Is Your Child Trapped in the Dark Web?
What to look for when your child searches the Internet
About a year and a half ago, I read an obituary for a young man somewhere in the Carolinas. The mother had used it as an attempt to educate other parents about the dangers of the Internet in regards to the purchasing of drugs and other illegal use. Her son had become an addict and the family was doing everything in their power to help their child. The intervention included keeping the boy under a sort of familial house arrest; however, somehow, he still managed to die of a drug overdose.
In describing the events leading up to her son’s death, the mother attempted to describe something she was not familiar with: the Dark Web. To fully explain the depths of the Dark Web would take volumes; however, I think it’s important we at least explore the issue.
If you think of the Internet as an iceberg, the top 3 or 4 percent is all that is indexed and searchable by normal search engines such as Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc. Public sites such as news outlets, department store websites, etc. are indexed, searchable, and visible within this 3 or 4 percent view. This does not mean all areas of the “Deep Web” are “Dark.” Take banking as an example. When you go to www.yourbank.com (replace “yourbank” with your actual bank), you will hit a logon screen and it will probably contain some advertising – such as, “Open an account today!” That screen is indexed and searchable. But, when you actually logon to your personal account, you have just entered the “Deep Web.” You have entered a non-searchable, encrypted and hidden area that is only visible to you.
Now, let’s take that idea and peel a few more layers off the onion. TOR is free software that enables you to enter an anonymous overlay network in the Deep Web. TOR derives its name from the TOR Project software called “The Onion Router.” TOR has been dubbed the “anonymity network” because it is very difficult to track a user’s activity due to the way this volunteer, private network has been set up. While I will say that not everything about TOR or the “Dark Web” is bad, it does attract quite a bit of illegal activity due to the anonymity it provides.
The detection of a TOR browser is pretty easy if the browser is installed on the workstation. The TOR bundle will be named something like “TORBrowser-3.6.2” and have the OS type, en for English, US for United States, etc. in the name of the file as well. However, if the user (in this case, your child) is crafty, TOR browsers can be loaded on a USB stick. In the case of a USB stick being used, the user can wipe all evidence from their computer and simply plug in the stick anytime they want to run the browser.
These browsers can be used in an attempt to hide “normal” Internet traffic; however, they are often used to connect to .onion websites such as Silk Road (online marketplace that sells illegal drugs and a plethora of other unsavory items, hidden Wiki pages, illegal pornography, etc.).
There is no easy answer in any of this. My advice is to start early. Load monitoring software in stealth mode and keep up with your child’s online activity. Watch for strange activity and then search the Internet for additional clues if you see things you don’t understand.
It’s not wise to jump to conclusions, but it is smart to stay aware. As we move forward in this world of increased technological advancements, the game is only going to get tougher to master.
About the author
Jody S. Hawkins, Information Systems Security Officer, has been in technology for medical facilities since early 2000 and has been practicing for more than 20 years with his start in the United States Air Force. He is a part of Cook Children's Experts on Call Speakers Bureau. Hawkins specializes in privacy and technology safety and is a regular speaker at the National HIT/HIPAA Conference. He has been quoted and published in several national publications, including Health Information Management Magazine.
Hawkins' can speak on a variety of security topics facing our children & parents today, including:
- Social media
- Cyber bullying
- Safety online (Parents & Child)
- General home networking security
- Virtual Child (Parents)
- Internet Safety (Parents & Child)