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Cybercrime is on the rise and something that is often spoken about in relation to such activity is the ‘dark web’. In the case of data breaches and leaks, a lot of stolen data – including email addresses, passwords and bank account details – can find its way onto the dark web, where it may be bought, sold and used for criminal activities.
But what exactly is the dark web? And should you be worried about it? In this guide, we take a closer look.
What is the dark web?
In simple terms, the dark web is an anonymous online space.
It is impossible to access the dark web without a special Tor browser, which blocks the IP address of the user, rendering them untraceable. Content that appears on the dark web isn’t indexed, meaning it doesn’t show up in search engines. In other words, you’ll never access the dark web via a Google search.
The under-the-radar anonymity offered by the dark web makes it a very attractive proposition for criminals, gangs and hackers who can essentially go about their activities pretty much openly and with very little fear of reprisal.
But that’s not the only way the dark web is used and it can have certain benefits for other groups too.
What types of criminal activities take place on the dark web?
Criminal activities are taking place on the dark web every day. One study conducted by King’s College London found that over a five-week period, more than half (58%) of the content analysed accounted for illegal activity. Of course that also means that just under half the websites analysed were legitimate and ‘above board’.
The types of crimes being committed on the dark web range from petty to serious offences. As well as being able to buy quantities of class A drugs, you’ll also find websites advertising illegal firearms and stolen bank cards for sale.
Here are some of the most common things being offered illegally on the dark web:
Are the dark web and the deep web the same thing?
The deep web and the dark web are two different things.
Deep web content, like dark web content, isn’t indexed on search engines, which is why some people confuse the two.
Deep web content, however, doesn’t require a Tor or anything other than a normal internet browser to access it. It is generally content that is password protected, subscription-based or hidden behind paywalls, so which can’t be access without a log-in or approval.
Google doesn’t bother to index it as it’s not freely available for all users.
Examples of deep web content include:
The deep web actually accounts for the vast majority of content hosted on the internet (some estimates put deep web content at around 90% of total internet sites), so there’s much more deep web content out there then there is regular indexed content (the type you find in a Google search).
That’s not to say that everything found on the deep web is entirely legit and above board. Illegal streaming and download sites, such as those that allow you to bypass the paywall of genuine subscription-based services, are also among the content you’ll find if you scratch below the surface of the deep web.
Right at the furthest reaches of the deep web, accessible only by Tor, is where you’ll find the dark web and it’s here, away from detection and under the cover of anonymity, that the most illicit internet activities unfold.
Is accessing the dark web against the law?
It’s not illegal to access the dark web. In fact, in countries where internet access is restrictive or online activity is monitored, citizens may use the dark web to go about their normal everyday activities, such as sending emails or accessing social media.
Likewise, anyone who is particularly concerned about their privacy, may use the dark web to ensure their movements online aren’t being tracked, affording them a level of anonymity you simply don’t get when browsing the internet in the standard way.
There’s a lot more free speech on the dark web too, including news sites that don’t appear on the open net and whistleblowing sites, where people feel comfortable sharing information they’d be reluctant to make public elsewhere.
You’ll also find entire manuscripts of books, encrypted email services, and even sites like Facebook! So, although the dark web rightfully has a bad reputation, there are many legitimate, law-abiding, dark web users all around the world.
How do I check if my personal or company data is on the dark web?
A dark web scan, which can be used to help check if personal data has been shared on the dark web, is something that is now offered by many specialist cybersecurity providers. It is also a service that is available, to varying degrees, from a range of other organisations too. This includes antivirus software providers, such as McAfee, and other big names, such as Google.
If you’re at all concerned, a good place to start is Have I Been Pwned?, a free website which will tell you whether your email address or password appears to have been leaked. If it has, then make sure you change your password. Use a password generator to create a unique, highly secure password and keep a regular eye on your credit score, as any unusual activity there can be a sign you’ve been a victim of fraud.
You’ll find lots more hints and tips in our blog: Do I need a company password policy?
Keeping your small business safe
At Dragon, we support small businesses to create robust and secure IT systems that meet their individuals needs, while managing the ongoing threat of cyberattack.
In relation to the dark web, we have partnered with Dark Web ID™, a leader in the field of dark web monitoring. In the event of compromised data being found, we work with our customers to best manage the situation and mitigate any potential damage.
To find out more about our services, or to arrange a free IT assessment, call us on 0330 363 0055 or email email@example.com
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