It’s Three A.M. Do You Know Where YOUR Child Is?
We’ve all heard it. It’s one of the most popular campaign slogans on the planet, but what if that “where” isn’t a physical place? What if it’s a virtual world, where real people mingle and bargain? More importantly, what if what they’re mingling about and bargaining with is illegal, and so horrific that anyone with a soul would be petrified to stumble on? Welcome to the dark web.
It was just another day on the world wide web. Pages crashing, googling, researching, you know, normal stuff. I had caught wind of a new currency system, and my curiosity led me to a website where I, while researching, stumbled on one of those “click here” sites to continue reading. While reading further, it mentioned visiting the deep web to “maximize your investment.” I chose not to maximize my investment that day, but wait…the deep web? What’s that? I had never heard of it and it sounded interesting, like a whole, different world.
It sounded amazing, it was described as a place where you can get on social media, access additional research articles, and view websites privately, without google recording your every click, eliminating those pesky pop up ads. I HAD to know what it was all about. It was just a little click, I mean, what can one little click hurt, right?
From my mobile phone, I grabbed my s pen and tapped on the links that were provided on the website. Each time, however, the website failed. So, with my super spy ninja skills (don’t judge me, I have teenagers), I googled the issue I was having with the website because, well, google knows everything and sure enough, I was not let down. I learned from one click how to install the needed app and browser on my phone to be able to have access to this incredible digital world that I was completely unaware of! But wait, there was more…
As I kept reading, it started becoming more interesting, not because of the capabilities I was initially interested in checking out, but because there were warnings regarding accessing the deep web. One warning, specifically, caught my eye. It recommended that surfers use a VPN before accessing any of the sites on the deep web. A VPN is a Virtual Private Network that scrambles and masks a device’s IP address so that surfing on the web is untraceable to both the internet provider and law enforcement. This warning stopped me in my tracks. Why would anyone need to hide what they’re doing on the internet?
So, I sat there, staring at a blank screen for a few minutes, and then did what any parent of teenagers would do. I installed the required app. I HAD to access this world. It was no longer because I was interested in the amazing capabilities. Now, it was because I HAD to know if it was safe for my children…and yours. Yes, I’m that mom…the super spy ninja mom, the “savage” mom (according to my son’s friends), the mom that was suddenly going into protection mode.
I didn’t know what to expect or where my curiosity was going to lead me in this underground internet adventure, but I was going to make sure I found out. I like to stay as aware as I can. How else can we stay in the know with our children and loved ones? What I found was a completely different digital world that reminded me of some sort of virtual underground internet, where black markets actually exist. Not only do they exist, they are easy to access and plentiful.
The first few links were recipes, sports, news, just business as usual. The next few links were encrypted. I knew they had to be illegal sites but I didn’t dare click on any of them. I continued scrolling down as I read the different link details. I neared the bottom of the first page, and there it was. It was the reason why a VPN was needed and why other warnings suggested using an alias when surfing the dark web. It was a link that advertised hitman services, pornography, pedophilia, sex trafficking, drug deals, children torturing services, and other horrific illegal activities. It was then that I thought should I click any of them to see what websites display? If I click this link, will the FBI come knocking at my door? So…I clicked it.
As expected, clicking the link didn’t automatically open a website. Rather, it offered options for visiting multiple websites. These were the dark web sites that led to the arrest of Ross William Ulbricht, the founder of The Silk Road dark web site, where drug deals and other illegal activity occurred. This is also where FBI and CIA agents go undercover to conduct sting operations. These were the most horrific websites I have ever seen. Petrifying.
By now you are probably as curious as I was when I stumbled across this information. These sites usually end in .onion and require a special browser to access the sites. The browser is known as Tor and is accessible via the Orbot app on android and the Tor Browser on Windows and Apple Mac OS. Someone said it best when they said “If you see Tor Browser on any device, there is something to hide and they are generally up to no good.”
So, back to the question what can one little click hurt? It is costing criminals and curious minds their privacy, and in some cases, their freedom. For the average web surfer, many of these sites are safe, even Facebook has a site on the dark web. However, many of the sites are illegal and dangerous. Since the links do not always display an accurate description of the website, it is sometimes hard to determine what site you’re actually visiting. So, if you are doing your own investigation, you should proceed with caution and don’t explore any link that you aren’t certain of.