The Internet we know is just a fraction of what’s out there in the cyberspace. People often confuse the surface web, deep web and dark web, especially in connection with cybercrime and where that comes from.
The deep web and the dark web are two distinctly different things. The dark web is merely dark because of its more limited accessibility; however the public misconception has led to the belief that the dark web is a realm for cybercrime. Still, cybersecurity is a huge issue for companies and individuals. Personal data such as name, address, email address, and phone number are on the Internet. Data breaches and hacking cost the global economy more than $400 billion of losses annually. Most cyberattacks happen through the dark web.
Let’s first understand the differences between the three terms.
Internet and the web
Most people use the terms internet and web interchangeably, thinking they describe the same thing. However, the Internet and the web are two different technologies. The Internet existed before the Web. The web is one part of the internet.
The Internet is a network of networks that connects computers globally. It consists of servers, computers, and other hardware devices. The devices can connect via the Internet using a valid IP address. The Internet was created in the 60s by DARPA.
The World Wide Web, on the other hand, is the system we use to access the Internet infrastructure. Other services for sharing information on the Internet include email, FTP, and VOIP. We use browsers to gain transparent access to the World Wide Web servers. The World Wide Web was invented in 1991.
The Internet is divided into three categories; the surface web, the deep web, and the dark web.
The surface web is a portion of the World Wide Web that is visible for all users using the Internet. It is available to the general public using standard search engines and web browsers that don’t require any special configuration; such as Google Chrome, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer or Edge, and Mozilla Firefox.
The Surface Web refers to common websites whose domains end in .com, .org, .net, or similar variations, and whose content does not require any special configuration to access. It makes up about 10% of the whole internet.
Surface Web is made up of static and fixed pages, whereas Deep Web is made up of dynamic pages.
Deep Web is simply part of the World Wide Web that is inaccessible to conventional search engines. It is where information is stored. About 90% of content on the Internet is not indexed by search engines like Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc. Some pages are part of the Deep Web because they do not use common top-level domains (TLDs); while others explicitly block search engines from identifying them.
The content of the deep web can be located and accessed by a direct URL or IP address. It may require a password or other security access past the public website page. Since search engines don’t possess your passwords, they cannot see past the login page.
The mysterious part of the internet is called the dark web or darknet. It was prototyped by researchers at the U.S. Naval Research Lab, scientists who’d already recognized that the open internet was extremely susceptible to surveillance.
The dark web uses a hidden service protocol called The Onion Router. You can access dark web websites through specific browsers such as Tor — derived from The Onion Router; regular browsers can’t access dark web websites. The browsers use several layers (like an onion) of IPs as a sort of encryption for users to publish anonymously. With this special encryption method, Tor network provides security and privacy to everyone equally.
Getting onto the dark web is not illegal but any illegal activity can be prosecuted; however, the dark net is known to be a haven for worldwide criminal activity. Cybercrime is common and on the rise on the dark web; the most significant of which are hacking incidents.
Hackers on the Dark Web
An increasing number of hackers are using the dark web; lurking in the most hidden regions of the Internet. The anonymous nature of the darknet allows fraudsters to operate their criminal enterprises with impunity and gives them a place where data stolen in cyberattacks can be bought and sold. The widespread availability of dark web forums dedicated to freely sharing privacy-enabling technologies, has enabled hackers to operate anonymously, easily exchanging large volumes of stolen credit card numbers and insurance information.
The Dark Web Cybercrime Ecosystem
The dark web includes a comprehensive cyberattack supply chain; hackers develop and sell the products and services needed to mount attacks at scale using this system. Hackers and other dark web providers don’t need to perform attacks to obtain benefits, and customers don’t need to be hackers to mount attacks. The primary activities of the chain include the services needed to mount the attack: the discovery of vulnerabilities, the development and delivery of the weapons needed to exploit those vulnerabilities, and the execution of the cyberattack.
Hackers spread terrorism using the dark web by selling zero-day exploit code that attacks certain systems to the highest bidder. A Zero-day vulnerability refers to a security hole in software—such as browser software or operating system software—that is yet unknown to the software maker or antivirus vendors. Until the vulnerability is mitigated, hackers can exploit it to adversely affect computer programs, data, additional computers, or a network.
Hackers are typically one step ahead when it comes to finding issues on the Web; that is how they can find zero-day vulnerability holes. The large market for these discoveries is driven by the demand from government intelligence agencies.
The surface web is anything a search engine can find and index; whereas the deep web is anything a search engine cannot find and index. The dark web refers to encrypted online content that is not indexed by conventional search engines.
Despite the dark web’s disreputability, it’s not all bad. For many, the dark web is simply a place where users can work in anonymity and isolation and find information that is not publicly available through normal channels. Even so, the Internet today comes with threats to our security. Any type of information can reside on the dark web; accessible to bad actors to compromise.
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