In his 2015 Ted talk, ‘How the Mysterious Dark Web is Going Mainstream‘ Jamie Bartlett proposes that, if you want to buy high quality, low priced cocaine, there really is only one place to go and that is the dark net, anonymous market known as The Dark Web. Sounds fairly disturbing, right? So what exactly is the Dark Web?
The Internet we know and love
Before we talk about that part of the Internet where most of us never go, let’s talk about the part we all know and love (well tolerate at least). The Clear Net is that place where we buy stuff we don’t really need from online stores like Amazon, send emails to people all over the world and read news online instead of buying a new papers. This is the traditional Internet used by the majority of the people on the planet and it’s a relatively secure place. You can use your credit card to make purchases and, for the most part, be relatively certain that the Bad Guys (Who are the ‘Bad Guys’?) won’t get hold of your credit card details.
However, once you become an actor on the Dark Web you are most definitely no longer anonymous (if indeed you ever were!). Your IP address is constantly logged and easily tracked, and cookies, uploaded to your computer or mobile devices, enable marketers to follow you around and present you with new and enticing goods and services to buy, whether you want them or not.
Now you see me, now you don’t
The term ‘Dark Web’ refers to a collection of websites and networks that are heavily encrypted and, for the most part, hidden from the average Internet user. This means that, if you were careful, you could access any of the content on the Dark Web and no-one would know you were ever there – unless you do something stupid like give out your email address. This is patently not the case for Clear Net pages.
Given the extreme level of anonymity available on the Dark Web, it has the potential to protect the Bad Guys in their nefarious activities, and to hide those who would seek to procure stuff from them (who, depending on your point of view, may also be considered Bad Guys). As such, the Dark Web has the reputation of an immense black market, where drugs, guns and pornography can be acquired with impunity and where hackers, terrorists and conspirators hang out and interact. Well frankly, to an extent, that is indeed the case.
However, it’s also a place where those with a genuine and legitimate reason for maintaining their privacy can do exactly what the rest of us are happy to do on the Clear Net – surf, buy, sell, read, chat and so on.
On the other hand, I guess it’s human nature to pose the question: why do you need to remain anonymous, you must be doing something illegal (or at least immoral)? But given recent legislative changes in the US allowing ISPs to sell users’ browsing data to third party marketing companies, you can understand why maintaining privacy when surfing the Internet is appealing and it certainly isn’t illegal to do so.
Back to reality
But let’s be clear, there is some very bad stuff on the Dark Web and you should make sure you are well aware of what you are getting into before you venture there. It’s fair to say that accessing the Dark Web is not illegal, but it’s quite possible that you will inadvertently end up on a site that sells drugs or guns or frankly far worse things.
The second point to be aware of is that, although with care you can certainly remain anonymous while surfing the Dark Web, it is a haven for bad actors with significant hacking skills who will exploit you if they can identity you and since they are hackers they can be dangerous. Most Dark Web experts will use a range of tools to further protect themselves from identification and so you should be very careful when interacting with anyone on the Dark Web. Downloading anything you are not absolutely sure about is a definite ‘no-no’!
How to Access the Dark Web
So having assessed the risks and benefits of accessing the Dark Web, how exactly does one go about becoming a Dark Web user? Well there are two requirements that we’ll cover here. The first is the browser you need to actually surf Dark Web sites – you can’t simply use Google Chrome or Internet Explorer. Secondly, most Dark Web aficionados recommend the use of a virtual private network or VPN to further increase your level of privacy.
So first: the browser. You’ll need to download the Tor browser and install it on your PC. This is a simple process and once you start browsing with Tor you’ll have access to Dark Web sites. Tor uses a routing methodology known as ‘onion routing’. Essentially, when you access a site with Tor, the information your PC sends does not travel directly to that site. Instead Tor creates a path through randomly assigned nodes on the Internet, which makes tracking your browsing history extremely difficult.
Tor also constructs Internet data packets in a different manner, compared to traditional browsers. Without getting too technical, Tor wraps packets of data in other packets which are ‘removed’ layer by layer at each node as the data traverses the Web – hence the term ‘onion routing’ (as Shrek once said, “onions have layers”). Since each layer only contains information on how to get to the next node, the final destination is never revealed to any node or to anyone seeking to identify what sites you are accessing.
The second requirement is more of a recommendation, since you can certainly simply download Tor and start surfing the Dark Web. But, if you install a VPN on your PC, you will further protect your internet usage from your ISP and anyone else who might be monitoring your activities. In fact, with VPN installed, no one will even know you are using Tor at all and your surfing habits are hidden regardless of which browser you use.
Another major benefit of using a VPN is that it will help prevent hackers from stealing your identity and personal files. Implementing a VPN may sound complicated at first, but there are many VPN providers that you can access to research the best service for your requirements and who can make setting up a VPN on your home computer simple and inexpensive.
All dark and nowhere to go?
So you’re ready to go dark? But where exactly to do you start? Aggregation sites such as Reddit offer lists of Dark Web links and so do a number of wiki sites such as the Hidden Wiki. These would probably be the best places to look for sites to access.
The final point to make is that there are many other ‘rules’ you probably want to follow, or at least be aware of, when you venture into the Dark Web. Researching these is not difficult and well worth the effort – although reading some of the potential pitfalls might put you off heading for the Dark Web in the first place.
Please note that this article is intended as a guide to the Dark Web and not an endorsement or encouragement for anyone to start behaving in an illegal manner. We also reiterate that accessing the Dark Web is done at your own risk and you may find yourself on sites promoting goods, services or philosophies that you find at minimum distasteful and at worst abhorrent. Be warned!
About Welford Management & Consulting
Welford is a multi faceted technology consultancy providing advice, support and solutions for companies in a wide range of industries. We develop and execute strategies for our clients in three practice areas: Security & Compliance, Business Strategy & Support and Sales & Marketing Automation. Our expertise comes from a team of individuals who focus on one area of our practice disciplines so that we can bring the necessary skills and experience to the business challenge or opportunity that you’re currently facing.
In the Security & Compliance practice we help assess your current level of risk related to the sensitive customer information that you may hold within your organization. This may be payment card information, personal health information or data on European citizens that fall under the requirements of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which becomes law on May 25th, 2018. We develop and execute strategies to address your data security requirements and support the implementation of the technologies and processes that help reduce the likelihood of you suffering a damaging and expensive data breach.