Beneath the depths of the internet as you know it lies a world filled with intrigue: bad guys, illegal goods and services, and more weird stuff than you could shake a stick at.
It’s the Dark Web, and it’s something that you may have heard referenced over the years, perhaps in reference to the notorious Silk Road, and its associated collapse and prosecution of its creator, Ross Ulbricht (aka “Dread Pirate Roberts”).
But just what exactly is the Dark Web? And how does it differ from the Deep Web? Can just anyone access it, or do you need some tech skills to be able to access it?
We answer all these questions and more in today’s article about the Deep Web, Dark Web and Tor.
Understanding the Internet as we know it
You’re currently reading this article as you are connected to the internet, and you’ve opened a browser window, likely in the Chrome, Safari, or Firefox web browser.
In your browser, you’ve opened this webpage. You’ve probably found this webpage from using a search engine – or opened it from a hyperlink on another page – however, you can rest assured that you could search for this page easily later.
This is all part of the Surface Web – the part of the internet that we are all most familiar with.
This part of the internet is indexed by search engines, such as Google or Yahoo, and means that you can search for and find webpages easily.
The Surface Web runs via networking protocols that use the Clearnet. The Clearnet is all networks that have easily discoverable content (such as this webpage) and URLs running on them.
But there are parts of the internet that you can’t reach from searching for them in Google.
These sites are not indexed, and so unless you have their specific website address and type it directly into your address bar, you are not able to access the site. This is what is known as the Deep Web.
The Deep Web
The Deep Web refers to all sites that are not readily accessible via search engines. This may include sites that are password protected, perhaps a private work website, shared between people all over the world, workplace intranets, a website that is still being built and so the owner doesn’t wish to publish it, or non-HTML-based pages.
It also includes hidden content sites that are only accessible by using special software, sites where you cannot simply type in the site’s address into the address bar of a browser to access.
These last types of sites, the ones only accessible via special software, comprise what’s known as the Dark Web.
The Dark Web, like the Surface Web, runs on a series of networking protocols over a network. While this network is similar to the Clearnet, it is hidden like the Deep Web.
So, you can think about it like this: there are two sections of the internet – the Surface Web (which everyone uses), and the Deep Web (which cannot be accessed with Google).
Within the Deep Web, we have the Dark Web, which can only be accessed with certain software.You can access many sites on the Deep Web without any specialty software; however, you cannot access any Dark Web sites without specialty software.
The Dark Web is what is often seen as the seedy underbelly of the internet.
This is where you were once able to find Silk Road when it was running. The Dark Web contains a real mix of content.
While it contains a range of regular type websites, it also contains sites such as Darknet Markets (e-commerce sites that facilitate the trade of illicit goods), illegal pornography sites, whistleblower sites, fraud services, and hacking forums.
Just what is this specialty software that you use to access the Dark Web?
There are numerous dark web networks that you can access, and each has its own specialty software that it uses to access it.
This software includes Freenet, I2P, and the most popular software, Tor.
What is Tor?
Tor is the world’s most popular software used for Darknet access. The software itself was built as a privacy network to anonymize users and hosts, preventing others who are listening on a network from determining which website traffic you access.
Privacy is becoming increasingly important in what we now perceive as a surveillance state.
The software works by adding obfuscation layers when data is travelling over networks, each layer adding an extra layer of encryption, which is subsequently “peeled” off again by using decryption, until it reaches the end of its journey.
Websites on the dark web that are accessed by Tor have the .onion suffix on their web address; however, you can access regular websites with Tor, as well.
How to access the Dark Web using Tor
Ok, enough background knowledge. Are you ready to start accessing the Dark Web with Tor? Do you want to be completely anonymous while doing so?
Here is what you need to do:
Step 1: Download the Tor on Tails software, ensuring you have a blank USB inserting into your computer. Using Tor on Tails is a more private way of using Tor than simply downloading the Tor portable browser on your computer. Tails is an operating system that is loaded onto a USB stick and only runs when you fire it up. Tor comes standard with Tails.
Step 2: Setup your computer to boot from USB on restart.
Step 3: Restart your computer with the Tails USB in.
Step 4: Open up the Tor browser when Tails loads.
Step 5: You are now using the Tor browser. There are many .onion sites to browse, so do a quick Google search to find some addresses to start out with.