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What is Dark Web?

The digital universe is massive, and the World Wide Web (WWW) is far larger than what we see through normal surfing. The internet and its users are fast expanding as a result of innovative information technology applications, and this trend is projected to continue. However, the internet's fast expansion has made it vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, which has become a serious threat and problem on the internet across the world.

The web that can be viewed using a standard browser is referred to as the surface web; however, much of the content is kept hidden in the deep web. According to the literature, present search engines index just a tiny portion of the web, and a substantial portion of the online material is hidden, as it is in the deep web. The term "dark web" refers to a section of the deep web that is targeted by most cybercriminals, who perform illegal activities within the hidden site of the web known as the darknet. The Dark Web's technology was developed by the US government in the mid-1990s. Initially, It was built for spies and secret services to transmit and receive communications anonymously. However, this mindset, as well as the dark web's design, created a secure place for illegal activities.

The World Wide Web's content may be divided into two categories: structured and unstructured, and the web has numerous layers of accessibility. The clear web, also known as the surface web, is the first layer. The surface web is the part of the internet that is easily accessible to the general public and can be searched using regular web search engines. The second layer is the Deep Web. The surface Internet's sites are indexed for search engines to find, while the Deep Web is not. Both are, nevertheless, available to the general public; they simply need different ways of access, typically, a password-protected browser or a set of log-in credentials. All of our medical records, bank records, social networking files, and other essential information that we want and need to keep secure are stored on the Deep Web. Lastly, the Dark Web is a subset of the Deep Web, but there is a significant difference. A conventional web browser will not allow you to access the Dark Web. It is necessary to use a special browser that has been particularly created for this purpose.

Why is Dark Web Important?

Billions of people throughout the world utilize the "clearnet", the regular internet, and the mobile web. The "clearnet" is safe, as encrypted data is constantly moved from one location to another. During e-commerce transactions, SSL encrypts passwords and credit card information. However, because of the open nature of the internet, anonymity is unlikely. IP addresses from computers and mobile devices are continually collected and readily tracked. Cookies assist web advertisers in tracking and analyzing online activity.

Users on the dark web can remain anonymous while freely expressing themselves. For many innocent individuals who are harassed by stalkers and other criminals, privacy is crucial. Another key application for good users on the dark web is the distribution of information, such as reports on human rights violations, lawful whistleblowing, and other critical but confidential material that should be passed on to journalists.

The dark web also can be used for gathering Threat Intelligence. Cybersecurity professionals analyze communications in which skilled competitors frequently discuss hacking issues. Security analysts can learn about new and emerging risks by listening in on these chats. The intelligence obtained on the Dark Web enables them to protect against attacks on their own assets and apps, as well as keep up to date on new vulnerabilities being traded in underground marketplaces.

Surface Web / Deep Web / Dark Web

Figure 1. Surface Web / Deep Web / Dark Web

How Does the Dark Web Work?

The dark web is quite similar to the conventional internet in that it utilizes the same TCP/IP infrastructure to send HTTP and FTP traffic inside and between networks, using the same regular internet traffic. The dark web's content is made up of HTML websites and their components, much like the rest of the internet. The dark web's data is stored on overlay networks that are connected to the internet but are inaccessible to web crawlers.

The dark web employs a comprehensive, but fundamentally different, network addressing scheme than the web addresses most of us are familiar with. Today browsers are set up to retrieve website files using the DNS index, which converts a file's unique address on its unique server into a string of text that you can put into your address bar. Dark websites do not use the DNS system, and web spiders do not have the tools to access the dark web. Furthermore, unlike most clearweb URLs, many, if not most, dark websites are constructed as sixteen-character "non-mnemonic" alphanumeric sequences.

Hidden content can still be accessible in this manner, but you'll need the correct software. Tor, Freenet, and I2P are some of the most popular implementations of dark web software. Tor, which stands for The Onion Router, is a privacy-focused network that routes your traffic via numerous random servers on the Tor network to mask your information. So, instead of the packets that comprise your communication with another party flowing directly from point A to point B, they will hop all over the place, through several servers, before arriving at point B, blurring the trail. Furthermore, the packets that comprise traffic in the Tor network are wrapped in unique layers that only display the previous server or step from which the packet originated and the next step, essentially disguising the complete path. These layers serve to safeguard the user's anonymity while also allowing access to websites that are similarly protected.

What is the Dark Web Used For?

Nonetheless, technology is unclear in terms of utilization and is dependent on the sort of person who uses it (and for which purpose). Criminals took advantage of the 'safe' passage provided by this technology, and as a result, users of the Dark Web are divided into two groups: The first group consists of non-criminal users who make use of the Dark Web's anonymity and security features, while the second group consists of criminal actors who use the Dark Web to assist illegal actions.

The dark web is used by regular people for a variety of reasons;

  • Protecting their privacy from personal data

  • Communicating securely and privately with organizations who sell personal data and mailing lists to third parties.

  • Protection of their present geolocation by disclosing their IP address

  • Gaining access to sensitive study topics such as religion, which is forbidden on the surface web in some countries.

