The truth about the dark web

Dark web has a negative connotation, but there are legitimate reasons why some users access it.

When people hear the words “dark web,” their eyes widen. Maybe it’s the association with malicious activities like human trafficking and drug dealing. What people often don’t know is that there are legitimate reasons why many users access the dark web.

A tangled web

Wherever users go, marketers follow. Major brands, including Facebook and The New York Times, have already created dark web versions of their sites. It is important for us, as marketers, to understand this growing new landscape.

But before we go further, you need to understand the layers of the web and what the dark web is.

What is the dark web?

There are three levels of the World Wide Web: clearnet, deep web, and dark web. Think of it like an iceberg.

The “tip” of the iceberg, clearnet (also known as surface web) makes up only one percent of the entire World Wide Web. This is the open part used by the general internet population. It is comprised of popular sites like Google, Facebook, and YouTube.

The middle part of the iceberg is the deep web. The deep web, or anonymous web, is not reachable by search engines. Many use it to add a layer of security when using personally identifiable information, like bank accounts, billing information, and school or medical records.

The dark web, or the darknet, is the bottom of the iceberg. It is the deepest part of the internet that is hard to see without the proper equipment.

The dark web cannot be accessed using a clearnet or deep web search engine. It requires special software. The most popular software for accessing dark web is The Onion Router (Tor).

Accessing the dark web

Tor enables you to connect to the dark web using three levels of encryption: guard, relay, and exit. The guard layer encrypts your information. Encrypted information then bounces around the globe in the relay layer, obscuring your location. Finally, it leaves via the exit layer. Accessing the dark web via a paid virtual private network (VPN) to mask IP addresses adds another layer of security to avoid identification.


So, why use the dark web?

Here are three common reasons for using the dark web.

1. Enhance personal privacy.

The dark web can provide a layer of security when traveling or connecting to unfamiliar networks. Coupled with the use of a paid VPN, you can potentially avoid hacking attempts and theft of PII.

The dark web offers a safer way for survivors of abusive relationships to communicate with family, find a support system, or connect with law enforcement.

2. Seek information.

For citizens of countries that employ heavy censorship or surveillance techniques, the dark web is a saving grace. Search engines on the dark web allow users to find information that may otherwise be inaccessible. Dark web news sites enable users to read the facts without any filters and social media sites help users to communicate openly without fear of punishment.

3. Speak freely.

Dark web users can speak and communicate their thoughts and ideas without fear of censorship or threats from the government.


The dangers of the dark web

There are legitimate reasons to communicate anonymously. But using the dark web comes with risks.

Black markets — where criminals buy and sell illegal goods like drugs and guns, share pornography, and participate in human trafficking — are prevalent on the dark web. The FBI shut down one of the largest and most popular, Silk Road, in 2013. Countless copycat sites have appeared since.

New users are at a high risk of stumbling into illicit areas of the dark web without knowing it. They can be targeted by criminals operating on the black market. They may encounter terrorist groups pushing propaganda and trying to recruit new members. And these sites are frequented by hackers attempting to plant viruses and compromise computer systems.


All Clear?

People use the dark web for privacy and anonymity. But it is not without its risks. You can maintain confidentiality, where no one can see what you’re doing, but potentially know who you are. You can also mask your identity — nobody knows who you are but may see what you do. Before accessing the dark web, educate yourself, avoid black markets and illegal content, and never share any personal information.

More and more people will continue to use the deep and dark webs. And we can expect users to create a lot of innovative communication techniques. As marketers, we need to be aware and prepared for what will emerge from the dark.

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