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October 10, 2019
Dark Web Revealed and Explained

Every device connected to the World Wide Web has an IP address. Since each address is unique, online activity can be traced to a specific user. However, some users require anonymity. The dark web refers to a section of the internet where individuals operate anonymously. While the content in the deep web is not indexed by search engines, it can be accessed through the surface web. Conversely, the data in the dark web is deliberately concealed.  Payments for products and/or services sold on the dark web are made in crypto currencies such as Bitcoin. Therefore, the dark web is the part of the internet where people can communicate, sell/buy, and perform other online activities without revealing their identity.

The dark web, as the name suggests, is mostly used by criminals. Terrorists use it to communicate without being detected by security agents; traffickers of drugs and weapons also use the dark web to escape government authorities; counterfeit currency dealers also use it to conduct illicit activities.  For instance, before the Silk Road website was shut down and its owner arrested by the FBI, the site had made more than $1.2 billion in Bitcoin.  Generally, criminals have more reasons to conceal their identity, and perhaps, that is why the dark web is largely used for extreme illegal activities.

Besides the cons of the dark web, there are benefits as well. The tool that supports the dark web was created by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory to allow anonymous online communication among the U.S. military personnel serving abroad. User activity goes through multiple layers of encryption in a way that the source of the traffic cannot be traced. Social networks have emerged in the dark web to allow people to communicate anonymously. In closed societies where governments limit the freedom of speech, people can use these alternatives to connect with the outside world without exposing themselves to authorities. The dark web also provides a platform where whistleblowers can reveal crucial information while hiding their identity. Therefore, contrary to perceptions, the dark web is not only used for criminal activities.

The dark web can be accessed by any internet user. However, it is not accessible through the surface web. Getting to this section of the web requires a browser that supports anonymous communication. One such application is the Tor (The Onion Router) browser, which is an open-source product. To get into the dark web, users must input the unique Tor address of the websites they want to visit. If a website requires authentication, users must provide the correct password.  Therefore, to access the dark web, internet users only need to download Tor browser for free, install it, and then perform online activities anonymously.

The dark web exists to enable anonymous web activity. People are able to communicate while avoiding surveillance by third party entities such as internet service providers. Although the dark web provides a platform for criminals to advance their activities, it also allows vulnerable groups to communicate anonymously. Moreover, before the Tor project was made available to the public, any Tor connection would be associated with the U.S. military and other government officials. The exclusive use of this technology increased cyber threats against the government. With an open-source tool for accessing the dark web, website owners may not know when a Tor connection is from a U.S. government official. Due to these benefits, as well as the technical complexity, the dark web cannot be totally destroyed. Government authorities can only target specific marketplaces that deal with illegal trade as they did with Silk Road. Also, destabilizing crypto currencies can deny cyber criminals an anonymous method of payment.

Criminals operating in the dark web sell credit card details among other illicit products. Individuals can protect their data from getting into the dark web by using strong passwords and storing information in secure locations. Checking credit reports regularly can also minimize the damage in case of identity theft. Moreover, deleting spam emails, using information security defense systems, and avoiding suspicious websites can minimize exposure to malicious programs. Therefore, observing best safety practices can help to protect personal information from getting into the hands of criminals.

Overall, the dark web allows internet users to perform online activities anonymously. It has pros and cons. Having been created by the U.S. government, the tool enhances communication among military personnel and allows people living under oppressive regimes to disguise their identity while communicating via the internet. However, criminals have also used the anonymity provided by the dark web to advance their activities. With an open-source browser, any internet user can access the dark web. However, users should not disclose any personal information that would expose them to identity theft. Illegal trade on the web is supported largely by crypto currencies. Therefore, destabilizing these anonymous payment methods can help in the fight against crime.

About the Author
David Mamikonyan CBI
David Mamikonyan
Vice President | Professional Services
David Mamikonyan leads CBI's highly skilled engineering practice and is responsible for our complete integration team. He brings advanced technical expertise in cyber security analysis, design, and implementation. David works with global senior leadership teams to assess and recommend security technologies, architectures, network and IT controls.
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