What is the Dark Web?
You may have heard mention of the Dark Web in the news or on social media and it is likely your child will become aware of its existence as they get older. Let’s have a look at what it is, how it is used and what to do if you are worried your child might be tempted by it at some point.
The Internet is essentially a three-layered system comprising the following parts:
The Open Web: this is the bit we search using search engines like Google and is what we tend to think of as ‘the internet’.
The Deep Web: this is all the stuff that is not openly accessible to everyone such as employee websites, medical records etc. These can still be accessed using a regular internet browser such as Microsoft Edge, Safari or Google Chrome.
The Dark Web: this is the hidden part of the web that is only accessible using specific software which masks the user and their activity. This software includes Tor, Freenet, I2P and Riffle and is essentially a type of browser which can be downloaded free following a search of the open web. The websites themselves are also ‘hidden’ as their identity is protected. You can spot a Tor website as the domain will be .onion rather than .com or one of the usual open web suffixes. The information exchanged is wrapped in layers of encryption like the layers of an onion hence the name!
The Dark Web does have legitimate uses for example to protect the identity of whistle-blowers, to enable activity in countries where freedom to access information is limited by the government or where there are concerns about online security. Most of the traffic within Tor in fact relates to the anonymous use of the open web.
However, the Dark Web is also used to access ‘hidden services’ and studies have shown that the majority of sites making use of the anonymity provided contain illicit material. The sale of drugs, weapons and stolen goods is commonplace as well as the exchange of illegal content such as child pornography.
Using Tor or accessing the dark web are not illegal activities in themselves but viewing child pornography, buying and selling illegal items and promoting terrorism obviously are.
If you are concerned your child might be using Tor, it is important to stay calm – it does not automatically mean they are breaking the law. Have an honest conversation with them, it may just be that they turned to browsing via the Dark Web because they believe it is more secure. If this is the case, there are safer options such as setting up a Virtual Private Network (VPN).
Make sure they know you are there to support them if they come across something that worries them, this is equally as true for the open web as many of the risks presented by the Dark Web are just as prevalent there too. If you are concerned about sexual abuse and exploitation online you can report this to https://www.ceop.police.uk/Safety-Centre/ and get support.