| Malware

From the surface to the depths. How accessible are different parts of the Internet to children?

| 02 Mar 2022

The dangers associated with the dark web are discussed quite often. But many parents are still confused about how these websites actually work and what risks they pose. Find out how the surface, deep, and dark webs differ and how they can affect your children.

Why is it important to understand how the different parts of the internet work? 

Although it seems that the worst things happen on the dark web, many problematic interactions can take place in the surface web. For example, predators often need nothing more than commonly available chat app platforms to communicate with children. On the other hand, much of the material that is posted about children on social networks can easily end up in databases offered on the dark web. 

Knowing the relationship between the surface, deep, and dark webs allows you to set the right control mechanisms and communication with your child.

Surface Web 

The surface web consists of publicly accessible websites which users can find by using internet search engines such as Google, DuckDuckGo or Bing. This is the most accessible part of the internet, where you can see indexed pages.

Deep Web

The part of the internet that is available only to certain groups of people, for example, electronic report books, educational content intended for a specific class, but also the paid sections of news portals or internal systems of companies. These sites and contents are not accessible to random users. To look them up or gain access, the user needs special software, tools or access privileges, because these pages aren’t indexed to show up in a search engine. 

Dark Web

It is not indexed by search engines and runs on the dark net. This infrastructure provides anonymity to the operators and users of the dark web. To connect to the dark web, a user needs to install specialized software like TOR or the I2P service (Invisible Internet Project).

Source: Digital Security Handbook for Teachers

While a large portion of the deep web is legal and legitimate, large parts of the dark web consist of illegal products or content. According to GoGuardian, the items found on the dark web often include drugs, unlicensed guns, fake IDs, hacking tools, stolen credit cards, adult content, and many forums for things that don’t have a place on the regular web. There is also a software that makes it possible for you to remotely access the computers of others.

Nevertheless, not everything on the dark web is illegal. There’s a large reading community on the dark web, but the material can be anything from fiction and educational books to readers of publications with extremist ideologies. 

Another unusual service is an anonymized alternative to Airbnb, which ESET Security Awareness Specialist Ondrej Kubovič came across. “Unlike Airbnb, this service does not require identity verification, nor does it force its users to share large amounts of data. Simply create an identity with a nickname, under which you gradually build a reputation, and arrange accommodation more independently, only among other dark web users,” explains Kubovič.

This can be appealing to a lot of people, even teenagers, because they don't have to reveal so many things about themselves. On the other hand, there can be exit scams, where long-time users abuse their very good reputation to make a big “exit deal”, steal a large amount of money, and delete their identity and disappear afterwards. 

These are the topics you can discuss with your children if they come and ask. "I would recommend explaining that the risks are higher on the dark web and that they’re more likely to run into a scammer there than on the regular internet," says Kubovič. 

When is a child at risk of going on the dark web?

Accessing the dark web requires knowledge and know-how. There are cases where a stranger makes contact with a child and, once he has gained the child’s trust, he guides them through to the dark web. However, according to Ondrej Kubovič, such situations are not very common, and most children do not usually feel the need to go to the dark web. And for those few that do, this probably won’t happen before puberty. Mainly because of the technical know-how one needs to have to access the darknet, but also because of slow loading. 

“If I were 14 years old and my friends came up to me and asked me if I wanted to look at the dark web with them, then I would sit down with them and try it out. When you are older, it is not that hard, because finding instructions on the internet to guide you through the whole process is easy. You don't have to sign in or create an account,” explains the IT expert.

“But I2P and sometimes even TOR can be terribly slow, and I think it would totally frustrate almost any teenager. Today’s kids aren't used to it anymore and wouldn't enjoy it. Even TOR is slower than a regular browser,” thinks Kubovič. According to him, the amount of dangerous content that teenagers might see on the dark web is not that huge, but it is always a question of the motivation, curiosity, and interest of individuals. 

Most common reasons for users to access the dark web worldwide in February 2019
Source: Ipsos; CIGI; December 21, 2018 to February 10, 2019; 2,725 respondents; 16-64 years; Tor or dark web users

What preventive measures can you take as a parent?

As a parent, you can do two main things. 

If you have a strong suspicion that your child is active on the dark web, you can check the installed operating systems and software in their devices. Look for TOR (The Onion Router), I2P, Freenet; apps that set up virtual private network (VPN); or use of operating systems such as Whonix, Subgraph, Tails or Qubes. To further protect your children, install parental software and content filtering that are able to block sites. 

Another step is to think about the consequences and impact of such activity. Don’t ban your kids from going on the dark web, as it only encourages their curiosity. If you are a more tech-savvy parent, you can look at some sites with your child, to show them that they are not that interesting. Try to explain to them what may happen if they visit the dark web, or what information about them can appear there, if you or they share too much about themselves on social media on the surface web.  In addition, they may come across disturbing content, such as suicide forums, extreme cases of adult content that is not available on the surface network, or they may discover forums with illegal business topics.

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