The Dark Web

The internet is much bigger than you may expect. You won’t see the dark or deep web with normal search engines like Google. This article will be outlining what the so-called “dark web” is, how to access it and steps to hardening your online security.

The Basics

The web, as we know, is comprised of 3 layers:

  • The surface layer
  • The deep web
  • The dark web

There is mass confusion about this, so this will quickly explain it.

The surface web is what can be accessed through search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing. Websites like Wikipedia, YouTube and Facebook are all available on this platform.

The deep web is believed to contain 90% of the information available on the web as it not indexed with conventional search engines. The types of information include government resources, medical records, academic research and many more.

Now onto the dark web. This is a branch of the deep that is only accessible using specialized anonymous services such as the TOR browser, which allows the user to remain untraceable. It contains an estimated 7,500 TB’s of data and allows for people to do illegal activities.

Now we are aware of the layout of the web, let’s talk more into the browser which makes this possible.

Tor Browser

The Tor browser is an open-source web browser that allows for anonymous connection into the dark web and protects the privacy on both client and server sides. It works by using something called a relay connection. So, when sending network traffic, it travels through random proxy servers before reaching the final destination. This protects your privacy through virtual tunnels and ultimately renders your IP address untraceable.

Websites on the tor browser are hosted on the .onion domain. This specialized domain which offers services only accessible via the tor network. A typical site would usually look like this:

https://domain.com/path

This consists of the protocol used (HTTPs), the domain name (domain.com) and the path it follows (/path). On the contrary, onion sites are usually randomly generated, making them just a string of random characters. A typical site looks like this:

d72jLElmdbc9a0xlCK10.onion

What makes the .onion so secure is that it uses multiple layers of encryption to hide all information about the packet. A type of network packet contains the data and information, but it also includes the incriminating metadata, which consists of the source and destination of the packet. As previously mentioned, these are sent across a relay of proxy servers, further improving the security.

layers Source

The above diagram illustrates the different layers of encryption encapsulating the raw data. Each time the “onion” traverses the internet, each node will remove a layer of the onion, eventually arriving at it’s destination

Tor has the philosophy of “Browsing Privately” and “Exploring Freely”. Some of the websites you can find are the BBC, The New York Times and even the CIA themselves have their own .onion sites. These are aimed at internet users who want to browse freely if they have certain constraints such as a highly restricting government.

Tor Project

What can you find

Some of the major uses of the dark web:

  • Botnets
  • Bitcoins
  • Darknet market – Or “cryptomarket”
  • Hacking groups and services
  • Fraud services
  • Hoaxes and unverified content
  • Phishing and scams
  • Illegal and ethically disputed pornography
  • Illegal animal trade
  • Terrorism
  • Protected social media
  • Journalism
  • Special cryptographic software
  • Anonymous interface and traceless payments
  • Organizations that want to protect their most confidential information.
  • Multi-national organizations that communicate in places that have fluctuating levels of legal privacy protection.
  • Government groups (military) that operate in struggling geographical areas that censor web use.
  • Reporters and whistleblowers that need anonymity and private communication to hide their identity.
  • General consumers concerned about protecting personal privacy.

CIA’s Onion Site:

CIA's Tor site

NY Times Onion Site:

NY Times Tor site

How to access it?

** DISCLAIMER, THE MATERIAL AND INFORMATION ON THIS WEBSITE IS PURELY FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY, CYBERGOAT.CO.UK DOES NOT CONDONE THE USE OF THE DARK WEB TO PARTAKE IN ILLEGAL ACTIVITIES. **

  • Close all running applications.

  • Remove attached external devices.

  • Fix all privacy loopholes on Windows 10 (If you are using this OS) Hardening Windows 10

  • Use a VPN. I recommend NordVPN

  • On a standard search engine, look for Tor Browser, and follow the instructions on the website on how to install it (link provided above). Tor Download Page

  • Disable Javascript on TOR browser and make sure the settings are on the safest level.

** SOME AREAS OF THE DARK WEB HAVE ILLEGAL ACTIVITIES, MY SUGGESTION IS TO NOT EXPLORE THEM **

** BE CAUTIOUS OF SCAMMERS, NEVER USE ANY OF YOUR PERSONAL INFORMATION **

  • If all the above has been done, now you are ready to explore the dark web.

Hardened Security

Using a hypervisor / virtual machine while using TOR, with privacy extensions on the browser such as ghostery, no-script, adblockplus etc for minimising finger printing.

Some virtual machines which focus on anonymity and privacy are Tails, Whonix, and Qubes.

Please be aware that depending on your context, the motivation behind your privacy and anonymity, the set up will differ. This article was created to give a broad outline of what the dark web is and how to improve your online security.

Written on May 18, 2020