionable content there so you shouldn’t take the leap into using the dark web without educating yourself first. And of course, make sure your computer is protected by using the best possible solution. From our perspective, the stuff you buy off the shelf is sub-par. Ask us about the #1 rated protection for all your computers.

What's the difference between dark web and deep web? Don't confuse the “dark web” with the “deep web.” They're not the same. Typical definitions will vary but the “deep web” usually refers to all the web content you can’t find with a search engine – including a lot of legitimate content that’s generated on the go when you visit a web site and make a request that requires the site to build a page using its own databases and tools, or requiring authentication for access.

More than likely you generate plenty of “deep web” content yourself: if you use an online email service like Gmail, Yahoo, and Hotmail/Outlook, ALL your messages are part of the deep web – and you sure wouldn’t want those to be accessible publicly! When you think about it, it’s not surprising that the deep web is much bigger than the public web. But the deep web’s size, scale and transient nature means there’s a lot of extremely important information researchers and historians will probably never see.

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