Internet is full of websites that go beyond the scope of commonly used search engines like Google, Bing and normal browsing. These websites are part of a secret place on the internet called dark nets or deep nets. It is simply a layer of the Internet using specialized software such as TOR (The Onion Router), or I2P (Invisible Internet Project). The dark net has its own significance for law enforcement agencies but at the same time, it harbours a lot of illegal activities.
Unlike normal websites, these are networks that only a select group of people have access to and can only be accessed through a special authorization process, specific software, and configuration. This includes general areas such as educational databases and corporate sites, as well as esoteric areas such as the black market, the fetish community, and hacking and piracy.
The words “dark net” and “dark web” are sometimes used in the same sense but there is a subtle difference in their meaning. Dark net is a network built on the Internet. Whereas, Dark web refers to the websites present on the Dark net.
Layers on the Internet:
The internet can be divided into Deep Web, Surface Web and Dark Web. Let’s see the difference between them.
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The Deep Web cannot be accessed only with the help of results obtained from search engines. The Deep Web is that part of the World Wide Web that is not indexed by search engines such as Google. It is about 500 to 600 times larger than the surface web in size. To access a document on the Deep Web, one has to log in to its URL address using a username and password. Gmail accounts, blogging websites, government publications, academic databases, scientific research, etc. are such websites that are legal in nature but require admin permission to access them.
It is that part of the internet which we usually use in our day to day activities. Like searching anything on Google or Yahoo, we get search results and for this, no specific permission is required. Such websites are indexed by search engines. That’s why they can be accessed through search engines. It is also called Visible Web, Indexed Web, Indexable Web or Lightnet.
The dark web or dark net is that part of the Internet that cannot be accessed from commonly used search engines. It is used in illegal activities like human trafficking, drug buying and selling, arms smuggling. Sites on the dark web are hidden with the help of The Onion Router encryption tool so that they cannot be accessed by normal search engines. A special tool called Tor is used to access these as it involves layer-by-layer encryption of data using a network of nodes as opposed to a single unsecured server, thereby maintaining the privacy of its users. The dark web constitutes 96% of the overall Internet, while the surface web is only 4%.
Bonafide use of Dark Net:
- Closed societies and people facing excessive control or censorship can use the dark net to communicate with other people outside their society.
- Due to the increasing irregularities regarding espionage and data collection by the government in various countries globally, even open society individuals may be interested in using the dark net.
- It is useful for whistle-blowers and journalists to maintain confidentiality in communication and to leak and transfer information.
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Used as a hub of illicit activities
- A large proportion of the activities conducted on the dark net are illegal. The dark net provides a level of identity protection that the surface net does not provide.
- Dark net is like a black market where illegal activities are conducted.
- Criminals are attracted to the dark net for the purpose of hiding their identity to avoid being caught and noticed. Therefore, it is not surprising that many of the popular hacks and cases of data breaches have been found to be related to the dark net in some way or the other.
- The relative impenetrability of the dark net has made it a prime zone for drug dealers, arms smugglers, child pornography collectors and other criminals involved in financial and physical crimes.
- If the potential buyer has access to such websites on the dark net, then through them, from endangered wildlife to explosive material and any kind of drugs can be purchased. A well-known example of a dark network is the website Silk Road Marketplace, which used to buy and sell a variety of illegal items, including weapons. Although it was shut down by the government in the year 2013, it inspired the rise of many other such markets.
- Dark nets are used by terrorists to spread information to fellow terrorists, to recruit and radicalize them, to spread their terrorist ideas, to raise funds and to coordinate their actions and attacks.
- Terrorists also use the dark net to illegally purchase explosives and weapons using virtual currencies such as bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.
- Security experts claim that the individuals involved in the hacking and fraud are being offered access to Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) and Industrial Control Systems (ICS) through discussion forums on the dark web. Which can be a major challenge to the security of critical infrastructure networks around the world. Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition systems are used to operate facilities such as nuclear power stations, oil refineries and chemical plants, so if cybercriminals gain access to these major networks, the consequences can be extremely dangerous.