Deep Web or invisible web is simply anything which the search engines cannot index. There are several search engines like google, Bing, Yahoo etc.
On the other hand anything that comes up on the search page and anything that is capable of being indexed by search engines like google comes under Surface Web, visible web, clearnet, indexed Web or Indexable Web.
Websites like google, youtube, facebook, twitter, amazon, news websites like BBC, your online banking website etc.. all come under surface web.
The database where your personal information is stored falls under Deep Web because it is hidden and cannot be indexed by google. Can you search your online bank account info like account number, account username, password and other such details on google ? Simply no. Its another thing if someone is stupid enough to put those details on a public website or forum which then comes up on the google when searched.
So Deep Web consists of information that is beyond the reach of search engines. More examples are corporate databases, government databases which contains sensitive information, a closed facebook group whose contents doesn’t show up on google but you can access the group if you are logged in and you are a member of that group, password protected pages, subscription-only information.
How big is the Deep Web ?
Deep Web is much larger than surface web. It is said that Deep Web is 96% whereas Surface Web is only 4%. The numbers are not 100 percent accurate but it is used in a sense to give an idea of how large Deep Web is as compared to the Surface Web.
Now that you have an idea of Deep Web and Surface Web, it is time to look into Dark Web or Darknet.
Some people use the terms Deep Web and Dark Web interchangeably as they don’t understand the key difference or they get confused because both look like nearly the same from the outside and also have some things in common; Just like the content of Deep Web cannot be indexed by search engines like google similarly the content of Dark Web or Darknet is also hidden and cannot be indexed still interchanging the two terms is inaccurate.
Dark Web (also called Darknet) is a small portion of Deep Web. You need specific software, configurations or authorization to access Dark Web, software like TOR browser, I2P and FreeNet.
Darknet and Dark Web are used interchangeably, though to be more technically precise Darknet is a network while Dark Web is a portion of World Wide Web just like Surface Web which is also a part of World Wide Web. In other words you can say Dark Web exists on Darknet (network).
How to access Dark Web ?
Dark Web is accessed via darknet such as TOR. Darknet is simply a network that supports or provides a way to communicate and access Dark Web content.
To access Dark Web you need to download TOR browser https://www.torproject.org/download/download-easy.html.en Once you install TOR browser you can search for “Hidden Wiki” which is like a small directory that contains links to some websites on the Dark Web, it is just the starting point. If you search ‘hidden wiki’ on google you would find many sites providing links to hidden wiki and other Dark Web / Darknet sites.
Other ways of accessing Dark Web are apps like FreeNet and I2P but TOR is more famous among the internet community.
The full form of Tor is The Onion Router and the links to Dark Web sites ends with .onion suffix just the like links to surface web sites may end with .com, .net, .org etc..
Normal browsers like internet explorer and firefox cannot open .onion links. TOR is one of the most secure browsers it changes your IP address / location and provides you high level of anonymity plus don’t even think of accessing the Darknet without Tor browser.
A lot of criminal and illegal activity goes on inside the Dark Web / Darknet whatever you want to call it. FBI and NSA do monitor the Dark Web.
Some of the illegal stuff inside Dark Web:
* Drugs / Narcotics.
* Child Pornography
* Disturbing videos, animal abuse videos
* Stolen Credit and Debit Card info
* Weapon / Arms Market
Is it illegal to access Dark Web/Darknet ?
It is not illegal to access the Dark Web but you should be careful, do not download anything from sites with illegal stuff, don’t do anything that makes the authorities take an interest in you. Its another thing if you unintentionally come across an illegal website but don’t browse the illegal websites. Some sites on the Dark Web are honeypots or baits set by the law enforcement agencies to lure the criminals. Dark Web also consists of some of the finest hackers, don’t click on just about every random link you find inside the dark web, you might get your PC infected with some malicious code or zero days, chances are very slim but still no harm in being careful.
Why is there more illegal stuff in the Dark Web as compared to Surface web ?
Darknet (Tor) provides a very high level of anonymity and it is very difficult to track / trace anyone inside TOR network that is the Darknet. It can be used to create sites that cannot be traced, you can’t just do a simple whois search and try to find out the server IP and location, everything is anonymous.
Even with the hacking capabilities that NSA has it is difficult to trace every person and every illegal website inside the Dark Web. It takes time, resources and money.
How is the illegal stuff sold inside the Dark Web ?
Payments inside Dark Web were initially made using Bitcoin whose ledger is public but after the emergence of privacy focused cryptocurrencies like monero the preference shifted towards it.
Your credit card / debit card info has some personal details about you it is also linked to your bank account and can be easily traced back to you but the Bitcoin wallet address using which you can send and receive bitcoins doesn’t have any personal info its just a unique address (for example: 4rEiV9BiJmhfYhE7MzsSdmH82xRYrbYrtb)
How is the illegal stuff shipped ?
Many say it can be shipped in the US via USPS courier, which is one of the ways, unlike other couriers that can be inspected by postal officers and courier companies themselves if they sense anything suspicious First-Class USPS provides enhanced protection of the 4th amendment of the US constitution and cannot be opened by anyone. The law enforcement agencies cannot inspect or open the package without probable cause and warrant.
Do not buy anything from the Darknet
Yes there are legal things sold on the Darknet too but many of them are fraud and scams, you never know who the seller is could even be some criminal organization or just a random scammer. Since it is very difficult to trace anyone inside the Darknet on top of that the mode of payment inside the Darknet is Bitcon a cryptocurrency difficult to trace therefore it attracts scammers due to high level of anonymity which makes it kinda safe haven for them.
Furthermore you are associating with people who operate in black markets which is not safe.
Silk Road is an infamous darknet market notorious for selling narcotics, weapons, and other illegal goods.
