Explore and Learn about the Dark Web in a Safe Environment

23 November 2020
learn about the dark web safely

So you want to learn about the dark web? Unless you’ve been living under a rock on a remote island for the last 10 years, you’ll have probably heard the term ‘the dark web’ and you’ll also have a vague idea of what it is. But how do regular individuals access the deep web? What can cyber security professionals learn about online criminal activity by accessing the seedy underworld of the internet? Let’s find out…

What is the dark web?

The dark web is a small portion of the deep web – the part of the world wide web which cannot be indexed by search engines. In fact, the majority of content on the web cannot be found on Google, Bing or any other online search. That is – the contents of billions of email inboxes, content that requires a user to log in, content behind a paywall or any private online application or file server forms part of the deep web.

But the dark web is different. A dark web network (darknet) can be completely private – between friends or groups of people without external worldwide access. However most dark web users use a public network such as TOR. We’ll learn more about TOR later in this article.

What content is found on the dark web?

Darknets contain services and websites just like the web that we’re all used to, but it’s not safe for untrained users to go off and surf the dark web as if it were Facebook – it’s a dangerous place.

The dark web contains:

  • Illegal pornography
  • Dangerous weapons for sale
  • Illicit, addictive and harmful drugs and other substances for sale
  • Widespread financial fraud such as stolen credit card numbers
  • Hacked passwords for popular websites when a data breach occurs
  • Disturbing imagery and videos which can cause severe distress to those who view them
  • Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency services
  • Fake news, hoaxes and unverified content that should not be trusted
  • Distribution of pirated content that often contains malware

Quite clearly, this is the wild west of the online world: a lawless place full of dangerous criminals who take extreme steps to stay completely anonymous.

Don’t worry, you won’t just stumble across a dark website. They’re not accessible using a regular web browser such as Chrome or Safari.

Legitimate uses of the dark web

As astonishing as it may seem, the dark web is useful to many individuals and businesses. The focus on anonymity and high levels of encryption are attractive for many legitimate reasons, such as:

  • Individuals in countries with oppressive regimes whose regular internet access is heavily monitored
  • Cyber security professionals and law enforcement agencies gathering data and researching online crime
  • Social media platforms (which exist on the dark web) for those who need ultimate levels of privacy when communicating online
  • Sources for journalists who uses secure drop services to ensure they cannot be tracked down as a source
  • Private, non-criminal communication between friends or businesses
  • Students and those learning about the dark web

Why Criminals Prefer the Dark Web

Criminals choose the dark web because there’s too many privacy issues on the regular web. Also, companies such as Facebook, Amazon, Twitter and Google will hand your browsing and activity data over to law enforcement agencies if they have to.

The dark web can only be accessed by a handful of secure networks, which is why it’s impossible to stumble across a dark website. Most dark websites use the TOR service, and all website addresses finish in .onion instead of .com, .net or .org.

Even if you try to visit a .onion website using your regular web browser, it won’t work. You have to actively connect to the TOR network and download a special browser before you can visit these sites.

All activity on the TOR network is encrypted by multiple layers of security – just like an onion (hence the .onion website addresses). TOR actually stands for ‘The Onion Router’ and routes all web traffic through 3 layers of encryption, leaving only the final connection unencrypted.

This makes it incredibly difficult (but not impossible) for any company or law enforcement agency to track you, making it an ideal choice for criminals and hackers alike.

Accessing the Dark Web Safely

IMPORTANT NOTE: We do not recommend you visit the dark web from your home or business network without taking additional security steps. Be aware that websites on the dark web may not be what they seem, and it’s common on the dark web for phishing attacks as well as ‘tricking’ people into clicking on grotesque images that are highly disturbing.

Cyber security professionals, ethical hackers and journalists will use the dark web legitimately or to learn more information that will help keep people safe online. The security industry need to stay two steps ahead of the criminals, and the public need to stay informed, so how can we access the dark web safely?

Simply downloading the TOR browser and navigating to illegalweapons dot onion is not going to work. Dark web website addresses are non-descriptive (usually a random string of letters and numbers) and even establish dark website frequently change their address.

If you’re running the browser on Windows or Mac OS – bad luck – there’s a high chance that these operating systems are keeping track of your activity, so browsing the dark web using the TOR browser is not at private as it may seem.

It is not safe for an untrained user to browse the dark web for curiosity’s sake. As soon as enter the dark web, you’re not in Kansas anymore.

Web pages do not behave properly and in the way you’re used to. Some of the core web technologies such as JavaScript is stripped away on the dark web so the experience can be completely different to what we’ve become accustomed to. It’s also incredibly slow and extremely difficult to find any useful information.

However, certified training providers like ASTA Training can offer you a safe learning environment where you can explore the dark web safely, taking the necessary precautions whilst you explore.

Take a Forensic Deep Dive into the Dark Web

If you’re fascinated or intrigued by the dark web and want to understand more about it without risking clicking on something which may mentally scar you, or download some vicious ransomware onto your laptop, then our online workshop is perfect for you.

It’s a self-study course, so you can learn at your own pace. You will be given a tour of the Dark Web and detailed technical information about how the underlying technology works.

All learners will get:

  • A hands-on experience of dark web technologies
  • The technical details of how it works
  • Learn how to identify relevant dark web threats
  • Gather information about the dark web

This EC-Council Certified training is useful for any cyber security professional or forensic investigator but is particularly interesting to those trying to trace data leaks, financial crimes, and cyber-related crimes.

Learn more about the Dark Web Forensics Workshop here.

Other Facts about the Dark Web

If you’re not already intrigued about the lawless world of the deep dark web, here are some other useful facts about the dark web:

Circada 3301 was an international puzzle, aimed at world-class cryptographers, code-breakers and hackers. It involved solving complex puzzles such as encrypted data containing coordinates stored in image files. Part of the puzzle lead its participants onto the TOR service. It’s not clear what the purpose of Circada 3301 is, but it’s considered to be recruitment for a highly secretive organisation.

Many users of dark web use marketplaces to purchase illegal weapons or drugs. However, phishing is widespread across these marketplaces. Users often have their dark web marketplace login details compromised due to phishing, which leads to theft of bitcoin or other financial data. Dark web marketplaces have no regulation, no refund policies, and no guarantee that any transactions will be successful. All users are totally anonymous and use these services at their own risk.

WikiLeaks uses a dark web services for whistle blowers and other sources to securely send documents without revealing their identity, location or other information that would compromise their safety.

Learning about the Dark Web: Summary

If you want to learn more about the dark web, it’s simply not safe to do so alone and as an untrained user. Even if you feel experienced enough to dive in yourself, you need to be incredibly careful that you don’t become a victim.

The only safe way to learn about the dark web is to do so as part of a structured training session with clear advice from the trainer.

Get in touch to speak to one of our learning advisors today.

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