• Alka Mariya Antony

Deep Web: Boon or Bane?

The deep web also dubbed as the invisible web is often misunderstood as a site of illegal and nefarious activities shrouded in mystery. While some of the misconceptions about the deep web have roots in reality most arise from ignorance and lack of clarity regarding what comprises the deep web. So what does the deep web actually consist of?


What is the Deep Web?

The Internet is the global interconnection of every server, computer, and other device to form a network of networks which is then divided into two parts: the surface web and the deep web.


The surface web refers to the portion of the World Wide Web that can be easily accessed by the public and is indexed by search engines such as Google, Bing, Yahoo using standard browsers and internet protocol. The surface web is what the average user understands as ‘the internet’. However, the surface web is considered as just the tip of the iceberg.


In contrast, the deep web, often dubbed as the internet’s evil twin, is the part of the internet that is not as easily accessible and largely remains hidden from the average users. While the actual figures are not clear, it is estimated that the dark web may be up to 550 times larger than the surface web and accounts for almost 95% of the entire web. Surprisingly a large number of internet users access the deep web unknowingly as data from sites such as Snapchat or Facebook can only be accessed through specific application program interfaces.


Though the dark web is frequently confused with the deep web and often used synonymously, it is a very small portion of the deep web that is anonymous and accounts for less than 0.01% of the sites on the internet. The darknet is very hard to access and can only be accessed through special browsers like the onion router (Tor) or/and a password.


How does it work?

To gain access to the deep web, one must use Tor. Tor stands for ‘the onion router’ and is used for anonymizing data. Initially developed by The Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) to provide anonymity to U.S. military personnel engaged in operations abroad, NRL deployed it in October 2003 as an open-source browser free-to-the-public. This ensures that the military traffic was hidden amid the crowd of anonymous civilian users.


The mechanics behind Tor’s anonymity are fairly simple. Once the user downloads Tor, it randomly bounces your IP address among Tor enabled devices across the world thus effectively making your online activity hard to trace. More Tor users mean your online activity is harder to trace. The multiple layers created by TOR to protect user anonymity is suggestive of an onion as the name implies. However, it must be noted that using Tor just makes it more difficult to trace and cannot guarantee perfect anonymity


The Tor project is a non-profit organization run by activists and others to safeguard user anonymity and privacy. The U.S Department of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labour is a major funder of the same.


What is it used for?

According to the Tor project, more than 2 million people use Tor daily, and contrary to popular beliefs only a fraction of this traffic uses it for illegal activities.


The vast majority of Tor’s users utilize it for legitimate purposes. Activists, Journalists, whistle-blowers (popularly Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, and Edward Snowden), and even law enforcement agencies use it to ensure their anonymity and prevent leaks. In many countries where censorship is imposed, journalists and even common citizens use Tor to securely exchange and access sensitive information without getting into trouble with the Government. Thus unlike popular misconceptions, the deep web is not only used for illicit or illegitimate activities.


However, while the numbers are far less than previously assumed, it cannot be denied that the Tor is also used for illegal activities such as drug trafficking, child pornography, etc. The anonymity makes it harder for law enforcement agencies to track and punish the perpetrators. It is also often the site of illegal marketplaces such as the Silk Road and Alpha Bay, both of which were later taken down by law enforcement agencies.


Benefits and Drawbacks of the Deep Web

The deep web has been popularly described as a double-edged sword that must be used with great caution. Some of the main advantages and disadvantages associated with the use of the deep web are as follows-


Benefits:

  • Anonymity and privacy

  • Freely expression of views and dissent without facing repercussions.

  • Information is safe and protected.

Drawbacks:

  • The difficulty to trace enables criminals to commit crimes and escape punishment.

  • Often used for illicit activities.


Conclusion

Despite popular myths and misconceptions, the deep web is indeed a helpful tool to maintain privacy and anonymity that can be used for legitimate purposes. However, this anonymity can also pose problems for law enforcement as many criminals use it to commit crimes and escape accountability. Thus it is the user who determines the purpose of the deep web.

-Alka Mariya Antony


References: T&F Online, Kaspersky, Academia, Investopedia