What is the Dark Web? – Definition from Nexus

What Does the Dark Web Mean?

The dark web is like a hidden part of the internet where websites have secret IP addresses. It’s accessed using special software, and it’s not meant to be easily found by search engines.

Now, the dark web has its pros and cons. On the positive side, it’s used by law enforcement and journalists to share classified information. But on the negative side, it’s also a place where people can buy illegal stuff and services. It’s like a black market with reviews and all.

The dark web is a part of the deep web, which includes web content that’s not meant to be easily found. The opposite is the clear web, which is where regular websites are indexed by search engines.

Clear Web vs. Deep Web, Dark Web

The web that we normally use, with all those billions of web pages indexed by search engines, is called the clear web. But guess what? There’s an even bigger part of the internet that’s not indexed and not publicly visible. It’s called the deep web!

The deep web includes things like private data storage for services like Gmail, Google Drive, and Microsoft Office. It’s like a hidden treasure trove of information that’s only accessible to authorized users. Governments, the military, and even NASA have their private data on the deep web. The deep web is estimated to be 400 to 550 times larger than the clear web. Can you believe that?

Now, the dark web is a part of the deep web. It’s like a secret layer built on top of it. The dark web provides anonymity for websites and users, which can be both legal and illegal. It’s like a whole different world with its own set of rules.

So, in summary, the clear web is what we normally use, the deep web is the hidden part that’s not indexed, and the dark web is the secretive layer within the deep web.

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The Internet vs. The Web

When we talk casually, we often use “Internet” and “web” interchangeably. It’s like telling someone to “go on the Internet” or “go on the web” means the same thing. But in reality, they’re different things!

Think of the Internet as this big network of computers that are all connected. It’s like a giant web of connections. And just like the web, it supports many different services and functions. One of these services is the World Wide Web, or simply the “Web” for short.

Now, if we imagine websites as buildings, like shops, factories, cinemas, and libraries, then the Internet is like the roads and highways that link them all together. It’s the infrastructure that allows network traffic to flow and arrive at the websites. Just like roads allow human traffic to find its way to a shopping mall, the Internet allows data to find its way to websites.

But here’s the interesting part: the Internet isn’t just about websites. It supports a whole bunch of other services too! For example, there’s email, which lets us send messages to each other. There’s also Remote Desktop Protocol, which allows us to control another computer from a distance. And let’s not forget about the Domain Name System, which helps translate website names into IP addresses. These services, along with many others, are delivered over the Internet, but they’re not all about serving up web pages.

So, to sum it up, the Internet is like this big interconnected network of computers, while the Web is a specific service that runs on top of the Internet and allows us to access websites. The Internet is like the infrastructure that supports all sorts of services, including the web.

Overlay Networks

This interesting concept is called an overlay network. It’s like a special kind of network that exists on top of the regular Internet. Imagine a bunch of computers that are connected to the Internet, but they have their own unique encrypted protocols. Because of this, they can’t be accessed using the standard network protocols that most computers use.

To overcome this, the owners of these computers rely on volunteers who run dedicated routing nodes. These nodes understand the private protocols of these non-conforming computers, allowing traffic to be sent between them. It’s like having a secret network within the larger Internet!

This hidden network is what we call the dark web. It’s made up of several different overlay networks, each behaving like its own independent dark web. To access these networks, you need specific software tools like Tor (The Onion Router), I2P (Invisible Internet Project), or even the Tails operating system. Websites on the Tor network have .onion suffixes, while those on the I2P network have .i2p suffixes (pronounced “keep”). These websites won’t show up on search engines like Google, and you can’t access them using a normal Internet browser. You need a special dark web browser for that.

Among these overlay networks, the Tor network is probably the largest. It was initially developed by mathematicians and computer scientists at the United States Naval Research Laboratory. Their goal was to create a secure and anonymous way for people to communicate over the network.

