The Dark Web: Should You Access It?

Since the Edward Snowden revelations about the NSA Surveillance Program , in 2013, many are concerned about their anonymity online. As a result, the Dark Web has become a major part of the mainstream. Even Bitcoin, a popular online crypto= currency, has been used in Dark Web.  Exactly what is the dark web, how to access it, and what are the pros/cons of accessing the Dark Web?

What is the Dark Web?

The Dark Web is a “collection of websites that are publicly visible, yet hide the IP addresses of the servers that run them. That means anyone can visit a Dark Web site, but it can be very difficult to figure out where they’re hosted—or by whom.”(Greenberg).  The Dark Web, which is legal, is not accessible or indexed by popular search engines such as Google or Mozilla Firefox.  The Dark Web is a part of the Deep Web, where you can access certain information, such as scientific reports, in various levels (see fig. 1).

dark

Fig. 1. Katzman, Darcy. Deep Web for Enterprisers-What you can learn about competitors and customers (and vice versa). 16 Sept. 2015. Deep Web Technologies. Digital Image. Web. 13 Nov. 2015.

Accessing the Dark Web: The Tor Browser

The Tor browser, known as the Onion Router, was initially “a worldwide network of servers developed with the U.S. Navy that enabled people to browse the internet anonymously. Now, it’s a non-profit organization whose main purpose is the research and development of online privacy tools.”(Thorsin). The Tor network “disguises your identity by moving your traffic across different Tor servers, and encrypting that traffic so it isn’t traced back to you. Anyone who tries would see traffic coming from random nodes on the Tor network, rather than your computer.”(Thorsin). In other words, you will be able to surf the Dark Web privately and anonymously.

 Pros and Cons of the Dark Web

The obvious advantage is that you will have anonymity and privacy-no advertisements. But there are drawbacks.  The Dark Web is a “censorship-free world visited by anonymous users…you will find whistle-blower sites, The New Yorker. You will find political activism blogs. You will find libraries of pirated books. But you’ll also find the drugs markets, illegal pornography, commercial hacking services, and much more besides.”(Bartlett).

Also, the U.S. government is increasingly expanding ways to access who is on and who isn’t on the Deep Web. The U.S. government is “increasing their capability to monitor the hidden network, mainly trying to infiltrating them with spying services… several U.S. cyber units totally dedicated to the monitoring of the Deep Web.” (Paganini). As a result, there is a small possibility that the government can monitor people who use the Dark Web in the future.

Conclusion

You must determine for yourself how important anonymity and privacy is to you in your life and then decide whether or not to surf the Dark Web knowing the risks and rewards involved. Regardless, the Dark Web is in the present and will be a relevant part of the future of the internet.

Sources

Bartlett, Jamie. “How the Mysterious Dark Net is Going Mainstream.” TED.Sept.2015. Lecture.

Greenberg, Andy. “Hacker Lexicon: What is the Dark Web? Wired. Wired., 19 Nov. 2014. Web. 13 Nov. 2015.

Klasowski, Thorsin.  “What is Tor and Should You Use It?”.Lifehacker.  Lifehacker., 21 Feb. 2014. Web. 13 Nov.2015.

Paganini, Pierluigi. “The Good and the Bad of the Deep Web.” Security Affairs. Security Affairs., 17 Sept. 2012. Web. 13 Nov. 2015.

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End-To-End Encryption: The Key to Protecting Your Privacy Online

Due to technological advances, more Americans have grown concerned about their privacy and how to protect themselves from hackers and government snooping. In this post, I outline the definitions of the Snowden Effect and its connection to end-to-end encryption. Also, based on Edward Snowden’s suggestions, I will provide information on how you can make your online information more secure through the use of end-to-end encryption.

The Snowden Effect

In 2013, Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor, leaked NSA documents that revealed the agency was collecting data from American citizens without a warrant, which is against the US constitution.  This, in turn, has led to what is called the Snowden Effect, which is the increase in public concern about information security and privacy resulting from disclosures that Edward Snowden made detailing the extent of the National Security Agency ‘s, or the NSA, surveillance program (Sledge). Due to the Snowden Effect, many have changed the way in which they use in using technology (see fig. 1).

