The Deep Web and Dark Web demystified for businesses

April 20th, 2018

By Dawei Ding, lawyer

Never before have there been as many platforms from where individuals and businesses can carry out transactions. While the Internet triggered a revolution in this domain a few decades ago, the Deep Web and Dark Web are currently at the heart of some of the most important commercial activities (both legal and illegal). Today, authorities are increasingly monitoring the Deep and Dark Web to reveal illegal activities and data trafficking and it is also in the interest of businesses to pay attention to this, so as to ensure the security of their business and prevent a number of commercial risks.

The Web and the Deep Web

The Internet is a large universe of data that, like an iceberg, can be divided into several parts. First, we find the tip of the Internet, or the Surface Web, which includes all the pages indexed by general search engines (e.g., Google, Bing, Yahoo). Then, hidden under the surface, we find the submerged part of the Internet, or Deep Web, which accounts for more than 90% of all the existing online content, and which designates the non-indexed part of the Internet, that is, the part that is not accessible to the public. The Deep Web is constituted in particular by databases too large to be fully indexed, the intranets of companies, web archives, password-protected websites, and any hyper-specialized website that eludes search-engine indexing and that can only be accessed if one knows its exact URL.

Distinguishing Deep from Dark Web

The Dark Web refers to a cluster of deliberately concealed websites existing within the Deep Web. Such sites are on an encrypted network and cannot be found via general search engines, nor can they be visited by using traditional web browsers. The Onion Router, better known as TOR, is the browser most frequently used to access the Dark Web, followed by I2P and Freenet. Unlike Internet Explorer or Google Chrome, these special browsers first of all have the purpose of concealing the IP address of users. This difference reveals the users’ desire to preserve their anonymity, be it out of privacy concerns, to engage in illegal activities, or for any other reason. Finally, transactions within it are conducted in cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, making any activity in this part of the Internet very difficult to trace.

Accessing and using the Dark Web is legal, despite the fact that its contents are not directly accessible to the public. The army, the police, journalists, whistleblowers and anybody wishing to preserve their anonymity may see this as an effective solution for exchanging information privately.

Your Company’s Due Diligence and Knowledge

Despite the fact that businesses are becoming increasingly sophisticated with regard to online tools and information, few of them are aware of the influence the Deep and Dark Web have on their operations. Even in the case of corporate sales or purchases, when parties push due diligence of a target to the limit, the Deep and Dark Web are often completely ignored. And yet, these sleeping data could turn out to be a real goldmine for anybody wishing to gather information on the potential risks to the tangible and intangible assets of a business, or its reputation. For example, examining information on social networks and discussion forums could reveal the existence of a customer who is libelling the company, a professional disclosing confidential information, or a former employee seeking to sell the information he has on the company.

The benefits go beyond due diligence. If 10% of the web’s contents are already influencing your business decisions, making you aware of your customers’ needs, keeping you informed about your competitors’ activities, just imagine what potential the rest of the web conceals. Today, there are more and more tools and services specialized in the processing of data hosted in the depths of the Deep and Dark Web, and it is safe to say that they will become vital for all businesses in the future.

Prevention of Cyberattacks

Faced with the swift rise in highly-targeted cyberattacks and the emergence of ransomware rental services (Ransomware-as-a-Service), it is now of the essence to be aware of such threats before they materialize. When the aim is that of harming the reputation of a company, a simple theft of data may be devastating, since businesses are required to report it to the Commission d’accès à l’information du Québec. In this case too, it can only be beneficial for a company to pay attention to the information on it that can be found within the Deep and Dark Web. It goes without saying that intercepting exchanges or any element relating to a cybercrime is vital for introducing in advance the security measures that need to be taken, or for gathering evidence of an offence.

Hidden threats of this kind have been increasingly travelling through the web for several years. It is estimated that a cyberattack will be launched against a company every 14 seconds in 2019, and this is without taking into account the significantly more numerous attacks targeting individuals. Due to technological development, these attacks can come from anywhere and from anybody, and require hardly any technological expertise. Monitoring overlooked spaces, such as the Deep and Dark Web, where the majority of cyberattacks are born and orchestrated, could help you detect them before they cause any substantial damage to your business.

Beware: Do not enter!

Venturing into the Dark Web has its share of risks and one must take precautions. It is therefore strongly recommended that you do not dive into it on your own and call upon the services of a computer security professional. In fact, ordinary computers are not equipped with tools that ensure the protection of your identity and your personal data. The Dark Web is known to offer great freedom, but equally notorious for hosting some of the most pernicious viruses and the most talented hackers on the web. Even if you manage to find what you are looking for, the dangers you expose yourself while accessing it may well outweigh the benefits.

Our Web strategic team can advise you on numerous issues connected to your company’s presence on the Internet. Do not hesitate to contact us about this.