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what is the dark web, should you access it?

The dark web is a popular hangout for activists, whistle blowers and shadier types like drug and weapons dealers. Let’s dive into the dark web to discover what it’s all about and decide if we want to take a visit. Or not.

What is the dark web?

Part of the internet’s digital landscape is not indexed by search engines. Known as the dark web, it is often accessed by those who lead or participate in illegal activities, including the sale of prohibited firearms, drugs, stolen data and hacking services. Due to the anonymity of the dark web, law enforcement agencies find it challenging to monitor and prosecute. 

While the dark web has a reputation for illegal activities, it’s important to acknowledge that not all content found there is illegal. There are legitimate purposes the dark web can serve, particularly the identity and privacy protection of reporters in repressive regimes, activists and whistleblowers. 

In this article we delve into different aspects of the dark web, including:

  • Characteristics 
  • Types of threats
  • Dark vs deep vs surface web
  • Pros and cons
  • Example of the dark web
  • Is it illegal in Australia to access the dark web?
  • How do you get on the dark web?

Characteristics of the dark web

Core characteristics of the dark web include no webpage indexing, the use of virtual traffic tunnels, and no access via traditional browsers, all aiding in keeping content off the radar.

  • No webpage indexing

Not indexed by standard search engines, the dark web uses a system that enables users to access content and sites that are invisible to anyone using what’s known as the ‘surface web’.

  • Virtual traffic tunnels

Anyone who wants to access the dark web needs specialist software, such as Tor, which generates virtual tunnels for their internet traffic. These tunnels make it incredibly difficult for anyone to track user activity, or figure out their location. This anonymity acts like an invisibility cloak for criminals while they go about their illegal business.

  • Inaccessible by traditional browsers

Standard browsers such as Safari, Chrome or Firefox won’t allow you to access the dark web. Those wanting to access the ‘dark side’ need specialised browsers such as ‘Tor Browser’ or ‘Tails’, both of which will give users access to hidden services and websites on the dark web.

Types of threats on the dark web

Similar to using the surface web, there are unsurprisingly a number of threats you may encounter if using the dark web. Let’s take a look at a few common contenders.

  • Malicious software

Rife with malware and viruses that can infect and compromise a user’s device, malware is often spread through phishing emails or malicious links. 

  • Government monitoring

In an attempt to identify illegal online activity, government and law enforcement agencies still monitor the network. Monitoring approaches could include tracking user activity and attempts to de-anonymise Tor traffic.

  • Scams

False marketplaces and phishing emails are just some of the scams you could encounter on the dark web. Other common scams include Ponzi schemes and ‘investment opportunities’ that try to trick users into sharing their login details. Much like the surface web, theft of personal information and money are target areas.

What’s the difference between the Dark, deep and surface web?

You may have heard the terms dark, deep and surface web bandied about. They are essentially the three layers of the internet. 

Deep web

Also referred to as the hidden or invisible web, the deep web is not indexed, so it cannot be accessed by standard browsers. It’s unknown how big the deep web is, but it’s believed to be larger than the surface web. The deep web includes password-protected websites, content behind paywalls and subscription based services.

Dark web

Like the deep web, the dark web is also not indexed and cannot be accessed by regular browsers like Chrome and Safari. The difference between deep and dark is that the dark web uses encryption software to create even more security and is often completely inaccessible to the average internet user.

Surface web

This is the section of the internet that the majority of us engage with on a daily basis, but is speculated to only represent 4% of the total internet. Also referred to as the ‘visible web’ it’s the section that can be accessed and indexed by popular, standard search engines such as Google, Bing or Yahoo. The surface web consists of websites, web pages, and online content that are publicly available. 

Pros and cons of the dark web

The primary advantage of the dark web is anonymity. It is also the main disadvantage.

Those living in countries with repressive regimes can use this area of the internet to communicate without being monitored or arrested. The same benefit is available to whistleblowers, activists and journalists, enabling their privacy to be protected and the ability to release details that may otherwise be too dangerous to reveal. 

 It depends on who you speak to when it comes to perceived disadvantages of the dark web. The lack of regulation means users are more vulnerable to scams, fraud and hacking attempts, while it also lends itself to being used by criminals taking part in illegal activities.

Example of the dark web 

One of the most famous examples of the dark web is the Silk Road marketplace. An area where users could purchase illegal goods anonymously, the site was shut down by the FBI in 2013. Many copycat sites have since appeared to pick up where Silk Road left off. 

Is it illegal to go on the dark web in Australia?

While it isn’t illegal to access the dark web in Australia, or most other parts of the world, it is important to be mindful that much of the activity taking place is illegal. Accessing illegal content or taking part in any criminal activity is punishable by law, regardless of where the user is located geographically.

Free open-source software such as Tor is used to protect online privacy and enable anonymous communication. While used by some for legal activity, there are certainly illegal events taking place within the network too. As mentioned, users need to be aware of the risks involved before venturing in. 

How to get into Cyber Security

Completing practical, hands-on training in cyber security is a great way to get a foothold in the industry. Whether you’re already an IT professional seeking to upskill, or keen to launch a tech career from scratch, ensuring you have all the fundamental skills under your belt is a must. 

Our Cyber Security Engineering: Transform course will give you technical skills and strategic mindset that today’s Cyber Security Professional needs, taking you from beginner to job-ready and also offering access to a Career Support Program that helps 97% of graduates straight into the industry. 

If you have any questions, our experienced team is here to discuss your training options. Speak to a course advisor today and take the first steps in your Cyber Security journey.