Seven things you need to know about the Dark Web
The dark web is a dangerous, depraved place where almost anything is available for sale. Here's all you need to know about the Dark Web.
1. What is the dark web?
It's a part of the internet that can't be reached with the normal tools we use, such as Google or web browsers. It's not just that it's not indexed - it's actively restricted. As well as requiring special software to get there, this means that what is accessed or found there isn't subject to any kind of regulation or oversight. It's also very hard to trace anyone who operates there. Experts talk about the dark web as a contrast to the 'surface web', which is what you and I use every day in email, social networking and web searches.
2. Anytime I hear about the dark web, it's in relation to crime. Is that a fair representation?
Most of the headlines generated about the dark web come from stories about platforms such as Silk Road, the virtual marketplace notorious for trading in weapons, drugs and hacked accounts. Hackers, especially, use the dark web to sell stolen data such as credit-card details. Drug-dealers use the dark web a lot, too. That said, there are some arguments in favour of the privacy benefits that non-traceable routes associated with the dark web bring. Some journalists and political activists say that they rely on such methods to communicate in oppressive regimes.
3. Is this where a lot of the child-abuse material, also referred to as child pornography, is traded?
Authorities say that while there is child-abuse material to be found on the dark web, much of the worst serial activity is restricted to even more private peer-to-peer networks.
4. Can I or my family just land there by mistake?
No. Typically, you need special software or tools to access it. One of the most common tools used is The Onion Router, or Tor. This creates an encrypted layer between your activity and the surface web, including any tracking software that might try to follow you there. It's easy to download and launch, but slows your whole system down.
5. I sometimes hear reference to the 'deep web'. Is that the same as the dark web?
No. The deep web is everything that sits beneath the surface web, including the dark web. For example, there are billions and billions of gigabytes of data on the internet that, while not restricted, you can't pull up just by doing a Google search because they don't each have an individual web link. An example would be the website of the Courts Service. If you're looking for details on a case, you can enter Highcourtsearch.courts.ie and input details into its search box. But if you do a Google search for the same case, it won't come up. That case is part of the deep web because it's not indexed other than in its own siloed website. But it's still accessible by anyone with ordinary browsing materials.
By comparison, the dark web is a part of the deep web that is deliberately restricted and shut off unless you have specific tools (such as Tor) to get in.
6. What are the proportions of what makes up content material on the dark web?
A recent study by Equifax estimated that file-sharing (29pc) and leaked data (28pc) make up a clear majority of the activity on the dark web. Financial fraud (12pc) comes next, while drugs (4pc) and pornography (3pc) make up a small proportion.
How easy is it for the guards to track activity on the dark web?
It's possible to access marketplaces and see activity, but much harder to track individuals. Irish police won't say much about their activity around the dark web, but US and UK authorities are known to infiltrate marketplaces in an attempt to keep track of what is being traded.
7. How big is the dark web?
Most authoritative analysis suggests that it's not nearly as big as sometimes reported. While there are well over a billion websites on the regular (surface) web, there are estimated to be less than 100,000 sites on the dark web. The Tor Project, which runs Tor, estimates that around 1.5pc of its activity is related to dark web sites. It also recently put its number of daily users at around two million. That's a tiny number of people, in relative terms.