What your kids can access on the internet

Learn the basics of the surface web, deep web and dark web and what risks different parts of the internet pose to children.

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 occur on 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 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 enables you to set the proper 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 specific groups of people, for example, electronic report books, educational content intended for a specific class, and the paid sections of news portals or internal systems of companies. These sites and their contents are not accessible to random users. The user needs special software, tools, or access privileges to gain access 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 forums for things that don’t have a place on the regular web. There is also 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. Still, the material can be anything from fiction and educational books to 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,” Kubovič explained.

This can be appealing to many people, even teenagers, because they don’t have to reveal much about themselves. On the other hand, so-called exit scams exist. Longtime users who have developed a good reputation make a big “exit deal,” steal a large amount of money, delete their identity and disappear afterward.

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 contacts a child and, once he or she has gained the child’s trust, guides them through to the dark web. However, according to 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. This is mainly because of the technical know-how necessary to access the dark net and the slow loading time of the browsers. 

Kubovič explains: “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. It is not that hard when you are older, 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.

“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.”  

According to Kubovič, the amount of dangerous content that teenagers might see on the dark web is not that huge. Still, it is always a question of individuals’ motivation, curiosity, and interest.

Infographic 2:

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 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 networks (VPN); or use of operating systems such as Whonix, Subgraph, Tails or Qubes. To further protect your children, install parental control software and content filtering that can block sites.

Another step is to think about the consequences and impact of such activity. Don’t ban your children 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.

Explain to them what may happen if they visit the dark web. For example, they may come across disturbing content, such as suicide forums; extreme cases of adult content not available on the surface network; or sites devoted to illegal business topics.

As with all matters concerning your children’s online activities, keeping the lines of communication open is vital. Reassure them that when they have questions or concerns about what they’re seeing on the internet, they can come to you.

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