What is the dark web? – Advice for parents

By Internet Matters Team on

According to statistics, we can only search 4% of online content that is public; this is considered to be the Surface Web. Roughly 90% represent the Deep Web and 6% the Dark Web. To help you understand what these are and the risks to children, we’ve pulled together a quick summary of what you need to know.

BBC Newsbeat video showcasing a summary of what you can find on the dark net.

What is the Deep Web?

It is part of the World Wide Web which is hidden from public view. The contents are not indexed by the usual search engines. It mainly consists of databases that can be made up of web mail and online banking, for example.

What is the Dark Web?

It is part of the World Wide Web that is only accessible through special software. The most commonly used software is called TOR (The Onion Router).

What is Tor?

Tor was originally created by US military researchers to allow an exchange of information completely anonymously. They later released this into the public domain – creating white noise and hiding messages for security purposes.

Why do people use the Dark Web?

To hide their identity

  • People may not wish to have their data collected
  • It’s popular with civil liberties groups, journalists and those who support privacy online
  • To be found (they could be a criminal or looking to engage in criminal activity)
  • To access dubious content
  • Hidden services – although TOR itself isn’t hidden, the sites and users under it are hidden under layers of darknet encryption

For criminal purposes

  • Trading in the black market
  • Buying illegal products (e.g. weapons/drugs)
  • Forums and media exchanges for pedophiles and terrorists

Is it illegal to use the Dark Web?

Unless you carry out unlawful acts, it is not illegal to use the dark web or Tor.

What are the risks of the Dark Web to children?

Lack of regulated content and users

  • Due to the anonymity of the dark web, it is harder for law enforcement to investigate cases of abuse

Explicit content

  • Children can access sites with indecent images, sites selling drugs and or weapons – this is also the case for the ‘open web’

Online grooming

  • Sex offenders are more likely to approach children in the ‘open web’ than the ‘dark web’
  • Sex offenders tend to use the dark web to meet online and discuss their strategy to take advantage of children

How the Dark Web is policed?

CEOP – the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command part of the National Crime Agency – will use the skills of its various experts to track illegal activity on the dark web, including forensic professionals and covert internet investigators, who will play a big role in this strategical push.

CEOP gets over 1,300 reports a month, most of which come from industry groups, such as the main internet service providers.

An annual review (2011-2012) showed that over 400 children had been safeguarded as a result of their activity. This also led to 192 suspects being arrested.

What should I do if my child is using the dark web?

Remain calm and get the context

  • They haven’t necessarily done anything illegal
  • Understand their reasons for accessing the platform

Have an open and honest conversation, as you would for the ‘open web’

  • There are risks involved with both and therefore it is important to get them to develop critical thinking on the matter

Recognise the warning signs

  • People with bad intentions are good at winning trust and can build on this relationship to pressure your child. Support them to recognise who to talk to and what information is safe to share

How to protect my child from using the dark web

  • Review privacy filters across all devices and apps, see our how-to guides to learn how to set these up
  • Virtual Private Network (VPN) can be used  to provide an additional layer of security to your child’s online activity
  • If your child comes across something that is upsetting or worrying, please report this to the CEOP
  • Build their critical thinking To make sure they know how to spot things that may not be what they seem and make smarter choices online. Also, make them aware that those who use the dark web may have complex reasons to stay anonymous which can cause them harm.

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