The concept of the Dark Web isn’t vastly different from the Surface Web. There are message boards (e.g. 8chan, nntpchan), places you can buy things (e.g. Alphabay, Hansa), and blogs (e.g. OnionNews, Deep Web Radio). The rules, or rather a lack thereof, is what makes the Dark Web unique. Anything that is illegal to sell (or discuss) on the Surface Web is available in the Dark Web. Personal information, drugs, weapons, malware, DDoS attacks, hacking services, fake accounts for social media, and contract killing services are all available for sale.
The Dark Web is full of criminal activity, but it’s also place where dissidents and whistle-blowers can anonymously share information. In countries with restrictive internet surveillance, the Dark Web may be the only place to safely voice criticisms against government and other powerful entities.
Originally, the internet used telephone network for communication. My first internet connection was a “dial-up” connection which used the telephone network at my house to connect to my ISP. This is what an overlay network is, and in that case, internet was an overlay over the telephone network. Now, the reverse phenomenon can be seen, with people using the internet for voice calls (Voice over IP to be precise), and the telephone network is turning into an overlay over the internet.
How does knowing what an overlay network is help us? Well, to understand the dark web, we need to understand what the dark net is first.
The dark net is the opposite of clear-net. Clear-net is simply parts of the internet which are index-able by search engines. This means that search engine crawlers can read up the pages, understand what the content is, and return those pages when relevant search queries are made to the search engine. On the other hand, dark net can’t be indexed, and usually uses uncommon communication protocols, encryption, etc. to achieve that result. Here’s where overlay networks get relevant, all of dark net is an overlay network over the internet. Hence, while the Darknet and clear-net reside on the internet, Darknet still manages to be structurally different from the rest of the internet.
From the darknet, we move to the dark web, which is a subset of the dark net. While dark net consists of all sorts of stuff, from www pages to file transfer service and peer to peer connections, dark web only includes the world wide web pages of the dark net (Hence the change from the more encompassing term net in darknet to web in dark web).
What does it contain
- Child pornography and illegal drug markets – These are the two things which the dark web is most infamous for, and if you’ve heard about the dark web, it’s quite likely it in reference to either (or both) of these.
- Bitcoin services – Bitcoin is a Cryptocurrency, and considering the nature of activities that go on in the dark web, and the need for anonymity, it’s the most common form of payment for any service that you seek on the dark-web.
- Hackers for hire
- Carding forums
- Plenty of scam sites, phishing sites, etc.
- Social media
- File sharing
However, the dark web, in general, consists mostly of file sharing, as shown by many studies. While the first few pointers in the list stand out in the crowd, they are not what the dark web is all about. PS: I make no guarantee about the accuracy of these stats.
Note : Using TOR is not illegal (in most countries) , but many of the things on the dark web are illegal. Despite the strongly encrypted communications and high level of anonymity, I’d like to suggest that you don’t access any illegal content of the site. This article is only meant to educate you about the presence of the dark web, as not knowing about it doesn’t mean it’ll cease to exist, and as someone interested in the field of computer security/hacking, you must know about the dark web.
How to Access the dark web
There are many ways to access the dark web. Being a part of the deep net, dark web operates differently than the clear-net, and needs special client software to be accessed. While there are multiple ways to access the dark web, the most common and recommended method involves using TOR, and then visiting the .onion websites. All dark web website have a url with .onion TLD (top level domain), which looks similar to the way the clear-net websites have .com, .org, .net, etc. TLD. Once you have TOR and find out the .onion address of a deep web site (hidden web site), you can simply enter it in the URL bar on TOR browser, and it’ll open, just as normal websites open in usual browsers.
If you read the previous boring section, you’d see that I mentioned how the darknet often uses uncommon communication protocols, etc. In case of the dark web, we see that phenomenon with respect to the onion websites. I won’t go in much depth, but first look at a .onion URL suggests that it’s similar to the clear-net websites. However, internally, the way they work is nothing similar to the clear-net. Precisely, .onion is not part of the internet’s DNS root, and hence, normal DNS servers can’t resolve your request if you type the URL of a .onion website on your browser. TOR redirects these requests through it’s own servers, similar to the way proxies work, and then we get to the website, without the involvement of DNS servers anywhere. This ensures that search engine bots can’t browse around the deep web, and that anonymity is maintained, both of the client looking at the web pages, as well as the server serving the web pages. In other words, the server doesn’t know who the client is, and the client doesn’t know anything about where the server is.)
All required instructions can be found here, and I suggest you skip this section of the guide and use the official page (which has very very detailed instructions if you scroll down on that page)
Simply go to TOR Browser Download page, and download and run the executable provided. No further instructions are needed as far as installation goes, since it’s quite similar to how you’d install regular software on windows.
Go to TOR Browser Download page, and download the .tar.xz archive (according to your architecture, 64bit or 32bit). There is no installation procedure. Simply extract the archive (using GUI or using tar on terminal).
Just extract the archive and you’re good to go. A more detailed guide can be found here
Finding onion websites
Now that you have what looks like Mozilla Firefox running in front of you. You can simply enter normal URLs and enjoy surfing the web with privacy. However, we are here to browse the dark web, and we have no idea what to enter in the URL bar.The solution is simple, just head over to the hidden wiki (clearnet link), and you’ll have a list of websites you can go to. Better yet, go to the dark web hidden wiki (link opens only on TOR), with an indexing of dark web websites. You are now surfing the dark web. This is the furthest I’m taking you, and from here on, you can go wherever you want. You can simply click URLs on the hidden wiki like you’d do on a regular browser, and the website would open. Regardless of what happens behind the scenes, the user experience from here on is what it’s like in the clear web (albeit a lot slower).
As far as finding websites is concerned, you are left with indexes of websites, such as the hidden wiki, and some search engines, which are nowhere as good as the clearnet search engines, which is, by design, the intention of the dark web.
Torch search engine, the hidden wiki has a link to it, which can be opened directly on TOR
Go around, explore the place, don’t go anywhere illegal, don’t do anything illegal. Also, beware of scams, and don’t leave your personal information anywhere. Take a look at instructions on how to be safe when using tor, follow them properly, and you won’t face any troubles. Recent changes to Tor, such as 50-character hidden service URLs, have made the Dark Web an even more untraceable place, so we may never fully know what lies beneath the surface of the internet. Based on the parts we have seen, perhaps that’s for the best.
If you don’t know the dark side then you are not really fighting it. There are darkness in this world but there’s also light. You get to chose which side you want to be.