Demystifying Cyber: The Dark Web

19 October 2016

Not many buzzwords have caused such confusion and misunderstanding as the term Dark Web. When thrown into the cocktail mixer with other terms such as Darknet, Deep Web, Hidden Web, Secret Internet and Tor, for the laymen it can be hard to understand.

The general preconception of the Dark Web is that it’s a hiding place for drug dealers, weapon traders and paedophiles. While this is true, as is often the case with the internet, it comes with many shades and many layers. So before we can descend the ladder into the dark reaches of the Internet, we must start at the top.

The World Wide Web (www.), which most readers will be au fait with, represents the tip of the Internet iceberg – the part that is visible to the world’s three billion Internet users. Easily accessible via any search engine, information on the World Wide Web is not hidden. Yes, information can still be protected by username and password, but that content will still be indexed and therefore picked up in search results dependent on the search term(s) put in.

What most people won’t be aware of however is that the World Wide Web only accounts for 4% of the Internet’s content / make up. As such, search engines only index the tip of the Internet iceberg; for successful individuals and businesses, you may well ask whether the Dark Web poses a threat to your reputation and privacy?

To answer this, it’s important to understand how the Dark Web works, how it’s separated from the rest of the Internet and who painted it ‘black’. The Dark Web does not use any special hardware. Neither is it physically separated from the World Wide Web. Special software or secret configuration is all that is needed to access this hidden part of the Internet.

It is fair to say that there is a reason why individuals decide to hide content on the Dark Web. Infamous marketplaces like Silk Road or Dark Amazon reside on the Dark Web because they are selling contraband normally confined to the shadiest backstreets of any major city. Such outlets rely on complete anonymity and use the digital currency Bitcoin for payment.

From drugs, to weapons, to illegal pornography, all is available for purchase. As such, the Dark Web is also where cyber criminals ply their trade; allowing anyone to hire their services – at a price – whether it is to infiltrate the social media account of a still beloved ex-partner, or to steal private and confidential information related to an individual or business. Furthermore, the Dark Web is where cyber criminals will make available their spoils stemming from a cyber attack; whether it be company data, personal identities or credit card details.

So why does this matter? In recent years the Dark Web has become infamous for publishing and sharing stolen and leaked data. Look no further than Edward Snowden; who used the Dark Web in 2013 to send information about PRISM – The U.S. government’s controversial surveillance progamme used to track online communications – to newspapers around the world.

Irrespective of whether you view this as an act of treachery or the actions of a noble whistle blower, what this case highlights is that stolen information, whether taken from a personal device or network, can find its way into the mainstream media – whether directly or indirectly. With little chance of the culprit ever being caught, the Dark Web has become a hunting ground for detractors looking for an angle. Whether it be to tarnish an individual’s or an organisation’s reputation, or to uncover a juicy tid-bit stemming from an invasion of someone’s privacy, the Dark Web is the base of the Internet iceberg with the potential to sink the Titanic.

So in face of this information age threat, what countermeasures can be deployed? The obvious answer is to prevent the leak of private and confidential information from happening in the first place. Implementing a rigorous cyber security strategy, underpinned by a strong human firewall, is a good starting point. But despite much being written about this, including on this website, the fact is that data breaches are still happening. So what next?

To mitigate the risks stemming from the Dark Web, successful individuals and businesses should consider applying a second layer of security; after all, if the Internet has many layers, then so too must your cyber security measures. Reconnaissance of the Dark Web is a useful way of identifying whether you’re about to become a target; giving you early warning if something about you and or your business has been leaked or stolen courtesy of a data breach or a cyber attack. In doing so, successful individuals and businesses can wrestle back control; potentially stopping a detractor in their tracks and allowing them to deploy effective counter measures aimed at defending their reputation and safeguarding their privacy.

Despite what you may have heard, the Dark Web is simply the part of the Internet iceberg that the majority of us don’t get to see. In demystifying the cult that surrounds it and in knowing where to look, you can turn the tables when it comes to reputation and privacy.

To read part one of this Demystifying Cyber series - Hackers - click here.

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