The “dark web” sounds almost like a fictional term from a movie, but the reality is, it’s an entire network below the surface of the internet you surf every day. Fittingly, it is a dark place; a recent study found 80 percent of dark web activity is related to pedophilia. Many people use it to also trade in illicit transactions with online “cryptocurrency” like bitcoin. As you might imagine, hackers and criminals often call the dark web their home, a network that allows them to carry out their plans. How?
“The dark web relies on specific protocols, of which the most commonly known is Tor,” states Paulo Shakarian, ASU’s director of Cyber-Socio Intelligent Systems Laboratory. “Sites hosted on these crypto-networks will not render in your traditional browser.” It is the cryptography and the obfuscated networking routes used by the dark web that allows the kinds of activities that are on the dark web to be carried out.The clearnet, on the other hand, is the internet we all use, the one where you use common search engines and check email and social media.
The dark web is used for horrible services, such as child pornography, assassination services, black market goods, and general exploitation of personal information. It is, however, also used by journalists, political dissidents, activists, residents of countries with limited internet freedom, and privacy conscious citizens to communicate with the world or experience anonymous browsing.
The best practice to avoid being a victim when it comes to the dark web is to absolutely avoid it. Shakarian warns that even if the dark web is to be explored with a “virtual machine” with no data stored on it, some very sophisticated malware can bypass this and still access your personal information on your real machine. To combat dark web crime that may try to take advantage of typical internet users, Shakarian suggests that you:
Practice password safety: choose a sAf3 P4ssW0rd adhering to recommended safety standards, choose a distinct password for each site, change it frequently — if you have to keep a list of passwords, try to keep it offline.
Don’t be click-crazy.
Keep backups of your data and/or work off an external hard drive, so you don’t have to pay and thus perpetuate ransomware attacks (disconnect your backup hard drive as often and as long as possible).
Read up — you’d be amazed what’s out there! Over time you will gain situational awareness, which will enable you to protect yourself.
Be critical of online services in how they are storing and dealing with your data.
Most people will never have reason to access the dark web in their lifetime. Simply being aware of its existence is another solid step to protecting yourself as you navigate the complicated and ever-changing world of the internet and our increasingly interconnected world.