To achieve this, Tor uses a technique called “onion routing.” It basically wraps your traffic in layers of encryption and sends it through a network of around 7,000 volunteer-run Tor nodes. This provides a high level of security and anonymity, making it difficult for anyone to trace your online activities.

Why People Use the Dark Web

It is this very anonymity, of course, that makes the dark web such an attractive proposition for criminals. This has resulted in the dark web becoming synonymous with drug sales, gun sales, illegal pornography, stolen credit card numbers, ID theft, and cybercrime.

Malware, ransomware, and crypto-jacking source code and toolkits are readily available for purchase to allow a would-be cybercriminal to set up shop. There are literally thousands of .onion and .i2p websites acting as marketplaces, each one like a nightmare version of eBay.

The various vendors are sorted into different categories according to what they offer – drugs, stolen credit card details, weapons, and so on. You can pick a category and search or browse through the different listings until you make your selection.

To make a purchase, you must pay in the designated cryptocurrency. If the marketplace is selling to the “public,” they often ask for payment in Bitcoin (BTC). This is because Bitcoin is the easiest cryptocurrency for the casual dabbler to obtain.

Criminal-to-criminal sales, or sales of highly sensitive materials, are usually transacted in another cryptocurrency such as Monero. This provides another level of obfuscation for the criminals to hide behind because Monero can only be purchased using another cryptocurrency. This increases the levels of obscurity they hide behind.

By definition, the vendors are all criminals. Not surprisingly, then, a lot of the dark web is fraudulent. After all, if someone orders a batch of drugs, but they never take delivery of them, they can’t very well take it up with trading standards.

To counteract this, the more sophisticated marketplaces allow buyers to leave star ratings for vendors and to give feedback regarding quality of product, speed of delivery, and reliability. Other dark web websites include escrow systems that hold the money for a transaction and only release it to the vendor when the buyer receives their purchase.

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Cybercrime-as-a-Service

The dark web is a pretty shady place, where criminals offer all sorts of cybercrime services. They can launch ransomware attacks, cryptojacking, and even distributed denial-of-service attacks on your behalf, for a fee. What’s even scarier is that you don’t need any IT skills or a lot of money to use these services.

Some of these cyber criminals even provide a dashboard for customers to track the progress and success of their ransomware campaigns. It’s a concerning aspect of the online world, and it’s crucial for us to be aware and take steps to protect ourselves from these threats.

How to Get on the Dark Web

First, you’ll need to download the Tor Browser from the official Tor Project website. It’s a special browser that allows you to access the encrypted network of the dark web. Once you have Tor installed, it’s a good idea to connect to a Virtual Private Network (VPN) for added security and anonymity. With Tor Browser open, you can enter the complete .onion URL of the specific dark web website you want to visit.

It’s important to note that these websites aren’t indexed by search engines like Google, so you won’t find them through regular searches. Instead, you’ll typically discover them through directories or forums within the dark web itself. As you explore the dark web, it’s crucial to be cautious. Avoid downloading unknown files or clicking on ads, and most importantly, make sure to stay within legal boundaries since the dark web is home to both legal and illegal activities.

Legitimate Uses of the Dark Web

While the dark web does have its fair share of disturbing content, it’s important to remember that there are also legitimate and respectable uses for this technology. One example is SecureDrop, an open-source whistleblower submission system used by media organizations to securely receive documents from anonymous sources. It operates on the Tor network and is trusted by renowned outlets like The Associated Press, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and more.

In addition, Tor is a valuable tool for journalists working in repressive regimes. It allows them to safely bring attention to social injustices and human rights abuses, providing a means to communicate with the outside world without fear of reprisal.

Law enforcement officials also benefit from Tor’s capabilities. It enables them to visit questionable websites and services without leaving behind any compromising tracks. This way, if their IP address is discovered in the site’s logs, it won’t reveal that they were conducting surveillance.

Moreover, Tor can help bypass state censorship. For instance, when access to ProtonMail, a secure and encrypted email service, was blocked in Turkey, residents could still reach it through ProtonMail’s .onion site, ensuring their privacy and freedom of communication.

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