If you’re reading about the deep web, chances are you were brought here by the intriguing mysticism that surrounds it. From stories in the news and media, to popular videos and even urban legend. All telling a similar story of a deep, dark, underground web, hidden and secret from normal users and only home to master criminals and elite hackers.
Intrigued? Who wouldn’t be, but as is often the case it’s not really the whole story. Lets try to separate some of the facts from the fiction here, and give you an idea of the ‘real’ deep web, its history and customs. This guide is mainly targeted at beginners to help answer the commonly asked questions but old timers might find it an interesting read anyway.
What is the Deep Web?
Simply put, the deep web covers everything that isn’t indexed by search engines. A huge variety of things online fall under this category and in fact it makes up the majority of the web. This is a figure you’ll commonly hear quoted (along with images of icebergs). While the statement itself is true it’s usually taken to suggest the deep web is full of dark and illegal content, this simply isn’t the case.
Search engines use web crawlers (or spiders) to crawl the net, they don’t see websites like we do but instead have to rely on hyperlinks to navigate sites. That isn’t too big an issue but it leaves areas of sites inaccessible for indexing such as personal account pages and secure databases both of which require a password to view. Thus these areas are not indexed and they are part of the ‘deep web’.
Deep vs Dark
What about the cool stuff? Of course there’s also the famed hidden sites on the deep web, these are sites that choose to hide themselves from being indexed by search engines (to summarise). They make up a tiny minority of sites but is usually what is being referred to when we talk about the deep web (an admittedly somewhat generic term).
Okay so what about the dark web? This is used to exclusively describe these hidden sites that require special software and configuration to access. The exact usage of the terms differs though as not everyone uses the term “Dark Web” as it implies some kind of sinister or illegal nature for this reason you’ll see many online and in forums simply refer to everything as the deep web (the article of this title included).
Hidden sites require a framework to run, in order to remain secure and ensuring the anonymynity of their users. There are a variety of different networks designed for this purpose however the main ones are Freenet, I2P, and finally Tor, the most popular by far, so much so that it has almost become synonymous with the dark web itself.
Tor, stands for The Onion Router (believe it or not) which refers to the “layers” of the network, geddit?
The project was originally developed by the US Navy to ensure the security of intelligence communication before eventually being released open-source where the project began in its current form under the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation).
Tor users are kept anonymous and secure on the network by routing their traffic between servers (known as nodes) which are run entirely by the community. Unlike in a conventional web server where there is simply one main connection, the Tor network uses multiple and encrypts the traffic along the way, this makes your connection difficult to track and identify. Even if one of your connections is compromised, your security is not due to the amount of nodes that are being run.
How to access the Dark Web
Each network functions differently and as such requires different methods of connection. If you want to access Tor you can easily do so through the excellent Tor browser bundle, which allows you to download and browse the .onion addresses just like you’d normally browse the web in a regular looking browser. If you’re just doing some casual browsing, you’ll be more than safe, most of the stories you hear are nothing but creepypastas, there are no hackers who are waiting for you to visit their website so they can pounce, why would it be worth their time. That said, if you are really concerned about your security, I’d recommend not running Tor on Windows, as flaws have been found on the OS in the past. Depending on your level of Paranoia you may want to check out some of the specialist operating systems such as Tails which have been created with dark web browsing in mind.
Browsing the Dark Web
What’s online? While there’s plenty of shady content out there such as illegal markets (drugs being a large source of traffic) there’s plenty of interesting things out there too such as documents, political discussions and open libraries. In this sense the dark web is just an unfiltered internet, imagine a web before corporations, that’s the world of .onions. Most sites are simplistic and made by passionate amateurs with community run moderation, a lot of active sites you’ll find have rules in place against gore and pornography in fact (contrary to what the media might tell you). Of course, if you really want to find things disturbing, it’s there to find, but so too is there on the surface web and in real life. Ultimately, stay safe, but don’t be scared of browsing, go out there and explore!