What is the dark web and is it a threat?

The dark web is part of the Internet. What most of us refer to as the Internet is the large number of websites that are accessible via search engines such as Google and Yahoo. This forms only a small proportion of the total data that’s available. By far the larger part of the Internet is made up of the so-called ‘deep web’. This is the part of the Internet that cannot be accessed by search engines or which have password protection.

The dark web is a small part of the deep web. It can only be accessed via a proprietary protocol (a unique procedure owned by a particular company or individual) and only if you know the name of the website page.

The dark web provides anonymity to users and it is this aspect that has attracted a huge range of people who want to keep their activities hidden.

It is used by a wide range of people and organisations who desire secrecy from governments and law enforcement organisations. It hosts illegal markets for trade in firearms, drugs  and the hire of assassins. It is used for child pornography, the sale of stolen data, malware and hacking information and by terrorist organisations. It is also used by whistleblowers to communicate with journalists.

It is not completely anonymous. If a web site is accessed, it may still be possible to discover who is using the site because of information that is shared, such as usernames and email addresses. But the dark web makes it considerably more difficult for law enforcement agencies to track down criminal activity.

There are many legitimate uses for the dark web.  Some studies suggest that more than half of dark web activity is legitimate. There are a number of websites for companies and political parties and forums for chatting about technology, games, the subject of ‘privacy’ and embarrassing issues such as erectile dysfunction. Anonymity does not equate to criminality.

Dark web – the risks

The dark web itself is not illegal. It is not illegal to enter the dark web or to download the software that allows access to it. Not everything on the dark web is illegal. But a lot of dark web content is, such as child pornography, and you might break the law by accessing such sites.  There have been law enforcement successes and a number of users of the dark web who have engaged in illegal activities have been brought to justice.

There is also – in theory – a risk is that you could inadvertently stray onto a sinister site set up by and for criminals. But this risk is extremely low given that these sites are designed to avoid detection.

Is the dark web a risk to society? Not of itself. But is hides people and activities that are a risk.

By Alexei Cantacuzene-Speransky of Rose Partners