With the reporting on cybersecurity events such as city-wide ransomware events or massive data breaches making the 6 o’clock news, the dark web has been thrust into the spotlight. But what exactly is the dark web? Is it part of the Internet with the lights off? Is it a hotbed of illicit activity? If I go into the dark web, will I ever be able to return? Well, all the above are sort of true.
In short, the dark web is a part of the internet that is unindexed by search engines. It may contain public or private information that is accessible only via specialized software. You will not be able to find any dark websites on Google and you certainly cannot browse to a dark website in Chrome.
The dark web requires specialized anonymization software to access it, such as Tor or Invisible Internet Project. For example, Tor uses multi-layer encryption to route internet traffic through randomly generated nodes. It decrypts traffic one layer at a time at each node. In the end, it’s nearly impossible for activity to be traced back to the originator.
The majority of the websites on the dark web are used for illicit activity. This may include websites to buy and sell drugs, weapons, counterfeit identification, personal Identifiable Information (PII), malware packages, malware-as-a-service, or botnets.
Not all of the sites on the dark web are for illicit or illegal activity, the dark web also has a legitimate side. For example, you can join a chess club or BlackBook, a social network described as the “the Facebook of Tor.”
Although the websites and activity on the dark web is, in theory, anonymous, law enforcement is getting better at monitoring and shutting down sites. For example, in 2017 Alphabay was shutdown. AlphaBay was the dark web’s largest website for the trading of illegal contraband.
Ultimately, the dark web is nothing more than a section of the internet that is metaphorically behind a closed door that requires a ‘special key’ to open it. What you may find behind that door is anyone’s guess.