What is it?

Simply put, the dark web is a network of untraceable online activity on websites that can only be accessed using encryption software. It is not indexed by Google, Bing, Yahoo or any other conventional search engine.

Both websites and users of the dark web enjoy the protection of anonymity through strong cryptography.

Our Experts Explain

To understand the dark web, first we need to straighten out the facts and dispel some misconceptions about the Internet itself: what it is exactly, its structure and operation mode.

The Internet, or World Wide Web, contains three distinct parts: the surface web, the deep web and the dark web. The World Wide Web is today made up of over a billion different websites, and despite what scaremonger media and governments want you to believe, the largest part of it isn’t the dark web – it’s the deep web.

Let’s use the image of an apple to illustrate the structure of the Internet:

  • The apple skin represents the surface web
  • The apple flesh represents the deep web
  • The apple core represents the dark web

The surface web, or “researchable web”, is basically all of the websites you can access through search engines (such as Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc). Studies have shown that it only represents about 1% of the World Wide Web’s entirety.

The deep web includes all webpages that search engines can’t access and thus search for, meaning that these websites and webpages are accessed only via passwords and/or specific authorisation. They include (but not limited to): intranets, password-protected sections of bank login pages, user databases, personal email accounts (like Outlook, or Gmail) web forums requiring authentication, paywalls’ pages, etc. Let’s imagine how many webpages every personal webmail account includes, then times that by how many accounts every individual can have, and times that by how many people use these types of webmail accounts…. This gives us a glimpse into how “deep” the deep web is.

Another thing to take into consideration is that for every webpage that exists online, a staging version was created (in order to check everything before the go-live): these pages are not indexed by search engines and are therefore also part of the deep web. These types of pages are innumerable, and as their descriptions suggest, are not created for fraudulent purposes. They exist for authentic reasons.

By definition, the deep web also includes the dark web (non-searchable webpages). Compared to the surface web, the dark web is a minor part of the World Wide Web; and compared to the deep web, just a drop in the ocean.

Newspaper stories about how “the dark web represents 90% of the Internet”, are misleading – they are just confusing the suspicious dark web with the less alarming deep web.

So, What Is the Dark Web Exactly?

As stated above, the dark web can therefore be defined as the “dark nook” of the Internet. It consists of untraceable, unsearchable websites that you need specific software, settings, approval and/or authority to access. Dark web servers are concealed and remain anonymous thanks to robust cryptography. Therefore, it is quite difficult to find out who is managing websites on the dark web, and what the actual Internet Protocol (IP) addresses of the servers are. It also means that these websites can’t be visited by any random web user and they can’t accidently stumble upon the dark web.

The principal encryption tool used on the dark web is Tor, an Internet overlay proxy network which hides users’ and websites’ identities and locations. Another popular encryption tool used to remain anonymous is I2P. These services provide several encryption layers so that all secrets remain secrets. The principle for navigating the dark web is simple: to access a webpage, the user must use the same encryption tool as the website he wishes to visit.

How Does it Work?

The Tor network is also referred to as “onion sites”, in reference to the extensions most commonly used for dark net webpages: “.onion”.

By using Tor Browser, users can hide behind many privacy features and can thus navigate the dark web anonymously. To find hidden websites, users must use directories (available on the surface web) listing .onion links. Word of mouth is also largely used for surfing the dark web, and a lot of hidden websites are shared via communities in forums, blogs and websites also accessible on the surface web.

To see a hidden webpage, the user must use the same encryption tool as the site, so that he can type in the URL and start browsing the website.

Stay tuned next week for the second part of our dark web story. We will explain what is it used for – the answer is not as obvious as you might think it is.