With the Ashley Madison hack recently making headlines, it has shed a little light on the flip side of web browsing – the dark web. At the risk of oversimplifying things, the web can be divided into two parts: the visible web that we typically use for social media, conducting searches, and other day-to-day internet activities and the dark web, which lies beneath the surface and is rarely seen. There, in that darker layer of the internet, things aren’t indexed for public use and general operations are far more mysterious to the average computer user.
While that may sound like anyone roaming about in this unseen part of the internet has turned to the proverbial dark side, it’s not that cut and dry. As the Vice President of Global Security at CGI, John Proctor, notes, “the dark web runs on the exact same infrastructure as the normal web – it is simply explored in a different way, along different protocols.” The dark web is, however, intentionally hidden from the average person, used by the likes of government agencies and reporters communicating with secret sources.
Accessing this uncharted territory can only be done through a web browser that allows hosting and surfing without any identifiable IP address or other marker. This means exploring the dark web is anonymous by nature, which is why it is largely concealed. There is a high risk to exploit the information found there, and it would be dangerous to open it up to the public. Therefore, it takes quite a bit of know-how and finesse to even gain access – much less use it to meet any need.
The Ashley Madison hack, which was conducted in the dark web, isn’t the only time this hidden part of web browsing has hit the media. In 2013, the FBI used it to shut down the online black market known as Silk Road. This shows its dual capacity for good and bad use. As Proctor says, “The information on the dark web is for people who know how to dig and forage and use it, for good or bad.” Once the hype surrounding Ashley Madison dies down, the dark web will likely slink back into the shadows, where only a select few will traverse it.