You’ve probably heard about the ‘dark web’. It’s like a mystery/thriller/horror movie altogether. It is that unseen corner of the Internet, where everything is chaotic, spontaneous, unreliable and untraceable. Websites have names that are impossible to memorize, the web itself is hard to access and navigate and what you find today, might be forever gone tomorrow.
What exactly is the dark web?
The dark web consists in a collection of websites that are encrypted and can’t be found by normal search engines such as Google. You also can’t access them using traditional browsers such as Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera and so on. They are named differently than normal websites and don’t end in the usual ‘com’, ‘org’, ‘.net’, etc. but in ‘onion’ and their addresses are really complicated, such as: eajwlvm3z2lcca76.onion.
What can you find on the dark web?
Although there are some legitimate sites you can find on the dark web, the majority of them are illegal, full of scammers or illegal products and services.
There’s pretty much nothing you can’t find on the dark web. You can buy insanely cheap, hacked premium Netflix accounts for life, for under $10, you can buy credit card numbers, fake passports, drugs and guns. You can find a myriad of stories and articles on the ‘clean’ Internet about the dark web and its strange, disturbing websites. There are sites on it that teach you how to perfectly cook a woman and sites that sell you comic books with sheets of LSD instead of pages. You never have a guarantee that what you get is what you’ve ordered, because a lot of the websites are scams and vanish from one day to another.
But you can also use the dark web to safely communicate with others, without fearing that you are being monitored in any way. Think of it as the safest ‘incognito’ mode there is. A lot of users use it just to remain perfectly hidden. There are all kinds of people who choose to conduct their business on the dark web. From people who want to safely communicate some juicy piece of information to journalists while still protecting their identity and from normal users who just value their online privacy more than anything else in the world, to terrorists, criminals and pedophiles.
How do you access the dark web?
Although it is invisible to traditional browsers and search engines, the dark web can be accessed by anyone, as long as they are using the right tools. And the number 1 tool is called Tor (The Onion Router).
Tor is a special browser that encrypts your data, hiding your browsing activity and your identity. It is based on the Firefox code. Tor can be used similarly to a VPN and can even make you appear like you are in a different location on the Globe. So basically Tor protects your privacy and allows you to surf the Internet anonymously. You just have to download it and install it, then follow the instructions on how to configure it.
Tor works by using an on growing network of thousands of specially configured computers called relays (over 10,000), donated by users all across the Globe. For instance, if you are in Los Angeles and you want to access a website hosted in New York, Tor connects you by first making a random detour from Los Angeles to China, then to Africa and only after that to New York.
The somewhat ironic aspect of it all is that even though nowadays Tor has become the most popular browser to access the dark web, a scary, illegal virtual place, it was initially developed by the US Navy for the US Government, back in the 90s. In 2004 it has become open source.