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What is the InterWeb?


The term interweb is a combination of the words "internet" and "web." It's most often used jokingly or sarcastically by someone who is tech-savvy from the perspective of someone unfamiliar with the internet or technology in general.


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There are three basic levels within this complex thing we call the World Wide Web – open, deep, and dark. Each of these have their place – and their drawbacks.


What is the open web?


The open or surface web is what you access daily through search engines like Bing or Google. It makes up about 10% of the entire web.  Before you even turn on the device, search engines have crawled through the web, looking for information, evaluating the sources, and listing your options.


This is like the general reading room in your local library. The books are there, they’re precisely organized by theme and title, and you’re free and able to look everywhere. By accessing the normal internet, your device is accessing central servers which will then display the website.


If you have time on your hands, you can just wander through the aisles of a library looking at every book. But if you want to find something specific, you can also ask a Librarian to help you locate it.


Browsers such as Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo act like virtual librarians, sorting and cataloging materials so they can be easily searched. They do this through using “crawlers”, sometimes also known as “spiders” or “robots”. Crawlers can automatically scan websites and their links, then record them. This makes it easy for them (and you) to find websites.


What is the deep web?


The term ‘deep web’ doesn’t mean anything nefarious - it’s estimated to make up about 90% of the entire web. It refers to the unindexed web databases and other content that search engines can't crawl through and catalog. The deep web is like an archive, containing an unsorted pile of websites and resources that are largely inaccessible to normal users.


This could include sites not automatically available to the public, such as those which require a password. Examples of this might be e-mail accounts or registration-only forums.


There are also millions of servers which only store data which can’t be accessed via a public web page. Data brokers such as LocalBlox for instance crawl the web and store information about business and consumers to sell for marketing purposes.


Deep sites also  include company intranets and governmental websites, for instance the website of the European Union. You may be able to search such pages but you do so using their own internal search function, not a search engine like Bing or Yahoo. This means content of such sites isn’t accessible to web crawlers.


The deep web also includes most academic content handled directly by universities. Think of this like searching for a library book using the facilities’ own index files – you might have to be in the library to search there.


What is the dark web?


The dark web, despite massive media attention, is an extremely small part of the deep web.


The term is very general, as there are actually a number of ‘darknets’ available such as ‘Freenet’ and ‘I2P’ but the TOR network has become the most popular. So, when most people refer to the dark net, they mean Tor.


The acronym stands for The Onion Router. A reference to how Tor works; sending encrypted traffic through layers of relays around the globe as it hides content, the sender, and their location. Users need a special browser with added software to access the tor dark web in the first place.


Not only is browsing via tor more secure, it also is more private as it effectively shuts out online trackers. The Tor browser is based on Firefox and makes use of extensions like ‘NoScript’ to prevent harmful code from loading and there’s a built-in ad blocker (see below).


While it is not flawless in protecting user privacy, it works well enough to give users much more privacy in where they go, the content accessed, and protecting their identity and location. The multiple relays help keep some distance and anonymity between the person visiting the website, the website itself, and any entity trying to eavesdrop on the communication between the two.


Tor is both a type of connection – with the extended relays – and a browser. With your device running a Tor browser, you can go to Tor-specific sites – those with an .onion suffix --  or also visit the usual sites on the open web. The connection between Tor's dark net and the regular internet is bridged via an ‘exit node’. Any internet traffic leaving the exit node is no longer part of Tor's dark web. For maximum security users should only access sites with the .onion suffix via the browser.


Admittedly, there are a number of Tor-only sites for illicit drugs or materials. If used properly, the Tor browser allows surfers to stay anonymous and go to “members only” forums where they can use untraceable cryptocurrencies for their purchases.


But, that’s not the whole story. There are also popular free legal websites which can be accessed via a .onion address. Facebook offers an onion link to access their services, although you may find logging in difficult, as you’ll most likely appear to be signing in from a different location each time.


Mail providers Mailbox.org and Protonmail can also be accessed via an .onion link. This may be welcome news to those in states where security services have attempted to block ‘anonymous’ email websites like these from the open web. Since Tor can be used to access websites governments try to block, the dark web can be a useful tool for people living under dictatorships to access western media.


By its nature, Tor is censorship-resistant. Even if such sites were blocked from the regular open web, anyone using the Tor Browser could still access their email using the .onion addresses.


Types, view ability, and risks of deep web content.


There are numerous types of deep web content. These include websites with registration requirements; fee-based video and media on-demand services such as Netflix, HBO Max, Apple TV+, Amazon Prime, and Spotify; and various password-protected entities. Among these are e-mail systems, legal and medical databases, corporate intranets, document libraries, image archives, financial records, scientific databases, and police and government resources as well as gaming sites, cloud storage services such as Dropbox or iCloud, and private sites and services that are not registered and thus do not appear in search engines. However, university researchers and commercial search services such as Google and Microsoft have explored ways to index deep web content, and law enforcement agencies have attempted to develop deep web crawlers that can spot illicit activities, including drug dealing, sex trafficking, and terrorist activity. The success of these efforts has been limited.


There is no inherent risk associated with searching the surface web or entering the deep web. In fact, both acts are common and part of daily life and business today. However, some websites contain digital dangers such as malware, viruses, spyware, and keyloggers (a kind of surveillance software that can monitor and record every keystroke on a computer). It is also possible to find sensitive data on the deep web that can be stolen or abused, and, of course, the possibility of encountering individuals who engage in cybercrime and unethical, even harmful, activities is always a risk in the online world.


How do I access the dark web?


If you need to access dark web resources, these are the steps you need to take.


First -- and this is strongly recommended -- you should install a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Also, you need to use a privacy-focused browser such as the Tor network to connect via nodes and proxy servers, which are more secure and aim to anonymize traffic requests. The Tor browser is able to access the special domain names, with the suffix .onion, used in the dark web.