Deep web. Dark web. They’re different, and the terms can be confusing.
“Everybody uses the deep web, even Facebook is considered the deep web,” says Mike Holcomb, director of information security at Fluor.
When you log in to, say, Facebook or your Instagram account, you’re actually going behind the scenes into the “deep web,” which browsers such as Google, Safari, Edge and Firefox don’t index, so we can’t see any of it, he explains.
That “surface net” constitutes only 4% of the entire World Wide Web, and it’s 500 times smaller than the deep web, according to Holcomb and several online sources.
Of the remaining 96% percent, 1% lurks even deeper. That’s the dark web, or so-called darknet, where e-nefariousness grabs so much attention as a marketplace for arms, drug and human trafficking, child pornography, contract killers, fake passports and more.
It turns out the dark web can also be used for good, says Richard R. Brooks, a computer engineering professor at Clemson University who helps organizations operate in conflict zones, where working without a trace is paramount.
The two experts explain: That darknet cavern is accessible through what’s known as the Tor browser, short for The Onion Router, a layered network of encrypted services.
Brooks uses Tor. He’s also chief technology officer for danaides.org, a French nongovernmental organization that goes to the darknet to facilitate humanitarian aid in such hot spots as Syria, Libya and Sudan.
He explains that The Tor Project Inc., the nonprofit company that operates its browser just as, say, Alphabet operates Google, routes internet traffic through multiple servers and encrypts it all along the way, guaranteeing privacy.
“We’re going to be using Tor because we don’t want people to know who’s using our system and where our aid is going,” Brooks says. “Most people in conflict zones are in bad shape.”
Danaides extensively vets potential participants, he notes, adding: “If we could identify people who could be reliable, who would be good at coordinating activities, we create an unidentifiable audit trail.”
He’s also involved in dark-web applications in Africa to protect communications among journalists, dissidents and activists. Notably, The New York Times, BBC, ProPublica and other media outlets use the dark web for their reporters in censored or dangerous locales.
“You have to know exactly where you’re going and what you’re looking for.” – Mike Holcomb, director of information security, Fluor
The common thread between “good” dark web and “bad” dark web, Brooks and Holcomb say, is that you have to know how to navigate .onion layers.
“Unless you specifically know where to go,” Holcomb says, “it’s like showing up in Greenville, and if you don’t have their address, their exact street number, you’re never going to find them. You have to know exactly where you’re going and what you’re looking for.”
Acting U.S. Attorney Lance Crick says authorities found where to look in 2017 after an 18-year-old Portland, Oregon, girl overdosed. Homeland Security, Drug Enforcement Administration, FBI and U.S. Postal Service agents tracked the source of the fatal U-47700, or “Pink,” synthetic opioid to downtown Greenville.
SWAT teams converged on Theodore Khleborod, a 28-year-old native of Moldova, and Ana Barrero, 24, at the South Ridge apartments. The two were charged with using VeriQuick pregnancy test kits, purchased at a dollar store, to discreetly mail the narcotics. Investigators allege Khleborod, using the handle, PetertheGreat, ran some 9,500 transactions through the dark web’s AlphaBay.
Now with the boom in cryptocurrency, such as Bitcoin, dark web usage is growing in South Carolina, too, including the prison system, Crick says.
“We’ve been monitoring it and seeing it in the last five years. We’ve had cases in the last two to three years that have directly involved a conspiracy,” the Greenville-based attorney says, including prosecutions for attempted murder and fentanyl overdoses — “all through the dark web.”
We don’t recommend browsing around the deep/dark web, but here’s a site that offers “Little Known Corners of the Deep Web You Might Actually Like” after you download the Tor browser.
SURFACE WEB: web based content that can be found in search engines
DEEP WEB: web based content that cannot be found in search engines
DARK WEB: content not found in search engines that can only be accessed anonymously using special anonymyzing software networks