Dark Web: Unpacking the Notoriety

Caleb Townsend
Staff Writer United States Cybersecurity Magazine

If you are internet savvy, or into Creepypastas, you absolutely have heard of the dark web. What started out as a little trivia fact (did you know 99% of the internet is The Deep Web?!) has morphed into something else entirely.

The Legend of the Dark Web

Because the dark web is non-indexable, Google can not crawl these sites. Therefore, Google cannot display these sites on search engines. Due to the anonymity and inaccessibility, the dark web has become a haven for illicit activity. A quick search on Reddit will yield many stories of hit-men, drugs, child pornography, and a variety of other black market “services”.

Red Rooms are common lore among Dark Web forums. You can find many stories that claim evidence of interactive pay-to-play torture and murder live-streams. The existence of these rooms are unsubstantiated. Click-bait sites build upon shaky sources from 4Chan or Reddit to mythologize the Dark Web, but these Red Rooms are usually scams created to steal bitcoins.

In fact, the majority of Dark Web stories are urban legend. In reality, most of The Deep Web is simply dead links, and The Dark Web only makes up a small percentage of the Deep Web. Now, that is not to say that The Dark Web has no illicit content. We have covered the seedy underbelly of the dark web previously.

What can I Find on the Dark Web? 

You cannot gain access to the Dark Web through a browser. Darknets utilize P2P networks, Tor, Freenet, or other Onion Routers to obscure their identities. Additionally VPNs are used to further obscure a user’s ISP address.

But getting alternative browsers and a VPN is the easy part. A basic misunderstanding of how the dark web operates has led many naive people to grab an onion router and begin browsing.  Many people hope to find a Red Room or other creepy services to satisfy a morbid curiosity. The Creepypastas certainly do not help.

However, most people only find The Hidden Wiki, a Tor gateway with a directory of links to other Dark Web sites. These sites are not going to yield the results many people look for. These sites are the sites that drug dealers and scammers want you to see. If you somehow manage to find a legitimately sketchy site, you will simply be asked to provide the appropriate credentials. Of course, it is very likely you do not have these credentials.

More often than not, you will find people selling drugs, hit-man scams, counterfeit templates, fetish/propaganda forums, and lots of dead links.

The Problem With Casually Surfing the Dark Web 

The idea of surfing layered, encrypted sites in order to find extreme, horrific, illegal content in the name of thrill seeking is problematic in of itself. However, many people do not understand that The Hidden Wiki is just another effective scamming technique. Doxing, Ransomware infections, and black market identity theft occur often. People looking to spook themselves are easy targets for malicious actors. Reports of undelivered goods and Trojan infections are common.

Even authorities working to collect Dark Web intelligence have to rely on insider reporting to gain the ability to monitor these activities. Investigators usually have to approach malicious actors and pose as a potential customer. They must build rapport and trust within these malicious communities, which can take years.

Conclusion

An unholy trinity of scary internet stories, sensationalist articles, and the natural curiosity of humans will ensure that the Dark Web remains wildly popular. However, uninformed browsing poses a legitimate risk to your security. If you truly feel that you must browse the Dark Web, be smart and be safe. Avoid sketchy links and disable Macros and Scripts. Additionally, do not download anything, use a VPN, and remember that you are browsing at your own risk. While using Tor is not illegal, you can legally be held liable for any illegal content you come across.

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