If you ever watch TV thrillers, from Mr. Robot to Law & Order: SVU, you’ve heard about the Dark Web, where criminals traffic in guns, drugs, or worse, and deadly deeds are planned. It makes for exciting fiction, but the Dark Web is real and you could become one of its victims if you stray there. So here’s what you need to know to stay safe.
First, the basics. Dark Web sites live on vast parts of the Internet that are not accessible from normal search engines such as Google or Bing. These so-called “darknets” use encryption in layers, like an onion, to hide the identities of users. To visit the Dark Web, you need a special browser called Tor (short for “the onion router”) that makes your activities untraceable. That’s why criminals, terrorists, and others conduct illegal business there. If your identity were stolen by a cyber criminal, chances are that it would turn up for sale on the Dark Web, and that’s why law enforcement and intelligence agencies monitor dark sites to help them track criminal activities.
The Dark Web is a dangerous place, full of traps for the unwitting. The good news is that it’s not easy to visit there by accident. In addition to the Tor browser, some dark sites require “vouchers” for you to enter. However, there have been reports of criminals hiding innocent-looking links on social media sites to trick unwary web surfers onto the Dark Web, probably to load malware onto their computers. So if you click a link and find yourself at a web site address that ends in “.onion”, close the browser quickly and use your security software, if you have it, to run a full virus scan right away.
The Dark Web is also a route to stolen content, from pirated movies and music to adult entertainment. If you are ever tempted to install a Tor browser and sample Dark Web content, our advice to you is just don’t. The Dark Web is buried for a reason, full of hidden dangers and criminals preying on each other. Your computer could be infected, or you could come into contact with dangerous people. All in all, it’s not worth the risk.