You hear about data leaks all the time in the media. Have you ever wondered where that data is leaked?
You might’ve heard about the WannaCry ransomware attack last year. It is a program targeting Windows operating system as it installs and hijacks computers and demanding huge ransom, even ATM machines, personal computers as well as servers were not secure. It bought the US Healthcare System and French car maker, Renault to their knees. India was the third worst-hit nation.
Affected systems looked like the one in the image above.
Where do you think such dangerous programs and viruses originate from?
The U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) is said to have released an exploit called “EternalBlue” on the Dark Web. From there a mysterious hacking group “Shadow Brokers” got their hands on it and they developed a ransomware, what followed was the worldwide infection and a global outcry.
You might’ve heard about how the internet that we use on a daily basis and the information we access is just a small percentage of the total information of a bigger, much larger internet. This, to some extent, is absolutely true and you’ll be surprised to know how much underpowered and tiny the internet that we use is.
There exists a network on which anybody can do anything as it is far from the reaches of the law, on this network everybody is anonymous. This network can only be accessed using special tools and it has many resources that range from useful and legal to those outright scary as well as those which are completely illegal and inhumane.
The Bad Side
This kind of network is used to carry out cybercrimes like Black Hat Hacking, Card Theft, RATs, Trojans, and Worms. Purchase or sale of illicit or illegal goods or services also takes place on it like Drugs and Hackers for hire. Say a group of hackers somehow gain access to a large bank’s database and were able to steal credit card information of hundreds of thousands of account holders, then they would’ve to cash out those cards into their bank accounts. Or, suppose some guy is trying to get the word out about his new website. Wouldn’t it be quite convenient (albeit unethical) if he could somehow get tens of thousands of emails and send all of them a promotional email. Just then, he comes across a news article saying “Information of millions of email accounts stolen from ABC Company”. Where could he get his hands on some of the data?
The Good Side
Suppose a journalist receives some anonymous mail containing stolen documents that conclusively prove the involvement of the government and corrupt officials in illegal activities, she cannot release them to the public because then she will be accused of stealing documents, these documents need to come out in the open for the public to know the truth. Where to release them anonymously? Or, some person under an oppressive regime or government wants to share their views with the world opposing their own government. They need anonymity. Where to post their views?
The Dark Web is the answer to all of the questions above as it provides anonymity and it is completely out of bounds for any law to be imposed upon it and its contents. It thus is a heaven for three kinds of people Whishle-Blowers, Dissidents and Cybercriminals, because all these people want is anonymity. It is also used by the military, normal people, business executives, activists and law enforcement among others.
It is very important to clear the terminology because terms related to the dark web are frequently used wrongly by people and in the media.
- Network - An interconnection of devices capable of sharing data with each other via connections called links.
- Surface Web or The Internet - The regular internet that we use to access websites like Google, Wikipedia, and YouTube, etc…
- Deep Web or Deep Net - It is the part of the Internet which are hidden from the search engines and are called hidden or invisible because no search engine can find them. You access the deep net every day!, when you open your email, when you open WhatsApp, or when you log into your Instagram account. These portions lie on the internet but are private to you, and you access them using passwords.
- Dark Net - They are that portions of the internet, which can be requested access via their IP but have no services and hence no reply comes back. Think of it as a desert having nothing, has an address but no websites exist on it, they are automatically ignored by the search engines.
- Dark Web - It is an overlay network that can be accessed only with specific software, configurations, or authorization, often using non-standard communication protocols and ports. Ex - File-sharing P2P services like Torrents and privacy services like TOR.
- Clearnet - It refers to the unencrypted, or non-darknet, normal internet, like WWW (World Wide Web), this term has been used synonymously with the term “Surface Web”.
The terms Deep Web and Dark Web have been mistakenly conflated with each other, and are frequently used interchangeably to such an extent that they have now become synonymous, however, you should avoid using them like that.
Strictly speaking, a Dark Net is just an overlay network built on top of the internet, which is another network. Understand it like this, at first in the 1980s, the internet was provided on the telephone network, the internet was the overlay network to the telephone network back then. Then it slowly replaced the telephone network and today telephone calls can be done through the internet and hence, the telephone network is the overlay network for the internet.
There are a number of darknets around and they all require non-standard regular tools to access them.
The most popular and the largest network among the Dark Webs is the TOR Network. It stands for “The Onion Routing”, and it uses onion routing protocols. It is very interesting to note here that TOR was created by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, mainly because of maintaining anonymity while on the network, but there was a major limitation in the model that every time they made a connection to a clearnet website, the website owner knew that it was the CIA, because they were the only ones using it, so, they released TOR network to the public to populate the network. When there were enough uses on the network, one cannot tell who is who.
The TOR Network can be accessed only through the TOR Browser Bundle. WikiLeaks recommends submitting leaks through TOR only. Another thing to note about this network is that the links end with (.onion) and is a 16-character random letters and digits combination like http://xmh57jrzrnw6insl.onion, if you try to open now it won’t open in your regular browser, it needs the onion protocol to access the website at the link.
Also, you can also access the clearnet using the TOR browser and as it is built on top of the existing internet, you’ll be able to access websites like YouTube and Wikipedia normally. But when opening .onion links, TOR browser will use onion routing protocols.
Also, remember there is no Google indexing for .onion links (Dark Web Websites) and some search engines for websites on the dark web exist but as there are a large number of darkweb sites, it is very difficult to index them, also since many of them offer illegal services, their lifespan is short and they keep on switching to different links. So, anybody can set up an onion website and remain forever undiscovered to those who don’t know its link.
Though you’ll hear many rumors about the TOR network being a totally illegal place, and that you should never access it, accessing it is illegal and there are people there that will target you and hack you, people spreading things like that are nothing but ignorant, or pretentious or they have nothing better to do. Yes, drugs are a major problem on the Dark Web and you should stay away from links that offer them. That being said there are fraudulent scams all over the dark web and things like drugs markets and illegal materials also exist, despite the law enforcement organizations working hard to trace and arrest them. You should stay away from these links and you’ll be fine.
Other than that Dark Web offers one more advantage for people interested in a particular field or domain, be it Hacking, Mathematics, Cooking or Literature, you’ll find many things on the Deep Web that suits your interests.
- Secret communities - People can form private close-knit groups and work on a project anonymously.
- People from all over the world can socialize and collaborate anonymously.
- You can find many books in digital format that are not available on the surface web.
- You can find many interesting things like Unreleased Movie Scripts that are not available on the surface web.
- Unreleased movies, music, and literature find its way onto the Dark Webs.
- Every knowledge resource, available on every topic on the vast shelves of the Imperial Library of Trantor.
- Interesting and creepy games and documents are exclusively found on the Dark Web.
Only 4% of all links are accessible on the surface web, while 96% of the links are part of Deep Web. Dark Webs makes internet access more secure by making you anonymous which is very difficult on the surface web, as wherever you go, you leave marks and they can always be traced back to you. Not everyone loves that and the hidden webs come into the picture.
Further Reading and Recommended Links
To Summarize almost everything see this cool infographic here.
- Who Uses TOR?
- Dark Web Explained
- Dark Web - Wikipedia
- Dark Webs - Secret Internet
- The Invisible Web and how to find it?
- The disturbing world of the Deep Web
- Things to do on the dark web that aren’t illegal
- Even the NSA struggled to unmask TOR users
- Curiosity of The Dark Web And Its Dangerous Effects