The dark web is the most mysterious part of the internet. Most of us have at least heard of it and have an opinion about what it might be. However, few know what it actually is.
Surface, deep, and dark web explained
Let’s start with the basics. What is the web? As a whole, it’s not just the sum of the websites we love and can access via Google or other search engines. It’s an immense network that can be separated into three parts: surface web, deep web, and the infamous dark web. Think of the iceberg analogy.
When we think of the web, most of us think of the surface web. Essentially, the surface web is all the online content indexed by search engines such as Google and Bing and is readily available for the public. This part of the web includes the webpages we all know and love, such as Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia, and everything we can access through search engines. Interestingly, the surface web constitutes only 10% of all the information on the internet.
The deep web
The deep web (not to be confused with the dark web) is the part of the web that is not accessible via standard search engines we all use. The contents of the deep web range from pages that were not indexed by search engines, paywalled sites, and private databases, or anything that requires login credentials. Most internet users access the deep web on a daily basis to perform simple tasks, such as checking email or accessing a bank account. Experts say that the deep web constitutes the other 90% of all the information on the internet.
The dark web
The dark web, much like the deep web, is a network of unindexed web content. Technically, the dark web is part of the deep web, but the two shouldn't be confused.
The main difference between the deep and the dark web is that activity on the dark web is completely anonymous thanks to a number of intricate routing and encryption techniques. In fact, unlike the surface and deep webs, the dark web cannot be accessed via conventional browsers — it requires the use of the Tor browser which is specifically designed for anonymous browsing.
Another difference is that the dark web is completely unregulated. This is what makes the dark web so appealing to cybercriminals and other bad actors. However, it is a myth that the dark web is only used by cybercrooks. The most infamous part of the internet is also used by citizens living under oppressive regimes for safe communication. Investigative journalists are also known to use the dark web for privacy, especially when digging through sensitive information.
Is the dark web illegal?
Fair question, especially knowing that the dark web is primarily associated with illegal activity. But the answer is no, the dark web is not illegal. Accessing and browsing the dark web is entirely legal. There’s nothing illegal about downloading software and exploring the secluded parts of the internet. After all, the web was created to be a completely free entity.
However, in places like China, the great Chinese firewall is known to block all Tor traffic to limit access to the dark web. The same can be said about Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and a few other counties.
What happens on the dark web?
Much like the surface web, the dark web hosts a vast array of information and a variety of content. You can find anonymous chat and messaging boards, email services, book clubs, chess communities, Blackbook, which is the equivalent of Facebook, and much more.
However, the dark web is known as such for a reason. It’s a place where hackers and cybercriminals gather and where you can find a digital marketplace for pretty much anything you can imagine. It’s also a place where stolen credentials such as passwords, Social Security numbers, bank account and credit card details, and other sensitive information is sold and traded almost daily.
According to an in-depth report by the cybersecurity research site PrivacyAffairs, all the sensitive data that hackers and cybercriminals sell and trade is rather cheap. For instance, you can get a cloned Mastercard with a PIN for just $25, a hacked Facebook account for $65, a valid US Social Security number for just $2, and much more.
Tips for securing your data
Finding your data for sale on the dark web is a real possibility. It seems that headlines about data breaches pop up in the media every other day, but we rarely act to make sure that our online data is secure. Here are a few tips from the friendly folks at NordPass to help you stay safe online.
Avoid using public Wi-Fi
Nearly a quarter of the world's public Wi-Fi hotspots don't use any kind of encryption. As you can imagine, this is a hacker’s dream come true. Thus, it is best to avoid using public Wi-Fi altogether. However, if you’re in serious need of one, be sure to protect yourself with a VPN service such as NordVPN to ensure that your connection is secure and no devious third parties could intercept it.
Never reuse passwords
Using the same password for multiple accounts is as dangerous as connecting to an unencrypted public Wi-Fi hotspot. Think of it this way: using one password for more than one online account is like having a single key that would unlock multiple houses. Makes sense, doesn't it?
Use a password manager
In today's digital world, a password manager is a must-have security tool not only because it is designed to keep your passwords secure, but also because it helps you create strong passwords on the go. Besides, a reputable password manager usually offers more than a secure vault for your credentials. For instance, NordPass also has an in-built Data Breach Scanner, which allows you to discover whether any of your personal data has appeared in a data leak. Finally and most importantly, using a password manager will help you foster appropriate password hygiene and improve your overall online security.