  • Currently, journalists are turning to the Dark Web in order to circumvent government restrictions and even arrest. At the same time, their sources are more safeguarded because of the anonymity provided by the dark web.

The Dark Web provides a secure haven for cybercriminals and their intended profit. Buying and selling criminal items such as drugs, stolen information, guns, and malware are examples of Dark Web applications. Furthermore, anyone who participates in forums, chat rooms, and Dark Web sites may find a wealth of information and knowledge for committing crimes ranging from physical and online theft to sophisticated hacking abilities and trading stolen IDs and passports.

How to Access the Dark Web?

Installing specialized, anonymous browsers, such as TOR, allows you to access the dark web. Once installed, the browser functions in the same manner as regular browsers do. The Dark Web is accessible via decentralized, anonymous nodes on a variety of networks. The most common network is the TOR(The Onion router).

Tor software you install on your computer and the Tor network of computers that maintains Tor connections. It is a free software program that allows users to interact anonymously. It may route Internet data across a global network of over 7000 free relays, allowing the user's location and usage to remain anonymous. It can keep you secure and make tracking you or your Internet activities harder. TOR is a service that lets its users surf the Internet, exchange instant messages, chat, and interact while remaining anonymous. What differentiates it from other types of the Web is that it delivers on its promises. The major goal of TOR is to protect users' personal privacy and provide them with a safe area to do their business without being monitored or watched.

Tor has set up "relays" on computers all around the world to transfer information from one layer to the next. All Tor communication goes via at least three relays before reaching its destination, and information is encrypted between relays. The "exit relay" is the final relay, and its IP address is used to determine the source of Tor traffic. In this manner, the user's IP address is always masked, and when monitored, the user's location seems to be anywhere in the globe, which is considerably different from their own.

How TOR Works

Figure 2. How TOR Works

What is a Dark Web Browser?

As we mentioned above, to access dark web content you should have specialized web browsers. They called with also dark web browsers. The most widely used browser for accessing the dark web is the Tor browser. Tor Browser is a Firefox-based web browser designed specifically for safely and anonymously accessing the Tor network. But there are some alternatives, here are some of these dark web browsers:

  • I2P (The Invisible Internet Project)
  • FreeNet
  • Tails
  • SubgraphOS
  • Whonix
  • GNUnet
  • ZeroNet, etc.

What is a Dark Web Search Engine?

Finding a webpage via the Tor browser is very hard for a beginner, which is where dark web search engines come in handy. To reach web pages on the Surface Web, typical search engines generally employ "web crawlers". Crawling is a method of searching the internet for web pages that search engines can classify and index. Web crawlers may not be able to find material on the Dark Web for a variety of reasons, including the fact that it is unorganized, unlinked, or impermanent. Unlike the addresses of normal web pages in today's world, it is difficult to memorize the names of dark web pages, they consist of mixed strings of letters. Therefore there must be some way to find dark web pages. There are plenty of dark web page search engines for this. Here are some examples:

  • Grams
  • DuckDuckGo
  • Torch
  • Ahmia.fi
  • Recon
  • notEvil etc.

Is Tor Illegal to Use?

Tor's legality or illegality is typically determined by its primary purpose. In most nations, if you're using it for legitimate purposes like browsing the web or streaming material, you shouldn't have anything to worry about. In a nutshell, utilizing Tor is totally legal. If you use Tor for illegal activities such as drug trafficking or accessing violent and abusive materials, you may face legal consequences if your activities are linked to you. The Tor browser and network have also been outlawed in several countries, including China and Russia. It's also possible that using Tor in certain nations will get you in trouble.

What are the Types of Threats on the Dark Web?

The internet, in the same manner, generates opportunities and helps growth, it can also expose enterprises to threats. Businesses have just become aware of the dark web and deep web, which are parts of the internet-linked with illegal behavior that is malicious and harmful. A common type of threats are listed below:

1. Ransomware

This is a one-of-a-kind type of malware that employs cryptography for malicious purposes. Once a device has been infected, the malware encrypts the contents on the computer, ultimately rendering it useless. Any encrypted file or software will not be able to be opened. As a result, the infected machine's availability for any work is compromised. Phishing is a frequent way for ransomware to spread. End customers get emails with malware attachments, which infect their systems when they open them. Some ransomware will infect every other machine in the network that they are connected to. They can quickly encrypt files, so consumers have little chance of stopping the attack once it begins. Following the encryption procedure, the malware will show a warning that the system has been encrypted and that the user must pay a fee in order to receive a decryption key.

2. Keyloggers

The primary purpose of a keylogger is to secretly record a targeted user's keystrokes while they type on their device. A keylogger might be installed on purpose for commercial goals, or a user could install it after being fooled by a hostile attacker. Infection methods used by attackers include phishing, drive-by installs, susceptible browsers, and the addition of malicious material to an apparently harmless application installation package. Keylogger spreads similarly to other malicious malware. Malware is commonly spread when a user opens a malicious attachment obtained by email, text message, P2P networks, or social networks, or when a user visits a malicious website. The dark web has many malicious websites programmed to infect keyloggers.

