When we think of the “Dark Web,” our mind conjures a place full of frightening, criminal activity. While there are literally thousands of pages full of all the bad stuff you can imagine, people also use the Dark Web to simply access the internet. In countries with government eavesdropping or where internet activity is criminalized, the Dark Web holds one main draw, which is also its greatest fault: it allows people to search the internet anonymously, meaning you can also purchase things anonymously. It has become the premiere cyber black market.
On the Dark Web, URLs end in .onion to indicate that they are housed on the Dark Web and can be accessed by a special browser called TOR (The Onion Router). Once you enter TOR, the traffic to and from your computer is routed through multiple servers in multiple countries to preserve anonymity. To further explore, though, we need to better understand the complexity of the World Wide Web as a whole. There are two distinct layers (“Surface Web” and “Deep Web”) and they are differentiated by the way in which their webpages can be accessed, viewed and shared by users.
The Surface Web
Everyone knows about the Surface Web. When you “Google” for info, search for travel deals, or to find new online music, you are employing the services of search engines that crawl the surface web to give you a list of related sites. There are, currently, approximately 1.5 billion registered domains on the Surface Web. However, the “Deep Web” is 5,000 times larger than the Surface Web. In our daily Googling lives we are only aware of 10% of the actual Web; 90% is below the surface in the Deep Web.
The Deep Web
When you find web pages that a typical search engine can't access, you're using the Deep Web. This sounds intimidating, but believe it or not, you use it every day. When you search for a vacation home, or compare flight prices, you're using the Deep Web. When you log in to your email account, online bank account, or shopping account, you're using the Deep Web. However, that information won’t show up on a search engine and that's a good thing. If someone Googled your name, you would not want your banking information or shopping wish list showing up in results. This information is meant to be private, so sensitive web pages aren't crawled by search engines.
The Dark Web
Here is where things turn frightening. Downloading the TOR browser will take you to the deepest part of the internet. According to CSOonline.com, the type of sites most commonly associated with the Dark Web are marketplaces where drugs, firearms, passports, and radical religious propaganda is bought and sold with Bitcoin. In addition, sites to hire hitmen, engage in human trafficking, view underage pornography, purchase guns and ammo, and exchange videos that would disgust and terrify the average person are all readily accessible. Edward Snowden used TOR to store the sensitive documents he stole from the National Security Agency. The Ashley Madison files were also stored on a site accessible only to TOR users. Of particular concern to businesses is access to stolen credit card numbers, corporate network access credentials and millions of files of Personally Identifiable Information that are available for purchase on the Dark Web.
Should I Explore the Dark Web to be Sure My Information Hasn’t Been Compromised?
In a word, no. Many service providers will monitor the web for you, or, you can utilize services including Experian, Quick Books and TruthFinder to scour the Dark Web for you. The best defense, however, is a strong offense. Use the info below to help protect you and your business:
- Assume You Will Be Breached: Sooner or later hackers will try to attack you. In the past, hackers used to target large enterprises. Today small and medium-sized companies and even individuals are considered lucrative and easier targets. If you prepare for a data breach, you can create more effective safeguards to make your data harder to interpret.
- Have a Plan: If your data ends up on the Dark Web, you need a plan to minimize the negative consequences. Evaluate particular risks to your business and create a step-by-step plan that includes an updated and robust Cyber Liability insurance policy. The very act of getting the coverage, and the resources a policy like this will provide, are invaluable. Otherwise, when a breach happens, you will lose valuable time trying to figure out your next step.
If you simply cannot help yourself and you must download the TOR browser to “just see what this is all about,” please know that while your Internet Service Provider and the government might not be able to view your activity when you are on the TOR Network, they do know you are on the network. In fact, according to the international newspaper The Guardian, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that simply using TOR was sufficient probable cause for law enforcement to search and seize any computer around the world, including yours.
Please surf safely!