DABBLING ON THE DARK WEB
The onion router? You probably think that I’ve lost the plot. The Onion Router stands for TOR, software that you need to access the dark web, part of the World Wide Web but that requires specific configurations and authorizations to access. Tor provides a great analogy for the dark web. If you think of the main web as the outer layer of an onion, Tor enables you to peel away the other 2 layers and access the hidden areas of the web. But is it safe to dabble on the dark web? In essence, using Tor or visiting the dark web is not unlawful in itself. But why would you go there and how dangerous is it? Let’s explore some more…
WHERE DOES THE DARK WEB FIT IN?
The dark web is one of 3 layers of the World Wide Web, and the most hidden and difficult to access. This matrix shows you the 3 layers of the web and their levels of accessibility. Note that the Surface Web is often referred to as Open or Clear.
|Indexed by traditional search engines like Google
|Not indexed by traditional search engines
|Accessible by any browser
|Gated sites are only accessible through a password
|Only accessible through specific software like Tor and I2P
WHY GO THERE?
Anonymity is key for users of the dark web. Private computer networks can communicate and conduct business anonymously without divulging identifying information, such as a user’s location. And it’s not all about cybercrime and illegal marketplaces. Facebook offers a Tor-based service, and in May this year stated:
“People who choose to communicate over Tor do so for a variety of reasons related to privacy, security and safety. As we’ve written previously it’s important to us to provide methods for people to use our services securely – particularly if they lack reliable methods to do so. This is why in the last two years we built the Facebook onion site and onion-mobile site.”
Facebook estimates that in any 30 days, 1 million users access the Facebook Onion site. Remember that Facebook is a stickler when it comes to cybersecurity, so maybe that dark web isn’t that dangerous after all?
Since 2017, The New York Times was also available as a Tor Onion service. Runa Sandvik, the Director of Information Security at the media conglomerate, said:
“Some readers choose to use Tor to access our journalism because they’re technically blocked from accessing our website; or because they worry about local network monitoring; or because they care about online privacy; or simply because that is the method that they prefer.”
PROCEED WITH CAUTION
So with the likes of The New York Times and Facebook in tow, the dark web must be safe? Not really. While many of the cybersecurity risks are the same as on the open or clear web, you need to know what you’re doing to avoid trouble. While you might desire the browsing anonymity that comes with Tor, the dark web is a hive of illegal activity as a consequence of its secrecy. The average user can unwittingly download malicious software, like ransomware, keyloggers, and botnets. It’s not worth the risk when you consider the dangers of data loss and identity theft.
UP THE RIVER?
Inappropriate use of the dark web can easily send you up the river, North American colloquialism for prison. You don’t want to go there. The dark web has an abundance of illegal marketplaces, some incredibly and intentionally innocent-looking. Buy something that has been acquired through ill-gotten gains, and you’ll find yourself going up the river. Government agencies and secret services constantly monitor the platform due to the high number of users with malicious intent.
MY 10 CENTS WORTH
Unless you are confident about using the dark web, my advice is to avoid it. The dark web isn’t easy to browse. First off, you need to know the exact URL of any site that you want to access, although TorLinks does provide a list of directories. Moreover, end up on the wrong site, and you could find yourself in a world of trouble. That side of the web does not give you a free pass to do anything you like. I reiterate the risks to your security and identity are too numerous to count. Stay safe and don’t go there.