What Do Parents Need to Watch For on the Internet?
As a parent, how would you know if your teens ventured to the dark side? First, if teens are surfing the dark net, odds are they are pretty tech savvy and have done some research – which includes covering their tracks. Fortunately, they may goof up and get slack about their online activity, especially if they don’t think their parents are suspicious.
Aside from parents uncovering activity, there are also some signs that could indicate they are up to no good.
- Changing passwords, clearing browsing history, or installing new browsers.
- Using social media sites to interact with suspicious sites or users.
- Searching for information pertaining to the dark net, TOR, Freenet, I2P, or VPN (Virtual Private Network)
- Stealing money or making random online credit card purchases.
- Using a PO box to receive deliveries.
- Receiving shipment packages from unknown senders.
Adults may be concerned about young people visiting the 'Dark Web', especially as press reports often link them with dangerous or illegal online activity. However, there are some positive aspects to them – like everything online, problems do not come from the technology itself, but instead are caused by the ways in which people use it.
Being aware of the basic facts about these parts of the internet can help you give realistic and honest support to young people if you are concerned they are using them.
Here's a short explainer on the 'Dark Web', how it can be accessed and what are the risks.
The 'Open Web'
This is the publicly visible part of the internet that most of us use each day, and is accessed through search engines such as Google or Bing.
The 'Deep Web'
This is the part of the internet which is generally hidden from public view. It can't be access via the usual search engines and is reached in other, less widely-known ways.
The dark web isn’t for the novice and it’s no place for a teen to surf. Parents, please speak with your teens about the dark web; if teens are sneaking around and doing suspicious things online, then start monitoring the sites being visited and make sure encrypted browsers aren’t downloaded onto personal devices. Also, if packages start arriving, look through them, as toys, games, books, etc. can easily conceal drugs. Make no mistake, many of the marketers in this world are solely focused on money, and they don’t care whether that money comes from someone who is 55 or 15 years of age. All they care about is the bottom line, no matter the cost.
The majority of the 'Deep Web' is made up of databases which can be accessed securely over the 'Open Web'. For example, databases associated with hotel bookings, online purchases, medical records, banking and others. The content can only be read by authorised people (such as employees) and is protected using passwords.
What is the Dark Web?
To understand the dark web, it’s best to review how the Internet is set up. First, think of the Internet as having three distinct layers of information. The first layer is the surface web. It’s the portion of the Internet that we use most of the time. It consists of common search engines such as Google, Bing, or Yahoo. We shop for products, play on social media sites, and even game on this part of the web. But, did you know that according to the Association of Interest Research Specialists, the surface web only makes up about 4% of what we see? The remaining 96% is comprised of the deep and dark web.
The deep web is where private data such as governmental and legal documents, medical information and biodata like academic records can be found. The data on these sites are typically encrypted, so only authorized users can access this sensitive information. The deepest and scariest level of the Internet is the dark web. Many never venture to this part of the Internet, but those who do will see and be exposed to illegal activity. For a youth, the dark web is no place to be exploring.
What Do Parents Need to Know About the Dark Web?
The dark web isn’t hard to find. Although it takes some navigating to get to, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how to gain access. Inaccessible to standard browsers, the dark web takes encryption tools such as TOR (The Onion Router), I2P (Invisible Internet Project) or Freenet to run. So, teens would have to install a special browser to enter the dark side.
The surface net is loaded with information on how to download and install these browsers. There are even forums providing new users with tips on which program is best and how to navigate through the dark web. So, with just a few clicks, teens can venture into a dangerous abyss exposing them to sites such as Hidden Wiki, the Uncensored Hidden Wiki, the deep web Links and many others. On these sites, youth will find child pornography, weapons, fake documents, drugs and even recruitment from terrorists.
The 'Dark Web'
When most people go online, they do so via a computer or device that has an IP (Internet Protocol) address - a unique online identity.
An IP address enables networks to send the right information to the right place - for example, making sure an email reaches its destination. An individual's internet activity can be tracked and monitored using their IP address.
The 'Dark Web' uses complex systems that anonymise a user's true IP address, making it very difficult to work out which websites a device has visited. It is generally accessed using dedicated software, the best known is called Tor (The Onion Router).
Around 2.5 million people use Tor every day. Tor itself is not the 'Dark Web' but instead is a way in which to browse both the Open and Dark Web without anyone being able to identify the user or track their activity.
What are the risks?
In many ways, the risks of the 'Dark Web' are the same as those that may be encountered in the 'Open Web'. Young people in both environments may access pornography, indecent images of children, or sites selling drugs and weapons.
Young people are also at risk of exploitation and abuse by sex offenders who use all parts of the internet to target victims. However, there is evidence to show that offenders are more likely to interact with victims on the 'Open Web' than on the 'Dark Web'. The Dark Web is more commonly used by sex offenders to openly discuss ‘tactics’ to exploit young people and share material generated as a result of their offending. It is also harder for law enforcement to investigate online abuse that takes place in the anonymous parts of the internet.