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Friday, July 21, 2017

The Dark Net and Deep Web

     I saw an ad on television recently by a company that protects against identity theft that claims to monitor the Dark Net for you and must admit that I didn't know what it is. Almost everything is available on there, drugs, weapons, and kiddie porn, you name it. 
     A Dark Net (often used interchangeably with the Dark Web) is a network that can be accessed only with specific software, configurations, or authorization, often using non-standard communications protocols and ports. Two typical Dark Net types are friend-to-friend networks (usually used for file sharing with a peer-to-peer connection) and privacy networks. 
     I was unaware that there is a hidden Internet underneath what I use. It is hidden from the view of ordinary web users and it sounds scary, full of criminals, difficult to access, requiring technical skill and accessing it probably gets you on the FBI or CIA watch list. 
     The Dark Web is not to be confused with the Deep Web...all parts of the Internet which cannot be accessed by search engines and can't be found through Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc. Experts believe that the Deep Web is hundreds of times larger than the Internet you get to via browsers and search engines. 
     Actually, the Dark Web requires no technical skills and takes just a few minutes to get started. It includes large databases, libraries and members-only websites that are not available to the general public. Mostly, it is composed of academic resources maintained by universities. If you've ever used the computer catalog at a public library, you've scratched its surface. It uses alternative search engines for access though. Its contents are not accessible through search engines and it is the anonymous Internet. 
     Normally, when accessing the Internet, your computer directly accesses the server hosting the website. When visiting the Dark Net this direct link is broken, and the data is bounced around a number of places before reaching its destination. The communication registers on the network, but the transport medium is prevented from knowing who is doing the communication. This is referred to as an onion network. 
     Ordinary internet browsing can reveal your location, and even if the content of your communications is well-encrypted, people can still easily see who is talking to whom and potentially where they are located. For many, the military and politicians this presents an unacceptable security risk. 
     The Dark Net is also popular among journalists and political bloggers, especially those living in countries where censorship and political imprisonment are commonplace. Online anonymity allows them to communicate with sources and publish information without fear of retribution. Terrorists also use it to avoid giving away their position to the governments they oppose. Governments, terrorists, law enforcement, and criminals are among the biggest users of the Dark Net. 
     The most popular way to do it is using a service called TOR which stands for The Onion Router. TOR website addresses don't look like ordinary URLs. They are composed of a random-looking strings of characters followed by .onion. Another onion network is The Freenet Project, which is similar but also allows for the creation of private networks, which means that resources located on a given machine can only be accessed by people who have been manually placed on a friends list. 
     The Dark Net also has large criminal marketplaces which accept only digital currency as payment and you can buy everything from drugs to assassinations. One must be careful about these sites though...police stings and con men, you know. 
     The Deep Web is an even scarier place. Also known as the undernet, invisible web and hidden web, it consists of information that you won't locate with a Google search. No one really knows how big it is, but it's hundreds (or perhaps even thousands) of times bigger than what you can see with a normal search engine like Google. It's a place where users go when they want to really bury data. These parts of the web are accessible only if you use special browser software that peels away the onion-like layers of the dark web. You don't want to go there.

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