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by peter

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What is the Dark Web?

The dark web is the hidden collective of internet sites only accessible by a using a specialised web browser or by specifically configuring your device to access the Dark Web. It is used for keeping internet activity anonymous and private, which can be helpful in both legal and illegal applications. While some use it to evade government censorship, it has also been known to be utilized for highly illegal activity. The Dark Web is one of the biggest dichotomies in modern journalism. The press sensationalize the Dark Web as a place where all the crime happens and criminals hang out, yet use the Dark Web themselves to ensure secure and uncensored communications when sending in articles.

The Internet is sizable with millions of web pages, databases, and servers all run 24 hours a day. Sites can be found quickly and easily using search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo, all of which are tracking your browsing.

The Dark Web by contrast is unindexed. There are search engines within them, but they only know about sites that are linked. That is about 7% of all the content on the Dark Web. To compound the searching issue, the Dark Web is made up of two projects. The biggest one, and the one that gets 99.9% of all the attention is TOR, The Onion Router. TOR started out life as a US Navy project to ensure continued network connectivity in event of a nuclear strike against the US. The other 0.1% is the I2P project.

The Dark Web

Despite what is reported by purveyors of fear, uncertainty and doubt, the Dark Web is significantly smaller than the traditional web. Using the ocean and iceberg visual, the dark web would be the bottom tip of the submerged iceberg. It is a very concealed portion of the overall internet and only a few internet users will ever interact with it.

Breaking down the construction of the dark web reveals a few key layers that make it an anonymous haven:

  • No webpage indexing by surface web search engines. Google and other popular search tools cannot discover or display results for pages within the dark web. There are some search engines within TOR, but they only index the sites that are linked.
  • “Virtual traffic tunnels” via a randomized network infrastructure.
  • Inaccessible by traditional browsers due to its unique registry operator. Also, it’s further hidden by various network security measures like firewalls and encryption.

The reputation of the dark web has often been linked to criminal intent or illegal content, and “trading” sites where users can purchase illicit goods or services. However, there are plenty of legal users of the Dark Web. Users such as the BBC and CNN, who’s journalists use the networks to report on governments where censorship can be an issue.

How to Access Tor & I2P

The dark web was once the province of hackers, law enforcement officers, and cybercriminals. However, new technology like encryption and the anonymization browser software, Tor, now makes it possible for anyone to dive dark if they’re interested. Pretty much most of the Hedgehog penetration testing team use Tor for various purposes. Our founder has a few posts on the way he uses Tor too.

Tor (“The Onion Routing” project) network browser provides users access to visit websites with the “. onion” registry operator. This browser is a service originally developed in the latter part of the 1990s by the United States Naval Research Laboratory.

Dark Web - I2P Dark Web - Tor

Understanding that the nature of the internet meant a lack of privacy, an early version of Tor was created to hide communications. Eventually, the framework was repurposed and has since been made public in the form of the browser we know today. Anyone can download it free of charge.

Think of Tor as a web browser like Google Chrome or Firefox. Notably, instead of taking the most direct route between your computer and the deep parts of the web, the Tor browser uses a random path of encrypted servers known as “nodes.” This allows users to connect to the deep web without fear of their actions being tracked or their browser history being exposed.

Sites on the dark web also use Tor (or similar software such as I2P, the “Invisible Internet Project”) to remain anonymous, meaning you won’t be able to find out who’s running them or where they’re being hosted.

How to access the dark web safely

If you want to access the dark web, you’ll want to make sure you stay safe if you decide to use it.

  1. Trust your intuition. To avoid being scammed, you’ll want to protect yourself with smart behavior on the web. Not everyone is who they seem. Staying safe requires that you watch who you talk to and where you visit. You should always take action to remove yourself from a situation if something doesn’t feel right.
  2. Detach your online persona from real life. Your username, email address, “real name,” password, and even your credit card should never be used anywhere else in your life. Create brand-new throwaway accounts and identifiers for yourself if necessary. Acquire prepaid, unidentifiable debit cards before making any purchases. Do not use anything that could be used to identify you whether online or in real life.
  3. Employ active monitoring of identify and financial theft. Many online security services now offer identity protection for your safety. Be sure to take advantage of these tools if they are made available to you.
  4. Explicitly avoid dark web file downloads. Fear of malware infection is significantly higher in the lawless territory that is the dark web. Real-time file scanning from an antivirus program can help you check any incoming files in case you do opt to download.
  5. Disable ActiveX and Java in any available network settings. These frameworks are notorious for being probed and exploited by malicious parties. Since you are traveling through a network filled with said threats, you’ll want to avoid this risk.
  6. Use a secondary non-admin local user account for all daily activities. The native account on most computers will have full administrative permissions by default. Most malware must take advantage of this to execute its functions. As such, you can slow or halt the progress of exploitation by limiting the account in-use to strict privileges.
  7. Always restrict access to your Tor-enable ddevice. Protect your children or other family members so they aren’t at risk of stumbling across something no one should ever see. Visit the Deep Web if you’re interested, but don’t let kids anywhere near it.
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