The internet has changed in many ways since it first became publicly accessible in the 1990s, and one of the most debatable developments is the growth of the so-called ‘Dark Web. woul

Adults may give consideration to young people visiting the ‘Dark Web’, especially as press reports dark web often link them with dangerous or illegal online activity. However, there are some features to them – like everything online, problems do not come from the technology itself, but instead are caused by the ways in which people use it.

Knowing the basic details of these parts of the internet can help you give realistic and honest support to young people if you are concerned they are using them.

Here’s a short explainer on the ‘Dark Web’, how it can be accessed and what are the risks.

The ‘Open Web’

This is the publicly visible area of the internet that most of us use each day, and is accessed through search engines such as Google or Yahoo.

The ‘Deep Web’

This is the area of the internet which is generally hidden from public view. It cannot be access via the most common search engines and is reached in other, less widely-known ways.

The majority of the ‘Deep Web’ comprises of repository which can be accessed firmly over the ‘Open Web’. For

example, repository associated with hotel bookings, online purchases, medical records, banking among others. The content can only be read by authorised people (such as employees) and is protected using passwords.

The ‘Dark Web’

When most people go online, they do so via a computer or device that has an IP (Internet Protocol) address : a unique online identity.

An IP address enables networks to send the right information to the right place : for example, making sure a message reaches its destination. Someone’s internet activity can be followed and watched using their IP address.

The ‘Dark Web’ uses complex systems that anonymise a user’s true IP address, making it very difficult to work through which websites a computer device has visited. It is generally accessed using dedicated software, the best known is called Tor (The Onion Router).

Around 2. 5 million people use Tor every day. Tor itself is not the ‘Dark Web’ but instead is a way in which to browse both the Open and Dark Web without anyone being able to identify the user or track their activity.

How does Tor work?
Tor provides anonymising software which can be accessed via search engines and then saved free of charge.

Tor wraps the sender’s message in layers of encryption – rather like the layers of an onion, which is how the system got its name.

Searches or messages sent via the Tor cell phone browser do not go on to their intended destination. Instead, they are relayed through “nodes, ” which are other computers handled by Tor users. At each node, a layer of encryption is stripped away from and the message is then sent on to the next. Each node knows the identity of the previous node and one that comes next, but does not know the others in the stringed. Therefore it’s extremely difficult to track a message’s entire journey or to work through where it started and who sent it.

Why do people use the ‘Dark Web’?
There are three main reasons why people may make use of the ‘Dark Web’:

  1. Anonymisation
    People may have many reasons for protecting their online identity. In some cases, this is because they would be in danger if their identity became known – for example in countries where the government forbids a free press or where there is political censorship.

Others may make use of it to reduce their risk of falling victim to crime, such as people who have been cyberstalked or who are concerned about the security of online banking.

Tor is especially used for visitors to browse the open web anonymously, a very small percentage of its traffic relates to Hidden Services (below).

  1. Accessing ‘Hidden Services’
    A hidden Service (also known as an ‘onion service’) is one where not only the user, but also the website itself, have their anonymity protected by Tor. This means that the IP address of the site cannot be identified, e . g information about its host, location or content is hidden. Hidden Services are sometimes called “onion addresses” because the website often ends. onion.

Tor itself is not a hidden Service, but the sites it hosts are. Hidden Services can be used easily, for example for whistleblowing or allow members of the public to share sensitive information such as knowledge about violations without the risk of reprisals. However it is generally believed that most Hidden Services contain illicit material. Sometimes they require registration (username, code etc) and some have ‘VIP’ sections, accessible only by an invite from the facilitators or with the application of the member and approved by the facilitators.

  1. Illegal activity.
    The Dark Web may be used by people wishing to undertake illegal activities online, such as selling pistols or drugs. These kinds of operations, and the websites offering them, are often referred to as Hidden Services (above).

Is it legal?
Using Tor or visiting the Dark Web are not against the law in themselves. It is of course illegal to undertake illegal acts anonymously, such as accessing child abuse images, promoting terrorism, or selling illegal items such as pistols.

What are the risks?
In many ways, the risks of the ‘Dark Web’ are the same as those that may be encountered in the ‘Open Web’. Young people in both environments may access pornography, indecent images of children, or sites selling drugs and pistols.

Young people are also at risk from exploitation and abuse by sex offenders who use all parts of the internet to target people. However, there is evidence to show that offenders will interact with people on the ‘Open Web’ than on the ‘Dark Web’. The Dark Web is more commonly as used by sex offenders to honestly discuss ‘tactics’ to exploit young people and share material generated as a result of their bad. It is also harder for law enforcement to analyze online abuse that develops in the private parts of the internet.

I’ve just found that a new person is using Tor. What can i do?
It’s important to keep feelings of perspective. There are many positive reasons for using Tor, and they cannot automatically mean that a new person is performing anything dangerous or illegal.

Having open and honest interactions is necessary to helping young people develop safer behaviours online. Explain that there is a lot of illegal content in the dark Web, and that you do not want them to be exposed to this. Explore their motivations for wanting to use Tor and discuss all options together : if, for example, their motivation is to increase their internet privacy there may be other channels they could take that you both find more agreeable.

Many young people are concerned with political matters such as the freedom of the press. Schools may want to use discussions of high-profile cases such as Wikileaks to bring this into the open, so that young people to ask questions and voice their opinions in a safe, supportive environment.

There are also some practical steps that can be taken to give young people some of the security they may feel the Dark Web offers:

Encourage young people to use privacy filtration system on social media, think critically in what they share online, and control who is on their friends and contacts lists. The things we share online, and who we share them with, has an have an effect on our privacy, as well as aspects such as our internet search history. Use the Thinkuknow website to explore strategies they can use to help them to stay safe online, as well as tips on managing their online lives.
Discuss the use of VPNs (Virtual Private Networks). People who are concerned about their privacy and security may make use of a VPN as they see this as a method of providing an additional layer of security to their online activities. When using a VPN, your information is firmly encrypted and your computer will interact with the web almost like you’re connected elsewhere.
Make sure they know where to go if they come across something that worries them or makes them feel uncomfortable in different online environment. Help them to understand how they can report to CEOP if they are concerned about sexual abuse and exploitation online, and encourage them to come to you or another adult they trust if they are concerned about anything online.

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