The internet is used by people everyday for personal and business use, as well as to search for information. Some examples include browsing social media, using search engines like Google, and marketing their business. However, there is a part of the internet that people do not know about, The Dark Web.
What Is The Dark Web?
Before we define what the dark web is, you need to understand what the deep web is. The deep web encompasses all information and sites that cannot be crawled by search engines. This includes private databases, online banking, content with a paywall, and more. People often assume that the deep web is the dark web, but this isn’t the case.
The dark web is actually a part of the deep web where illegal and criminal activity usually occurs. This includes selling illegal drugs, selling credit card information, money laundering, and more. Illegal actions on the dark web often occur in dark web marketplaces. However, the dark web isn’t all bad. For example, VPNs and encrypted browsers can help businesses transfer confidential information safely without being compromised.
When Is The Dark Web Illegal?
Browsing the dark web itself is not illegal. It is illegal to use the dark web when illegal actions are occurring. This includes:
- Selling or buying illegal goods like drugs and firearms.
- Distribution of child pornography.
- Selling financial and personal information to unknown sources.
- Making encouraging criminal behavior.
What Illegal Activity Occurs On The Dark Web?
To further analyze the illegal activity on the dark web, multiple studies have been conducted over the years including one done by Daniel Moore and Thomas Rid in 2015, and the other by University of Surrey in 2019.
In the first study, it was found that over the course of 5-weeks, 57% of the sites they analyzed hosted illegal material. In the University of Surrey study, the analysts found that harmful dark web listings had increased 20% since 2016.
To give you a better idea on the illegal actions that happen on the dark web, here are two examples:
The Silk Road was a dark web marketplace that was established in 2011. On it, people sold illegal goods, drugs, fake IDs, hacking tutorials, and more. People who made purchases on the platform were anonymous and made payments using bitcoin. In 2013, the FBI took down the mastermind behind the site, Ross Ulbrict aka Dread Pirate Roberts. He is currently serving a life sentence in prison.
The shutdown of AlphaBay is considered the largest online “dark market” shutdown to date. The dark web site sold illegal drugs like Fentanyl, hacking tools, fraudulent identification documents, chemicals, firearms, and much more. On July 5, 2017, the FBI took down Alexandre Cazes (Alpha02 and Admin) residing in Thailand. He did not serve time as he committed suicide while in custody.
At the time of the take down, there were about 200,000 users, 40,000 vendors, 250,000 listings for illegal drugs and chemicals, and 100,000+ listings of stolen or fraudulent identification documents and access devices.
Is It Safe To Use The Dark Web?
Yes and no. The dark web is safe to use as long as you take the necessary precautions and you don’t engage in any criminal behavior.
Some precautions you could take include:
- Using a VPN on the device which you are accessing the dark web on. This will help keep you anonymous and encrypt your internet data.
- Use Tor: This website browser allows you to browse online without worrying about being tracked and spied on. You can protect yourself against online trackers, unwanted surveillance, and other threats by keeping yourself anonymous online and through multi-layer encryption.
- Back-up the data on the device you will be using.
- Update your device and make sure it is free of malware.
Along with this, the FBI has been making strides to take down dark web marketplaces and sites that promote illegal activities. As mentioned previously, they have taken down multiple sites like Silk Road and AlphaBay. Researchers have also been continuously working on tracking dark web criminals and finding hidden services and sites.
In 2015, researcher Thomas White was able to track down the IP addresses used by dark web services. In general, dark web IP addresses used are supposed to stay hidden. But, how was White able to find them? Because of dark web developer mistakes. He uncovered the IP addresses of the forum, Tor Carding Forum v2, and the dark web marketplace, Kiss Marketplace. This discovery of being able to find dark web IP addresses has continued to help law enforcement agencies find and shut down illegal sites and services.
With all of these strides being made, the dark web is safer to use than it was in the past.
What To Do If Your Information Is On The Dark Web
Sadly, it’s relatively easy for an online criminal or anyone to obtain personal information about you. Hacking, phishing, scams, tracking tools, malware, and more are just some of the methods used. But, what happens if you discover your information is on the dark web?
Well, there’s not much you can do to get it removed from the dark web. However, there are many actions you can take to secure your data from getting into the wrong hands in the future.
- Change the login information on all of your online accounts and apps. Use a strong password (16+ characters) that is random and not guessable.
- Use a VPN when browsing online, especially if you are connected to a public Wi-Fi network.
- If your financial information or credit card information was mentioned, you may want to do a credit freeze with Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Doing this will help catch any fraudulent or criminal activity.
- Be careful who you share your personal information with online via social media, private messaging, texting, and email.
- Avoid phishing emails looking for you to provide your information in exchange for something.
- Avoid clicking on links sent to you from unknown sources and strangers. This can lead to malware being installed on your devices.
- Make sure all of your social media accounts are set to private. This will prevent random online users from viewing your profile information and posts.
- Download antivirus software on your devices to protect it from online malware.