3. Phishing Malware

This is a type of computer scam in which victims are tricked into providing money or sensitive information to hackers via email. Because the same phishing email is sent to several recipients, a typical phishing attempt is rarely aimed at individual persons. The most prevalent pattern of such an attack is the sender claiming to be from a respectable company and requesting specific information or credentials from the recipient.

4. Botnet Malware

These are malicious programs that can replicate themselves utilizing the resources of the machines in which they invest. Malware has the ability to take control of a victim's machine. As such, it has the ability to change, steal, or erase the data stored inside. Malware is also used to recruit devices into botnets by turning them into zombies capable of sending spam emails and illegal traffic in order to launch denial-of-service (DoS) attacks. The infrastructure required to carry out these sorts of assaults is available for purchase on the dark web. There are hackers whose primary objective is to enlist machines for botnets.

5. Government Monitoring

Numerous dark web pages are being seized by law enforcement agencies throughout the world, there's an obvious risk of becoming a government target merely by browsing a hidden website. In the past, illegal drug platforms like Silk Road have been used for police monitoring. Law enforcement has been able to learn the user identities of consumers and onlookers alike by using specialized software to infiltrate and analyze behavior. Even if you never place an order, you may be seen and incriminated for irrelevant behaviors later in life. As a result of infiltrations, you may be monitored for numerous types of activities. In certain nations, evading official prohibitions in order to investigate new political views is a criminal violation.

6. Scams

There are dark web markets that offer exact duplicates of business emails with company logos and comparable content that may be used for scamming. For example, the FBI and PayPal have both cautioned consumers against phishing emails pretending to be from PayPal that have the same features as real PayPal communications. These are the sorts of emails that are offered on the dark web, and a novice hacker may send these emails to various recipients and effectively defraud them.

Is it Illegal to Go on the Dark Web?

The dark web has a good and an evil side but it's entirely a subdivision of the internet. Accessing and viewing the dark web is completely legal. However, this is a reasonable question. The dark web is frequently connected with criminal conduct. In reality, researchers discovered that the majority of dark websites are utilized for illegal behavior, notably drug trafficking, financial fraud, and the exchange of stolen passwords. The legality of the Dark web is also determined by your location and country. Technically, browsing the dark web is not illegal. You are not acting illegally unless you are looking for something that is inherently criminal, such as child pornography.

What Happens If You Go on the Dark Web?

When you connect to the dark web, first of all, you should not expect to surf like current web browsers. You should know what you are looking for and for what purpose you entered. On the dark web, there are many websites that are not indexed and their contents are unknown, and where illegal activities can be done. You are entirely responsible for your own computer security. You should act knowing that you can infect your system with malware, keyloggers, and many different viruses from the websites you visit. If you have entered the dark web just to ensure your anonymity and have not visited any illegal web pages, you will probably not face any legal charges. Because the dark web is considered legal in many countries of the world.

What is the Government Doing About the Dark Web?

The Dark Web may be a playground for nefarious people online due to the anonymity it provides. However, as previously said, there are a number of areas in which research and usage of the Dark Web may be beneficial. This is true not only for individuals and companies seeking internet privacy but also for government agencies like intelligence services, military, and law enforcement.

Law enforcement, like criminals, may take advantage of the Dark Web's anonymity. It might use this to undertake internet surveillance and sting operations, as well as keep anonymous tip lines operational. The Dark Web's anonymity can be utilized to protect military command and control systems in the field from being identified and hacked by enemies. The military may utilize the Dark Web to research the environment in which it operates and to uncover actions that pose a threat to personnel safety.

How to Policing the Dark Web?

The dark web has become a popular platform for illegal conduct, particularly in liberal democratic countries. The system's anonymity has led to it being used for a variety of purposes, including terrorist sites, gun markets, drug bazaars, malicious software forums, and insidious child abuse message boards. A variety of approaches may be used by law enforcement to successfully police the dark web. To identify criminals on the dark web, law enforcement organizations use specialized technologies that intelligently index dark websites. Despite some accomplishments in detecting criminals, there are still many obstacles to overcome. International borders are one of the most difficult obstacles to overcome since they obstruct further research and add time to the process. Surveillance and data-gathering operations are prohibited under the legislation. The deep web's anonymity makes it difficult to track down money and criminals. Criminals routinely change IP addresses and identities on the dark web, making it harder to monitor.

Deep Web vs. Dark Web: What is the Difference?

Deep Web is a subset of the Internet. This section is nearly invisible and is not indexed by most major search engines. As a result, it does not appear in your search engine results. To access the pages on the deep web, type their URLs into your browser. In an essence, the deep web is everything that search engines cannot see due to the sheer enormity of the Internet.

The Dark web is a subset of the Deep web; nonetheless, it is distinct from the Deep web. The deep web can generally be accessed using standard tools and software; however, this is not the case with the Dark web. You must use specialized software to gain access to it. The dark web is well-known for the various illegal and criminal activities that take place on it. Some of these activities include drug dealing, gambling, illegal pornography, and so on. It is also said to be a haven for various types of criminal activity. However the Dark Web is used for a wide range of criminal activities, it also has numerous legitimate and legal uses.