The World Wide Web most of us know and use every day is just the very tip of the iceberg when it comes to the internet. In fact, most of the information that lives online exists in a realm that can’t be reached with a Google search or your standard web browser. The deep web is home to all kinds of information, including, among many other things, websites you need login details to enter as well as sensitive data like bank and health records.
A small portion of the deep web is called the dark web, and while the two terms are often used interchangeably, they’re in fact two different things. The dark web is encrypted, making it a secure place to search and post information of all kinds. While the news mostly focuses on the illegal activity this anonymity gives rise to, this isn’t the whole picture.
However, as we mentioned in our last blog post, browsing the dark web or downloading the software you need to use to do so is not in itself illegal, and as we’ll talk about in today’s article, there are several practical reasons and legal ways to use the dark web. Without further ado, here’s what you need to know about the legal side of using the dark web.
Is using the dark web illegal?
Due to its anonymity, the dark web offers an ideal breeding ground for illegal activity such as buying and selling illicit substances, weapons and child pornography. Some of the truly worst sides of humanity come out to play on the dark web. That being said, it’s not the dark web itself that is illegal.
What is illegal is taking part in criminal activity using the dark web. This includes visiting websites on the dark web that include things like explicit illegal material, threats of violence or hate speech. The key is using common sense: things that would be illegal outside the dark web are illegal there, too, and vice versa.
Examples of legal activities on the dark web
There’s a huge number of reasons responsible, law-respecting people use the dark web. This hidden part of the internet houses a huge number of things like scientific papers and books for free when they’d usually exist behind a paywall, as well as groups and forums for more or less any activity you could think of – book and chess clubs are just two popular examples. The dark web even has its own literary journal, The Torist, featuring short fiction, poems and essays from around the world.
Many people also use the dark web to keep their personal information safe while doing some of the most popular things people do on the internet: sending emails, posting on social media and using search engines.
The dark web has a number of its own email providers that allow you to send and receive emails anonymously. These services are also useful if you’re signing up for any of the social media sites or forums that live on the dark web and need to provide an email address as a contact.
The dark web has its own search engines, too, some of which also live on the surface web. While the likes of Google and Bing sell your browsing data to advertisers to make a profit, these alternative search engines keep your data private, making them an attractive option to those who are strict about their data confidentiality.
For example, DuckDuckGo has both a dark web and surface web address, and while their surface web search engine is very private, their Tor engine is even safer and using it there means no one will know you accessed their site in the first time.
Finally, the dark web has its own social media sites, including several alternatives to Facebook, including the likes of Blackbook and Torbook. These websites allow you to create a completely anonymous profile and are particularly useful to people living under oppressive regimes that limit their citizen’s access to these sites’ surface web counterparts.
Using the dark web to promote democracy
The dark web provides an important resource for those living in places where democracy isn’t as straightforward as it is here in the UK. It allows people to safely access information their government tries their best to hide via sites like ProPublica and provides a confidential avenue for communication free of censorship through its social media sites and email services.
The dark web is also important for journalists and whistleblowers within the government and large companies, providing a safe place for sharing information without the identity of the journalist’s source becoming public.
What you need to know about browsing safely & legally
In order to access the dark web, you need to download the Tor browser. There is no search engine that catalogues the websites that exist on the dark web – this is partly what makes it so private. This means you have to know the specific URL you want to address or use a site like thehiddenwiki.org to find what you’re looking for, though you have to be careful with these resources, as they list plenty of illegal sites alongside completely legal and legitimate ones. Additionally, using a VPN alongside the Tor browser is the best way to stay safe and anonymous on the dark web.
Worried about the cybersecurity threats the dark web poses to your small business? Our next few blogs will help you secure your organisation against those who use the dark web for illegal purposes. In the meantime, make sure to check out some of our other articles on IT security on our blog.