January 2011: Silk Road was founded by a user named ‘Dread Pirate Roberts’
October 2013: FBI locate and arrest the person accused of being the ‘Dread Pirate Roberts’. Silk Road is shut down.
November 2013: Silk Road 2.0 founded.
November 2014: Silk Road 2.0 gets shut down and operator arrested.
$1.2 billion worth of goods were sold on Silk Road before it was shut down.
Silk Road 3.0 is online, source: wikipedia
Is Dark Web only used for illegal activities ?
No, in fact Dark Web is used by the government agencies themselves to communicate securely, to send and receive sensitive information which tells us how secure it can be. Therefore criminals are also attracted to the Dark Web due to the secretive nature of the network and the level of anonymity it provides.
Dark Web / Darknet is used by journalists in countries where there is no free speech and there is a fear of getting caught so they share information via the Darknet.
It is also used by whistleblowers as it protects dissidents from political reprisal.
Used to share sensitive news leaks.
Political activists in high-risk countries where free speech and dissent amounts to crime.
Used by intelligence agencies and even military to send information securely and also used for intelligence gathering.
Users who want to bypass censorship and surveillance and hide their identity online.
Many countries such as China has firewalls to limit what their citizens can see. The US government promotes and funds Tor as the tool which enables them to bypass censorship.
In 2011 Tor received FSF award for helping 36 million to experience freedom of access and expression on the Internet while keeping them in control of their privacy and anonymity. Its network also proved pivotal in dissident movements in both Iran and Egypt.
Darknet also has some email providers and “Sigaint” which is a darknet e-mail service is considered one of the most secure and anonymous e-mail services out here.
Who created Darknet ?
Darknet / TOR (The Onion Router) : The core principle of TOR, “onion routing”, was developed in the mid-1990s by United States Naval Research Laboratory employees, mathematician Paul Syverson and computer scientists Michael G. Reed and David Goldschlag, with the purpose of protecting U.S. intelligence communications online.
It was further developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and patented by the Navy in 1998.
The name of the Tor browser is derived from an acronym for the original software project name “The Onion Router“.
The Onion Routing project or TOR project was made public by the U.S Naval Research Laboratory who released the code for Tor under a free license around 2003.
Why did the government made TOR Project public it could also be used against them by criminals and terrorists ?
Some conspiracy theories revolve around this question but some of the reasons seem more logical than the others. Any piece of technology can be used by criminals as well as law abiding citizens. If only the US government or the Navy was the only one to use Tor, then obviously they wouldn’t gain any anonymity, it defeats the whole point of being anonymous. Someone (enemy spies or hackers) who noticed traffic from a Tor exit node would immediately know that someone from the government is sending those requests. So by making the public use the Tor network they are able to hide themselves among the masses. An anonymity network used only by the government would not work.
Another reason that is given is that they gave a tool to users in the censored nations to bypass censorship and to communicate securely and anonymously while some speculate that they now regret making it public as NSA is having hard time shutting down illegal websites on the Darknet. When one is shut down, another is hosted again with a new version. They wanted to offer it to journalists and whistleblowers but soon it started attracting criminals.
Can Darknet be shut down ?
There is no place where you can go to shut down the network. There is no central facility or server running the Darknet. Darknet is a network with groups of computers owned by different people around the world. If you shut down one server or computer it doesn’t shut down the whole network.
Moreover legally it is very difficult to shut it down, it goes against the laws. Yes criminal activities happen inside the dark net but it also happens on the surface web, on the phones and many other places. Any technology can be used by bad guys as well as good guys, shutting down the entire thing would amount to censorship. Moreover using the network is not illegal, the government themselves use the Darknet so it would be ironic if the US government tries to shut the Darknet.
It is possible to shut down specific sites on the Dark Web which requires incredible amounts of time, money, resources, and effort.
The combined governments of various countries have enough trouble keeping the torrent website ThePirateBay from operating on the Surface Web, now you can imagine trying to shut down an entire network of Darknet sites with encrypted communications and hidden IP addresses hosted in different parts of the world.
Misinformation about Dark Web
No doubt Dark Web has become infamous, most of the media thrives on negative reporting, sensationalism and clickbaits just because you hear everything bad reported in the media about the Dark Web doesn’t mean everything going on inside Dark Web is bad. There are so many youtube channels that spread misinformation, fake stories and hoaxes about the Dark Web along with fake videos, because of its mysterious nature people tend to take an interest in it and it sells very well. Most of those scary Darknet stories, especially those Redroom stories on the youtube channels with millions of views are false only a few of the stories are true for eg. Peter Scully’s case. Because the stories about Darknet sell so well many youtubers have made it a business doesn’t matter if those stories are true or false. This reddit group is a good place to ask questions and discuss about the Dark Web.
Does Tor provide enough security to access the Dark Web ?
Yes unless you think you are the next Julian Assange. I mean it depends why you want to access Dark Web. If you just want to go there out of curiosity and you know the basics to keep yourself out of trouble (don’t click on every random link you come across, dont share your email or other info on the Darknet etc..) then you should be fine. But if you are some journalist or an activist in a country who fears persecution or a whistleblower who is under surveillance then it isn’t recommended to use Darknet on windows operation system or on your main operating system which you usually use for day to day activities. Linux would be more secure, a special security focused Debian-based Linux distribution known as Tails https://tails.boum.org developed by ‘Project Tor inc.’ is made for specially this purpose, it is aimed at preserving privacy and anonymity.
In 2013 Edward Snowden used Tor (Darknet) to leak NSA Document. Leaked presentation revealed that NSA attacks and tries to exploit the Tor network, it considers blanket surveillance action against Tor not feasible as Tor is a powerful tool the anonymity provided by Tor makes it impossible or at least very difficult for even the NSA to know who the user is.