Mention the Dark Web in conversation and groans will inevitably ensue. Most of us realise it is a dangerous part of the net that should be given a very wide berth but probably haven’t had the time to investigate exactly why.
So, here’s my 5-minute guide to ensure you are fully informed about the Dark Web and how to manage your kids and their inevitable interest in this ‘secret online world’.
How Does The Dark Web Differ From The ‘Normal’ Web?
Try and think of the web in three parts:
1 The ‘Normal’ Web Or The Surface Web.
This is the part of the web that can be accessed by search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo. Some experts believe that this is between just 4-10% of the entire internet.
2 The Deep Web.
The Deep Web is simply the content of databases and other web services that for one reason or another conventional search engines such as Google and Yahoo can’t index. Government records, corporate intranets and academic databases are examples of content found here. To access information, users need to search individual databases. The Deep Web isn’t illicit and scary like the media often portrays.
3 The Dark Web.
The Dark Web is the encrypted part of the internet where illegal activity can take place. While many believe it is ‘monitored’ by law enforcement agencies, it seems to be the place where anything can be bought or sold. You may remember the news earlier this year about US Authorities successful closure of AlphaBay – a Dark Web marketplace which sold drugs, firearms and computer hacking tools. AlphaBay was 10 times the size of The Silk Road – one of the first Dark Web drug marketplaces, now closed down – and was estimated to host daily transactions totalling hundreds of thousands of dollars. This is the ‘flavour’ of activity that occurs here.
How Do You Access It?
The most common way to access the Dark Web is via The Onion Network (TOR) which ‘protects’ both users and website operators by encrypting all transactions. Unfortunately, it is remarkably easy to find and download. Details NOT provided here! I understand that it can take just minutes to download and you are ready to explore… Terrifying really.
Is It All Bad?
In short, no. Some ‘non-criminal’ citizens choose to conduct their internet activities on the Dark Web as they don’t want the Googles of the world collecting their data! The Dark Web also provides an opportunity for political refugees and dissidents in oppressive countries such as Syria and China to communicate.
However, there is a very dark side to the Dark Web. Drugs and illegal firearms can be bought. Hitmen can be ordered. Child pornography can be accessed. Graphic footage of people being hurt and raped can easily be found. In short, evil abounds in the darkest layer of the web. This is a vile place you don’t want to visit.
Attracted to the encryption and anonymity, terrorist organisations have also gravitated to the Dark Web. Many experts believe they use the ‘Surface Web’ for recruiting then move to the Dark Web where encryption can hide their more nefarious interactions. In that article, Aaron Brantly, a professor of cyber studies at the US Military Academy says:
‘One of the things they do is…train each other on how to run all the traffic on their Android mobile phones through the dark web so all their internet and voice traffic is sent through encrypted channels and so unreadable by law enforcement.’
How Did It Evolve?
The TOR network started its life as a government project developed by the US Naval Research Lab to protect government communication. There is much debate about how and why it became publicly available. Some believe it was an intentional move by the US government to provide an opportunity to ‘keep tabs’ on an inevitable criminal community, while others believe TOR’s release was purely accidental.
Managing Kids And The Dark Web
Ideally, we don’t want our kids going anywhere near this horrendous place but I’m going to keep this very real. If your kids haven’t already explored the Dark Web, it is highly likely that they will give it some serious thought. The idea of a secret world where they can be anonymous is highly enticing to many tweens and teens. Think Alex Rider, James Bond or Jason Bourne but in real life!
As a big fan of communication and teaching our kids critical thinking skills, here are some of the conversations that you should consider having with your kids about the Dark Web:
* The Dark Web is NOT a fun place to visit
It is highly likely Dark Web users have reason to stay anonymous so these are not the type of people you want to ‘hang out’ with. Visiting comes with risks.
* Hone those critical thinking skills
The unregulated, encrypted world of the Dark Web operates with very little concept of ethics. Ill-intentioned types will work very hard to win your trust and possibly convince you to be part of an illegal scheme, give them money or even nude pics. Beware!
* Never purchase or accept anything bought on the Dark Web
* Skill up and redirect their energy
If your kids are intrigued, why not redirect them into coding? Encourage them to use their power for good.
* Don’t sugar-coat the reality
Where appropriate, share relevant news stories with your kids about the Dark Web. The shocking story of 16-year-old Australian boy Preston Bridge who died after taking drugs purchased on Silk Road is a good place to start.
* Give them some privacy
Some experts believe one of the reasons teens choose to visit the Dark Web is to hide their online activities from parents. If you are confident your kids can make good decisions online, then why not give them some space online? It may mean they decide they don’t need to visit the Dark Web – and wouldn’t that be a good thing!
Like many of you, I have absolutely no desire to explore the Dark Web but I am not a teenager who doesn’t truly understand the concept of risk. Crossing our fingers and hoping our kids don’t poke their head ‘down the rabbit hole’ into the Dark Web isn’t responsible parenting.
So, let’s start the appropriate conversations today. Help our kids develop their own set of critical thinking skills to navigate any online situation whether Dark or not.