Parents are so frequently told to be concerned about the Dark Web, it’s almost become synonymous with danger. You might be wondering, “how do I protect my kids from the Dark Web?”
Because of the taboo nature of the subject of the Dark Web and illegal online activities, there is a lot of misinformation out there. You might not want to learn about it, but in a digital age, kids are drawn to it. Information is the best way to keep them safe. So, here’s what you should know about the Dark Web.
Let’s break it down into manageable chunks.
What Are the Levels of the Web?
The surface web consists of browser results like google. A majority of the surface web is how we interact with the Internet. In total, 4.7 billion pages. That seems like a large number, but in the scope of the Internet, it’s barely the surface. While this is the part of the Internet we tend to interact with most, it’s not completely safe. No part of the Internet is. For example, pornography can appear in search results.
The Deep Web is distinct from the Dark Web. While 400 to 550 times larger than the surface web, it’s not the cesspit of crime and filth like some articles might lead you to believe. The Deep Web is a term for sites that can’t be accessed through a google search or readily available through any search engine. These include password protected sites like your bank account or your email. It’s useful and also secure. So why does it have a bad rap? For one, even with legitimate, monitored sites, it’s not completely safe. No part of the Internet is completely safe. With enough digging, disgusting content can be found. Another reason is its name is similar to the illicit Dark Web.
The Dark Web seems so elusive. Who of us hasn’t wondered, “Is the Dark Web safe?” or, “ Is it illegal to look at stuff on the Dark Web?” Turns out, the Dark Web is fairly easy to understand. It’s an encrypted part of the Internet only accessible through specific software. Because of this encryption, the Dark Web can and does contain illicit and harmful things. It is the horrible, awful cesspit of crime you’ve heard about, but for more reasons than you might suspect. With no monitoring or security from browsers, horrific content can be clicked on by accident, exposing parents or kids to graphic horror. The Dark Web is dangerous, not for kids, and difficult to access. While you can’t hop around on Google or YouTube, click a link, and end up on the Dark Web, you can easily find information on how to access it. Remember, for a tech savvy kid, difficult doesn’t equal impossible.
But how does the Dark Web work?
It might surprise you to hear that the software that hosts the majority of the Dark Web was created by the US Navy. This software is referred to as TOR (the Onion Router) and was designed to protect the US intelligence communications online. It conceals users’ location and identity, but is only useful in its specific security by being open-source (freely available software). Because of this safety, journalists and whistleblowers, as well as refugees or activists, use TOR to anonymously spread or receive information. Unfortunately, they aren’t the only ones looking to be anonymous.
The anonymity of the Internet is ideal for cruelty and the double protection of TOR is perfect for crime. There is a hideous underbelly to the Internet and the contents are disturbing and dangerous. Illegal drugs, unlicensed weapons, hitmen, suicide chatrooms, sex trafficking, child porn, and much worse are all lurking. Personal information is sold and credit cards are auctioned. With so much disturbing material available, a real threat of even accessing the “kinder” parts of the Dark Web, even for a short time, is psychological damage, and that’s for adults. Imagine how dangerous it is for children.
This article from the Irish Times really breaks down the ins and outs of what to realistically expect on the Dark Web.
For those of you still thinking “Is it illegal to look at stuff on the Dark Web?” It might surprise you to find out that it’s also not illegal to access the Dark Web. While it’s not safe, it’s not illegal. It’s not illegal to download TOR, which is used to access the Dark Web, but remember, just because it’s legal to access doesn’t mean the activity on the Dark Web is legal and even accessing certain content can break laws. Even with anonymity, laws are still laws. In 2013 the FBI shut down the infamous Silk Road, which was the largest illegal drug network on the Dark Web at the time. Law enforcement is doing their best, but the Dark Web is vast.
Anything is for sale, to be viewed or purchased, and the barrier to access isn’t high enough to deny a tech-savvy kid entry. One of the top YouTube results about the Dark Web explains very easy steps to download one of the many entry points to the Dark Web.
But Why Would Kids Want to Access it?
There is a certain glamorization of the Dark Web online. Many YouTube videos highlight the illicit thrill of the Dark Web with unboxing videos or general explorations. Even a site as mainstream as Buzzfeed isn’t safe. These are faked videos created specifically to generate curiosity clicks, but what they encourage is dangerous.
These YouTube videos aren’t the only exposure children might have to the dangerous parts of the Deep Web or the entirety of the Dark Web. Video games, movies, and TV shows are all pipelines of information. Some include explicit information on accessing, while others induce the thrill of the concept. Video games to look out for are “Welcome to the Game” or “Sad Satan.” Movies include “Unfriended” or “Dark Web.”
The Dark Web is a false “safe” entry point to illegal activities. Without the need to bodily be present, it can appear safer than physical illicit activity. Even the act of viewing the Dark Web, and not participating or purchasing, can have damaging effects. Kids might not be there for anything “serious.” On a very basic level, some kids access the Dark Web to get fake IDs, but any access can be dangerous. Purchases can reveal financial information and addresses.
Now that you’ve learned what you should know about the Dark Web, let’s look at some ways you can do to protect your children.
While the Dark Web feels vast and scary, the solutions are actually easy and simple. Let’s break it down.
When we say “education” we’re not talking about teaching things like “how to navigate the Dark Web” or “what should you avoid on the Dark Web.” But unfortunately, kids will find out about the Dark Web, whether from friends, school, or online, and they need to understand the dangers. The information is there and it might seem exciting to them. In order to educate your children on the dangers of the Dark Web, you have to educate yourself. By reading this far, you have a pretty good idea about the dangers, but knowing the dangers isn’t the same as being able to prevent your child from accessing it or teaching them not to.
Monitor software downloads
The Dark Web is impossible to access through the surface web or the scary parts of the Deep Web. The only way to reach the Dark Web is to download software. While the most common software to use is TOR, it isn’t the only access point. Monitor your household electronics for downloads, including your kids personal computer or phone. Here are a few things to look for:
- TOR (The Onion Router)
- Subgraph OS
- ISP (Invisible Internet Project)
If you’re concerned your child may be accessing the Dark Web, remember that the Dark Web doesn’t leave browser history or any trace of access. First check for software, but if you can’t find any, another place to verify is through their finances. Bitcoin and virtual currency is the prefered money of the Dark Web. If they have a personal paypal or bank account, they would only need to do a search for the rest of the steps to convert their money.
Be Clear and Open
Part of the allure of the Dark Web is the mystery. Talk with your kid about the dangers. Answer questions. Be ready for questions. Sugar coating won’t help anything. Set up rules and expectations. The surface web has enough risks for kids already.
Talk with Them
If you’ve found your child has downloaded an access point, first, uninstall the software. Then, talk to them about why and what they’ve done on the Dark Web. If they don’t know what they’ve downloaded, educate them. If they do, educate them. The Dark Web really is appealing to kids. Some have described it as a “secret Internet” but the dangers outweigh the allure by a long shot. If your kids are drawn to accessing the Dark Web and have the skills to do so, redirect their energy to more productive outlets. They can learn more coding, develop apps, or even make video games.
Unfortunately, computers aren’t the only way to access the Dark Web. Smart phones can download TOR or other access points. That’s where Troomi can help. Their phones are designed to be as safe and secure as possible. With OS level control and Military grade security, they are safe beyond a standard phone. They also have safelisting features, which enables you, the parent, to approve of any access to the Internet that your child’s phone has. Beyond that, they have child safe apps, and no way for your child to download more without your permission. Troomi phones can give you a peace of mind when it comes to your child and their smartphone.