Many of us hear the words “the Dark Web” and immediately think of questionable content, illegal activities, drug sales, and more. And while it is true the dark web contains all these things, it also contains spaces that are far more positive in the eyes of the law.
For one thing, the dark web offers users anonymity the clear web can’t. It’s easy to see how this can be empowering, particularly for peoples in repressive countries, for instance. The dark web also allows users to freely express their views, which can be a positive thing, although perhaps not in all instances.
No matter your reason for wanting to visit the dark web, it’s important that you do so safely and with full awareness of the risks. For that reason, here we go over what you need to know about safely accessing the dark web.
But first of all, what is the dark web, and how does it differ from the clear web and the deep web? Let’s take a look:
A definition of the dark, deep, and clear webs
As you’re probably aware, there are several layers to the internet as we know it. If you’re reading this article on your device through any of the standard browsers — Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Edge, etc. — you’re on the clear web.
What is the clear web?
The clear web is all of the content that is freely available to users and is indexed by search engines such as those we listed above. Contrary to popular belief, and while the clear web is huge, the vast majority of the webosphere is actually comprised of the deep web:
What is the deep web?
Unlike the clear web, content on the deep web is not publicly visible and does not show up on search engines. But this doesn’t necessarily put deep web content in the dark web category, primarily because deep web pages are pages that exist solely to keep things running and organized. Companies, for example, use deep web pages to organize websites and company systems. As a general rule, administrator privileges are required to use and/or access deep web pages.
What is the dark web?
The dark web is a different beast entirely, it consists of web pages that are publicly visible, but you need a special type of browser to access them. This browser encrypts and anonymizes your activity, meaning you’re unable to be identified by other users. But that anonymity doesn’t mean that you’re fully protected, you need to watch out for a few dangers:
The dangers of the dark web
As we mentioned before, the dark web certainly has its positives, but there are a few things unsuspecting users taking a dark dive for the first time need to be aware of. Let’s examine two of the most pressing concerns:
Illegal and disturbing content and services
It is generally agreed that the dark web is the world’s hiding place. As such, illegal and frankly distressing content is on dark web pages. As a user, you may inadvertently stumble across unsavory images of bestiality, child pornography, murders, and more. Even more distressingly, you may find dedicated services that cater to a particular breed of people.
Of course, you can do your utmost to avoid these kinds of things, but if you connect, you should be aware that you may encounter such content.
Malware is malicious software, that is, any app or program explicitly designed to do harm to users’ devices and data. The dark web is unfortunately rife with malware, cybercriminals sell malware a la SaaS (software as a service), and criminals spread it freely in the hopes of nabbing an unsuspecting newbie.
There are other concerns on the dark web too. For example, users should watch out for scams and black market sites selling drugs, weapons, and more.
Staying safe on the Dark Web: Top tips
If you’re aware of the risks and you still want to connect to the dark web, you need two key things: a dedicated Tor browser and a Virtual Private Network (VPN).
- Make sure you connect your VPN before you open the Tor network, this is known as Tor over VPN and it provides you with an essential layer of security. What a VPN does is encrypt all your activity through a process known as tunneling. It’s a must on the dark web because the Tor network doesn’t come with a privacy guarantee, and there are still ways you can be identified.
- Ensure that you do not use or hand out any personally identifying pieces of information. To further anonymize yourself, use an encrypted mail service.
- Understand that in most countries, accessing the dark web is not illegal in itself. However, engaging with some dark web content certainly is. Check your own country’s rules and laws before you go online.
- Don’t trust anyone you meet on the dark web.