Pew

Fig. 1.  “Americans’ Privacy Strategies Post-Snowden.” Pew Research Center Internet Science Tech RSS. N.p., 16 Mar. 2015. Web. 08 Nov. 2015.

The Snowden Effect: Relationship to End-to-End Encryption

Due to the Snowden Effect, many have gained an interest in end-to-end encryption, which stems from cryptology, which is the foundation of information security. Snowden used end-to-end encryption for communication. According to Henk C.A. van Tilborg, author of Fundamentals of Cryptology: A Professional Reference and Interactive Tutorial, cryptology involves “the protection of sensitive information against unauthorized access or fraudulent changes has been of prime concern throughout the centuries. Modern communication techniques, using computers connected through networks, make all data even more vulnerable for these threats.” End-to-end encryption is a system of communication where the only people who can read the messages are the people communicating. The first free, widely used end-to-end encrypted messaging software was PGP, or Pretty Good Privacy, a program coded by Phil Zimmermann and released in 1991(Greenberg). No eavesdropper can access the cryptographic keys needed to decrypt the conversation—not even a company that runs the messaging service (Greenberg).

In other words, according to Greenberg, only the endpoint computers hold the cryptographic keys, and the company’s server acts as an illiterate messenger, passing along messages that it can’t itself decipher. While experts suggest that end-to-encryption is not free from flaws, it is the best way to ensure that your information is private and secure. Without end-to-end encryption, your information is vulnerable not just to hackers and the government. Advertisers, social networks, and even email companies collect a huge amount of user data (Kim).

Ways to Secure Your Information

Larry Kim, author of Five Online Privacy Tips from Edward Snowden, listed Snowden’s tips on how to secure your privacy and information online with end-to-end encryption software. Listed below are Snowden’s suggestions:

  • Avoid popular online consumer services like Google, Facebook, and Dropbox. According to Snowden, they have improved their security measures but not enough to secure your information. Instead, Snowden suggests SpiderOak whose local encryption means the server never even knows the plain text contents of the data it is storing (Kim).
  • Encrypt your hard drive. Encrypting your hard drive offers protection in case your computer is ever lost or stolen (or seized). Some newer operating systems have built-in disk encryption tools such as BitLocker, which is standard with Windows 7(Kim).
  • Avoid online tracking with browser plug-ins. Browsers like Chrome and Internet Explorer 10 now offer do-not-track settings, but adding a browser plug-in adds an extra layer of protection and anonymity. Ghostery is one of the more popular options and is available for Chrome, Opera, Firefox, Safari, and mobile systems Android, iOS and Firefox Android (Kim).
  • Encrypt online communications in chat and email. You can encrypt your email in Microsoft Outlook or use a Web-based email service with built-in encryption, like Hushmail…ChatCrypt encrypts messages before they leave the browser, makes them visible only to the opposite end user with the password (Kim). Snowden’s favorite is Signal which is both an Android as well as an iOS app. Signal uses your existing phone number and address book, and requires no separate logins, usernames, passwords, or PINs (Mlot).
  • Use Tor. Tor stands for ‘The Onion Router’ and was named due to its multiple layers of security. Basically, it bounces your communications around a network of relays, making it difficult (if not impossible) for anyone to track your online activity (Kim).

End-to-end encryption might not be perfect but, as of now, it is the best defense that you can have to protect your privacy, anonymity, and your data.

Sources

Greenberg, Andy. “Hacker Lexicon: What Is End-to-End Encryption?” Wired.com. Conde Nast Digital, 25 Nov. 2014. Web. 08 Nov. 2015.

Kim, Larry. “Five Online Privacy Tips from Edward Snowden.” Inc. Inc. 13 Jan. 2015. Web. 6 Nov. 2015.

Mlot, Stephanie. “Edward Snowden’s Favorite App Is Now On Android.” PC Magazine. PC Magazine. 3 Nov. 2013. Web. 6 Nov.2015.

Sledge, Matt. “The Snowden Effect: 8 Things That Happened Only Because Of the NSA Leaks.” Huffington Post. Huffington Post, 05 June 2014. Web. 06 Nov. 2015.

Tilborg, Hank C.A. Van. Fundamentals of Cryptology: A Professional Reference and Interactive Tutorial. Massachusetts: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2003. Web. 06 Nov. 2015.

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