... about The Dark Web.

Frank Helg and Vlad Petrovic

The term “Dark Web” conjures up different imagery for different people. For some, it’s a Matrix-esque, green and black landscape with data flying around the screen – for others, a black river lined with burning torches*, but for the uninitiated, it’s pretty much always considered a bleak, frightening and dangerous place to be. And, depending on the user and their intent, it certainly can be. But things are often not what they seem…

1. The Web Has 3 Depths

Rather than a binary “Internet” vs “The Dark Web”, the web has three definite parts, or depths to it. Imagine an iceberg with the majority hidden underneath the water. The top part, above the water, is the “Surface Web” – the visible part of the web that is indexed / searchable. The surface web caters to up to 10% of all web content. Source and destination IP addresses are not hidden.

Next up is the “Deep Web” – not as scary as it sounds, the Deep Web lives underneath the water and contains around 90% of all web  content. Estimated at 400x larger than the surface web, this is the segment of the public internet that is not searchable. The information is hidden behind authority windows: think online banking, or any site which requires login credentials to access information.

The final depth is the “Dark Web”, which is part of the Deep Web that sits on the internet. The Dark Web runs on the TOR (“The Onion Browser”) network: a free, open-sourced browser that enables anonymous communication.

2. It Was Originally Built for Spies

The TOR network was developed by US Naval Research Laboratory employees together with mathematicians and computer scientists in the 1990s. Its purpose was to protect US intelligence communications online. There are various opinions and theories on the Government’s reasons for making the network available to the public, the most popular being that if a wide variety of people are encouraged to use Tor, it’s much easier to hide within its anonymity. Put simply, if only ‘spies’ were using Tor, it would be easy to identify them. Today, most of Tor’s funding comes from the US Government.

3. It’s Really Slow and Not Too Pretty

In order to maintain anonymity, traffic is re-routed through Tor nodes in a series of “hops”. Each hop peels away part of the encryption (hence the onion reference), and could be in a different part of the world. All of this slows things down somewhat. Web pages on the Tor network are pretty basic and light on design as high res imagery etc will only exacerbate the problem. So the TOR network is not a great place to hang if you’re in a hurry, or looking for exceptional UX

4. It Can be Used for Good

We all know about the really bad stuff that can happen on the Dark Web. But there is some light to the dark, too. Excluding the US, most of Tor’s users come from countries with high Government censorship. It can circumvent the Great Firewall of China and is used extensively by democratic protesters in Hong Kong. Journalism can benefit from the Tor network- for example, last year the BBC launched a version of its news website on Tor which avoids state censorship. The New York Times has run with a Tor based version since 2017. On Tor, whistleblowers can anonymously upload documentation without fear of recrimination

5. Darknet Vigilantes are a Thing

Darknet (not to be confused with The Dark Knight) vigilantes work together to stop pedophiles. Brad Willman, a Canadian anti-pedophile activist, worked tirelessly writing a Trojan Horse program which gave him complete control over every computer that downloaded it. Known as ”Omni-Potent”, Brad was responsible for the arrest of around 40 pedophiles across Canada and the US.

So as you can see, a bit like with The Wizard of Oz, The Dark Web is not quite the place many of us envision. It has more than one facet, not all of them pitch black.

But, when it comes to internet browsing, we definitely prefer the light side.

*ref: Unfriended – Dark Web

For more insight into The Dark Web, and to hear Frank and Vlad’s thoughts, head over to the Kindness Warriors podcast.