We hear about the “Deep Web” and our minds immediately turn to the suspicious, opaque, cyberspace underworld where malicious hackers and darknet market drug smugglers mingle to discuss privately and securely with an air of anonymity through technological methods that are as obscure as their pseudonyms suggest. But the deep web is so much more for those who have the willpower and acumen to traverse its surreptitious expanse. To help the willing and able below is a list of 7 key adages about the deep web that you probably didn’t know.
1. The terms deep web and dark net have different distinct meanings
Many use the words “deep web” and “dark net” interchangeably but they actually reference two different concepts. Deep web refers to any part of the internet that is not indexed or retrievable via a search engine, including both dark net sites and benign content such as corporate intranet sites. The dark net is an overlay network of the Internet that is part of the anonymous encrypted network. These sites cannot be retrieved by the search engine and are hidden, blocking access from standard web browsers such as Chrome. This is where the darknet markets for drugs, weapons, and other goods exist. To access the dark net, Tor, the anonymous browsing software must be used.
2. It’s not all criminal in nature
It might shock some people who have never been on the dark web to know that most sites visited, and goods sold are also available on the Clearnet. According to Tor, only 1.5% of the overall traffic on Tor is affiliated with hidden sites. Often the assumption about the deep web is that its visitors are only there for the illegal goods such as drugs. However, the majority of its users find its ultimate utility in protecting their regular browsing habits to ensure their online activity remains private.
3. It’s widely used in countries that are infamous for their repressive policies towards online information
Citizens of countries that limit access to the Internet are more likely to utilize the the Tor network on the deep web for anonymous browsing and communication hidden from government monitoring. Activists and political dissidents in Russia, China, and elsewhere heavily use Tor to escape limits on free speech and then media as well as to ensure the freedom of their ideas through anonymity and security from government persecution.
4. The deep web is not invulnerable- OPSEC still matters
Just because your browsing is anonymous, your identity can still be discovered and any illegal activity, such as purchasing illegal goods on darknet market sites, can be investigated if you practice poor OPSEC. Case in point; Ross Ulbricht, creator of Silk Road, was busted as are the result of blatantly poor OPSEC by posting his private email address online. He is not the only one to be caught. According to Gwern Branwen, over 300 people affiliated with the Dark Web for have been arrested for things like sex trafficking, gun running, and drug dealing since 2011. This should be warning enough for those of you too smug to think that you will not get caught on darknet markets. So be vigilant and deliberate in all your perusing and always think with the mindset of taking as many security precautions as possible. One of the most obvious is you doubling your encryption and security with a VPN.
5. The community is not as user-hostile as one might assume
There are plenty of blogs posts similar to this one and online forums that help novices navigate the deep and sometimes intimidating waters of the deep web. In terms of purchasing, people are usually helpful with providing vender recommendations and product reviews on darknet market site forums. As long as you are vigilant and willing to put in the effort, the user-friendly manuals and advice blogs will help you overcome the learning curve that intrinsically exists with any new endeavor a person takes on.
6. The deep web has search engines and secure email browsers
The deep web is much like the Clearnet in this aspect in that it has search engines and email clients. Popular search engines include Search Tor Hidden Services, not Evil, Candle, and TORCH, although each is vastly different and as a result, has its advantages and disadvantages, depending on what you want to search. For email services, there are several options, including Sigaint, ProtonMail, Tutanota, Lavaboom, and Lelantos to name a few. If you’re unsure which email browser you should use, there are several places featuring blogs that explain the pros and cons for each (thus reinforcing Point #4 about user-friendly guides to help you navigate around).
7. There’s a code of “Deep Web Etiquette” to adhere to
From even a cursory perusal of deep web forums, it’s clearly obvious how users interact. Those who respect the system and its technique find the deep web is a community of similarly-minded people who want to help one another navigate the deep web. Most are willing to help out anyone with questions, so long as the question shows you did some research first. Those who do not respect the system will inevitably get called out by others as lazy and ignorant. So do your fair share of due diligence before posting anything to ensure against sounding like a newbie who lacks the self-initiative to do their research. A question with an answer that can be obtained from a simple browser search is a bad question and should be avoided at all costs. In short, the deep web community is characterized very much by “you give what you get,” the more you put into your research, the more you will get when you do ask for help.