Dark Web: (noun)

Part of the World Wide Web that is only accessible by utilizing special software, allowing users and websites to remain anonymous or untraceable. It exists on an encrypted network that uses masked IP addresses to maintain anonymity for users and site owners. This way, people who use the Dark Web for illegal purposes can’t be traced.

As you can see by the above definitions, the Dark Web can be a shady place where illegal transactions take place. Things like drugs, guns, counterfeit money, and credit card numbers can all be found, bought, and sold.

Chances are that if your business has been hacked, some or all of the stolen information is for sale on the Dark Web. This is why small to medium business owners need to make sure their security software is regularly updated against new and stronger threats. What is the Dark Web and Why Should We Care?

But is the Dark Web only used for bad things? The answer may surprise you. No. It is estimated that only about a third of the people who visit the Dark Web do so for illegal activities.

Before we go any further, I’d like to bring up a little more info on the Dark Web and some of its misconceptions. Did you know that the internet you use every day is actually just the Surface Web? Also called the Common Web, Visible Web, or the Indexed Web, it is just the portion of the web that the general public has access to. We assume that it is the majority of the internet because we’ve labeled it the World Wide Web, right? Well, the Surface Web is only about one-third of the entire internet. Everything we have access to is, in reality, just the tip of the iceberg.

Underneath the Surface Web is the Deep Web. Also called the Invisible Web or Hidden Web. It is a portion of the World Wide Web whose contents are not indexed by standard search engines. 99% of the information on the Deep Web cannot be found through search engines like Google or Bing.

But are there positive aspects to the Deep Web and Dark Web?

The U.S. government uses both the Deep and Dark Webs to keep open channels to countries that are ruled by oppressive dictators, in case citizens of those countries want to send out news stories or ask for help. Media outlets, like the New York Times, host portals that allow people and whistle-blowers to send in news tips, anonymously.

That anonymity helps give people who are in bad situations or have no one in their lives to talk to, a means of expression and channels of help. There are groups for survivors of abuse that allow victims to name their abusers, and also to get support from other survivors. There are groups for people with every type of addiction, anything from food, drugs, to gambling. Some countries punish their citizens arbitrarily, for such reasons as sexuality or religion. The dark web offers opportunities for people to create communities where they can share stories and tips or plan to meet in person.

You can even join a chess club and play with people from all over the world. There are chat rooms, dating sites, and gaming forums where you can talk about anything, anytime, without the fear of being monitored. People can freely share their feelings, express their challenges and even find help from these groups.

Freedom of expression is alive and well in the crevices of the Dark Web. If you’re an artist you can share your passion with people who truly enjoy creativity and self-expression. Same thing for writers, poets, and musicians. There’s even a site where origami lovers post their beautifully folded ornate creations, and some of them are so intricate it’s hard to believe they started as a flat piece of paper.

You’re probably thinking, with all the negative and scary stuff on the Dark Web, I’ll never even try to access it. You want to stay safe and keep away from it, right? Well, sorry to tell you, but some of your daily excursions on the internet can only access part of the Deep Web, and even the Dark Web, because of the anonymity they provide.

For example, your company’s intranet is on the Deep Web so it cannot be seen by search engines. There are sites you may have joined that exist behind pay-walls or require special registration. Many databases and webmail pages are also tucked away below the Surface Net so your personal information is not exposed.

If you belong to a Facebook group, guess what? Yes, that group is on the Deep Web. Otherwise, anyone can search for that page, read the posts, and request to join. If you use online banking, that information is also on the Deep Web. Sites that host medical information and legal documents are hidden there as well. As you can see, there is a need for the Deep and Dark Webs because of the security they offer.

Freedom of expression, freedom of speech and freedom from censorship are things all of us enjoy, but, unfortunately, those things come with a price. If you choose to go to the dark side of the web, be careful. You just might find something beautiful, or you could accidentally stumble upon the worst aspects of human nature. Like everything else the world has to offer; when you’re exploring, be safe.