Have you ever gone to Google something only to discover it wasn't there?
Maybe you just assumed that whatever you were after was too obscure to find.
For years now we've been growing accustomed to the phrase "just Google it". However, what we see on a search results page is not a complete view of what's available on the internet.
Ever heard of the dark web?
If you haven't, stick around as I'll be giving you a brief guide into what's on the dark web, what this dark side of the web has and, more importantly, whether you should be concerned about it.
What Is the Dark Web?
It's important to understand that Google is not the be-all and end-all of the World Wide Web. Websites existed way before Google, and some of them have not been indexed by these search engines.
Maybe they never will be, but they're still out there.
In a nutshell, the dark web contains encrypted sites that have been hidden from public view. It's often shrouded in cloak and dagger tactics and people who use it tend to go out of their way to stay anonymous. To access them often requires a bit of technical know-how, as well as determination to get to where you want to be.
Because of the anonymity the dark web affords users, sadly it's a bit of a breeding ground for criminal activity.
The term "dark web" actually originated in 2009 along with the 'deep web'. However, it's important to understand the difference between the two.
Dark Web vs. Deep Web
Here's a fun fact: 99% of the internet is not actually accessible by Google.
Even though there are around 4.5 billion websites that have been indexed (known as the 'surface web'), there are still so many more that can't be accessed through a simple search. This vast portion of the internet is called the deep web.
One good way to think about it is to imagine an iceberg. Most of us are aware that what we see of an iceberg that floats on top of the water is only a tiny portion of it. The remaining bulk is hidden in the depths.
That's basically what the deep web is.
It works by masking the user's internet protocol (IP) address, removing their digital fingerprint.
While it does contain dark websites, it is not synonymous with criminal activity. Deep web browsing is not that much different to surface web browsing. The sites may not be indexed, but users generally don't need to hide their identity or use clandestine methods to access it.
A lot of it is just the usual stuff: emails, social media profiles, etc. It's just not something you can reach via Google.
What's on the Dark Web?
I don't want people to think that the dark web is something that's just lurking around the corner ready to strike. But the fact that it requires encryption and private browsers to access (as well as knowing the exact site address in the first place) does suggest that a lot of illegal activity is going on.
So yes, the dark web does contain sites with illegal content, including hacking, drugs and child pornography.
The most famous dark website ever is the now defunct: The Silk Road. This site was essentially an online black market for buying illegal narcotics. The site was shut down in 2013 and its creator was sentenced to life in prison.
However, it's not all doom and gloom.
Protecting your identity online can actually work in your favor if you're a law-abiding citizen. While the dark web can be used by criminals and hackers, it can also be used by others to protect themselves.
Remember: there's nothing illegal about wanting to remain anonymous while online.
If, for example, you're a journalist, protecting your identity from potential snoopers can be vital.
As a journalist, using the dark side of the web can be useful when trying to research a controversial story.
It can also be used for political reasons, such as dissidents who have defected and want to let the world know what's happening in their country.
By anonymously posting onto a blog that can't be traced, they are free to tell their story without fear of recrimination.
The same goes for company whistleblowers.
Having the ability to anonymously reveal shady (or even illegal) matters inside a business is where the dark web can be used for good.
Being anonymous online is not just for people who want to hide for villainous reasons.
Should I Be Worried?
The dark web can be a severe antagonist against online security. Stolen identities, credit card numbers, and even security breaches in healthcare are all at risk from the dark web.
Over 80% of hacking breaches in recent years were in relation to stolen passwords (let this be a lesson to using weak passwords for your logins).
But the dark web itself is not illegal. It's just that some people use it for such activities. There are other non-illegal sites that people can, and do use.
So should you be worried about it?
I'd say not. Being worried about the dark web is like being worried about leaving your home for fear of the criminal underworld.
It's Safe to Keep Browsing
Knowing what's on the dark web is a good step towards keeping yourself protected.
The chances of you coming across it by accident during your daily browsing are zero. You're only really going to encounter it if you actually take the necessary (and sometimes complicated) steps to getting access.
While the threat of data leaks and security breaches is real, the technology that goes into online protection is getting more advanced as we move forward.
Just keep browsing as you do. Chances are, you'll never even see the dark web.
For more information about security breaches and data protection, check out our blog page.