By Gerry Grant, Chief Security Officer

Every city has certain areas that you wouldn’t be happy walking around in the middle of the night on your own. The internet is similar. We often hear about a dark, dangerous, lawless place called the ‘Dark Web’, but what or where exactly is it?

The Surface Web

The internet is full of information, if we don’t know the answer to something, we ‘Google it’. Now, we might not actually use Google, we might use Bing or another one of the many search engines out there. Whatever service we use, the search engine will return a list of websites that will hopefully answer our question. Basically, a search engine ‘indexes’ all of the sites that it can find on the internet and returns to us what it thinks is relevant to our search query. These results, and the pages that you can visit are called the ‘Surface Web’. Think of it a bit like all the tourist attractions, restaurants and recommendations that could be found in a travel guide for a city.

But the results from search engines are not the only pages that are on the internet. The Surface Web is only a tiny proportion of what can be accessed. Sometimes, and for various reasons, there are web pages out there that aren’t so easily accessible. Think about your company’s intranet. That is on the internet, but you more than likely wouldn’t find it on a search engine. The same can be said for any pages that you need authorisation to access or see, your internet banking pages for example. This is the ‘Deep Web’.

The Deep Web

The Deep Web is a bit like the little side streets that you might wander down to find a more authentic experience when visiting a strange city. All the little restaurants, family homes and schools in that city make up a much bigger proportion of the city than the listings in the tourist guide. Like the Deep Web, you can find these things, but you might not be welcome in all of them unless invited. Once in, the chances are that you’ll be perfectly safe and have a great time.

The Dark Web

But what about this dangerous crime ridden place called the Dark Web? The Dark Web isn’t as easily accessible as the Surface or Deep Web. People can’t just open a regular web browser and find sites that are on the Dark Web, you need a special web browser such as the Tor Browser and it wasn’t set up to harbour the illegal activity that it has become so infamous for. In fact, the Dark Web has its roots in allowing private, uncensored access to the internet.

It is true that the Dark Web helps keep users anonymous and there certainly is a lot of illegal activity that happens there. It is not the sort of place that you would go for a general browse to find out when the next screening of your favourite film is. Just like the less salubrious areas of certain cities, you don’t want to go to the Dark Web unless you know what you are doing.

It is a place that criminals frequent to facilitate some very nasty things. But it is also a place where people from countries that have strong censorship can find unfiltered information. Somewhere people can express their views and opinions without fear of being found out or criminalised. The Tor Browser and Dark Web played an important role in the Arab Spring of 2010. It allowed people to communicate and find out what was really happening with little government interference. So, although it is a top holiday destination for criminals, there is also some good that happens there. But don’t worry, the Dark Web isn’t somewhere that you can happen on by accident and my advice would be to stick to the well-travelled and safer paths.