Most people don’t realize that the websites you can visit from your web browser only make up about 5% of the content on the internet. The rest of the web is made up of the so-called “deep web” and its subset the “dark web.”
In this article, we’ll go over the different layers of the internet, how dangerous the dark web is, and how to protect yourself from it.
Let’s get started!
The Different Layers of the Internet
To understand what the dark web is, you first need to understand the basic structure of the internet. Think of it like an iceberg. The visible portion of the iceberg is what’s called the surface web, while the portion below water level is the deep web (which includes the dark web).
Let’s go over each layer in a bit more detail:
The surface web (aka open web) is what most people think of as the internet. It includes any website that can be reached through a search engine. As long as it’s a page available to the public, it’s considered surface web.
As mentioned earlier, however, the surface web only accounts for 5% of the internet. The rest is considered the “deep web.”
The deep web (aka the invisible or hidden web) includes anything that is not indexed by search engines like Google. So a page on the deep web can’t be accessed by just anyone. You must have the proper authorization or login.
Many web pages fall into this category. They can include company or organization portals (aka intranets), email inboxes, and social media accounts.
The deep web makes up 90% of the internet.
The dark web is a small subsection of the deep web. It was created by University of Edinburgh student Ian Clarke (along with Freenet) back in 2002.
To access the dark web, you must have a special web browser like Tor (short for the onion router), which was funded by the US Naval Research Labratory and launched in 2008.
What makes the dark web different from the rest of the internet (including the majority of the deep web) is that it helps you stay anonymous with the help of a technique called “onion routing,” which involves encapsulating information in layers of encryption (analgous to the layers of an onion).
So not only are dark web sites not indexed by search engines, but they allow users to navigate them with complete anonymity.
How Dangerous Is the Dark Web?
The reason the dark web often gets a bad rap is that it’s a popular space for criminal activity. Many criminals use it to buy and sell illicit goods and services because it allows them to interact anonymously.
Criminals also tend to use the dark web in conjunction with cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. Why? Because cryptocurrency transactions can be performed anonymously on a blockchain ledger, which helps buyers and sellers hide from government authorities.
That said, the dark web can also be used for good. For example, some users use it to freely express ideas without the risk of censure from authoritarian governments. Others use it to maintain their personal privacy. Law enforcement can also use it to investigate criminal activity under cover.
In and of itself, the dark web is not criminal. It’s completely legal for anyone to use. Just be careful who you associate with on it and be careful not to accidentally visit sites that will install malware onto your computer.
How to Protect Yourself From the Dark Web
To help ensure you stay safe on the dark web, follow these cyber security best practices:
- Create strong passwords. Make sure they include a good mix of lower- and uppercase letters, numbers, and symbols, and never use the same password twice. Also, change your passwords regularly. If you have a hard time keeping track of them all, use a password manager like Lastpass or 1Password.
- Avoid phishing scams. Be careful who you accept messages from. Only open messages and files from senders you know. Otherwise, you might unwittingly install malware or ransomware onto your computer.
- Never share personal information. Dark web criminals like to steal and sell people’s identities. To avoid becoming an identity theft victim, never share personal information like your social security number, birth date, or financial information.
- Monitor your credit report. Keep a close eye on your credit report for suspicious activity that you don’t recognize. If there are any discrepancies, contact a credit bureau to have it fixed or investigated. If needed, freeze your credit account so it can’t be compromised further.
If you own a business, you may also want to protect it (and your employees) from bad actors on the dark web. The easiest way to do this is to hire a managed IT service that offers dark web monitoring and protection services. This way, if any of your business’ information is floating around on the dark web, you will be notified so you can react quickly.
The best protection against the dark web is to follow online safety practices and have a strong IT team on your side.
The Bottom Line
The dark web can be used for good or bad. If you want to use it, that’s fine. Just be extra cautious by never sharing personal information and being highly selective about who you interact with. You and those you love will be much safer for it.