Q: I’ve heard of the dark web, but I never understood what this term means. What is the dark web? How is it accessed? Is there any way to keep my information out of its depths?
A: The dark web is the deepest layer of the internet that isn’t visible to the average browser. Unfortunately, its name is a perfect description of its function, as the dark web is full of illegal activities and crimes. Let’s take a closer look at the dark web and how you can protect your information from being caught in its trap.
What is the dark web?
The internet has been likened to an iceberg. There is very little of it that is truly visible above the surface, but it is enormous, dark and deep underneath.
There are three basic components of the internet:
- The surface web–this involves all websites and landing pages that can easily be accessed through popular search engines and by inputting a URL/address directly into a web browser address bar.
- The deep web–this includes private, but not invisible accounts, such as social media pages, retail accounts, membership websites, confidential corporate webpages, medical records and more. All content on the deep web is safeguarded by a paywall or sign-in credentials. Experts have estimated that up to 99% of the internet is comprised of the deep web.
- The dark web–the final layer of the internet can only be accessed by downloading special browsing software called Tor. Tor masks IP addresses and instantly renders all visitors anonymous. This is where scammers can buy and sell personal information including credit card numbers, checking account details, Social Security numbers, health records and more.
Despite its name, not all of the activity that takes place on the dark web is illegal. The deepest part of the internet also provides a platform for communication and commerce among people living in countries that have heavy censorship over online activity. In addition, the dark web was originally used by the United States Department of Defense to communicate anonymously.
Unfortunately, though, the dark web remains a hotbed of criminal activity. Loads of illegal trade takes place through the dark web, including drugs, firearms, counterfeit money, subscription credentials and personal information of thousands of targets. The inherent anonymity of the dark web allows hackers and scammers to roam free without fear of being caught.
How does the dark web work?
The dark web, and by extension the Tor browser, uses a technology known as “onion routing.” This technology uses multiple layers of encryption and redirection to assure anonymity for every browser. When a browser tries to access a site on the dark web, its information will be routed through thousands of relay points, making it impossible to identify and trace.
How can I protect myself from the dark web?
It’s important to take preventative measures to protect your information from the dark web. Here’s how:
- Enable two-step authentication on all online accounts. This includes accounts with access to sensitive information, as well as accounts that can be used to collect innocuous but potentially identifying information, like social media accounts.
- Consistently monitor your credit for fraudulent activity. Review your accounts at the end of each billing period and request an annual free credit report. Report any suspicious activity to your credit card company immediately. You can also ask the company to send you automatic alerts if there are any large purchases made or new accounts opened in your name.
- Use strong, unique passwords for all your accounts. Vary your capitalization use, numbers, words and symbols. For optimal protection, switch up your passwords every few months.
- Never share your personal information with an unverified source. This includes an email from a contact you’ve never engaged with before, phone calls from an unknown caller and a downloaded link from a banner ad.
- Run a dark web scan on your devices. This will tell you if your information is already on the dark web. If the scan is positive, reach out to your credit card issuers to discuss placing a fraud alert on your accounts and a credit freeze in your name.
The dark web is fraught with danger and impossible to trace but there are ways to protect your information. Use the tips outlined here to stay safe.
Your Turn: Have you encountered the dark web? Share your experience in the comments.