The Internet is a vast place. More information and resources are stored there than any book could ever contain. Additionally, it is a medium to acquire endless services and has utterly transformed society for the better. But, what about the side of the Internet that no one knows about? Where illegal human services, goods, and content can be purchased and viewed?
This is the Dark Web. The Dark Web is an entire section of the World Wide Web where users can remain anonymous while visiting encrypted websites that could possibly provide illegal services that would not be accessed by public search engines, like Google. To access the Dark Web, browsers such as Tor or Freenet need to be downloaded onto your computer, where techniques such as onion routing allow what you search to be encrypted, so the web activity cannot be traced back to who is searching. This power of anonymity through these search networks then allows users to visit websites that exist on darknets and overlay networks, that require the encrypted software and cannot be found without it.
For lack of a better word, there is some pretty crazy stuff you can find on the Dark Web. Some quite easy to access, just by downloading a certain browser. Those who enter the Dark Web need to exercise caution. If you end up in the wrong place, you may accidentally introduce malware to your computer or end up on a black market website selling human body parts. Yes, that’s a real thing. Many of these sites are strange, some frightening, and some disturbingly illegal. Illicit pornography websites, some geared towards disturbing interests not legal and therefore not on the regular internet, pages selling drugs and guns, and many other areas that venture into taboo material can be easily accessed in this section of the World Wide Web.
Being the naturally curious and oblivious person that I am, I decided to download Tor and check out the Dark Web for myself. After consulting with a friend of mine who has had experience with the Dark Web before and opted to remain anonymous, I downloaded Tor. My friend not only strongly advised me not to download the server, but also said that some of the websites he has been seen before on this server had seriously affected him for the worse, and was some “seriously messed up stuff.” This only fueled the desire to see for myself, of course. Downloading the browser was a bit confusing for someone as technologically impaired as I am, and I am pretty sure I exposed my MacBook to all kinds of viruses and exposed my computer to hackers by not following how to properly run the browser to ensure anonymity, but I took the leap and opened up the browser.
What was really surprising, not to mention frightening, was how easily accessible some of these websites are. Going on Reddit message boards specifically geared towards Dark Net users, I was presented a list of links to illegal and illicit websites within my first few minutes of downloading. Right away I saw sites advertising hackers for rent, drugs, stolen personal information from identity thieves, unlicensed firearms and weapons, and an abundance of pornography. For the sake of my own eyes and to avoid incriminating myself, none of these links were clicked.
Despite all the malicious material out there, the Dark Web is also a medium to speak freely without fear of judgement or punishment for many people around the world. There are many message boards where people in countries more restrictive about Internet access and free speech can write openly, and communicate among themselves without fear or consequence. Additionally, it is an outlet for those more opinionated to voice their ideas, which I found when I came across message boards discussing various conspiracies about the government and controversial events throughout history. A section of the Internet so unfiltered and free of restrictions as the dark web is bound to be tainted with the illegal or disturbing sites, but one should not think that is all there is to this vast, yet well-kept secret.