Privacy is a hot topic during the Digital Revolution. Whether we’re talking about our right to it, how to maintain it, or who gets to ignore it, it is a multi-faceted topic that is always in the media.
This week we are again addressing our right to privacy in the digital world. Privacy is once again making headlines with Facebook, by allowing for compatibility with the anonymous TOR browser. Together; they make strange bedfellows.
Before we talk about this headline, let me first introduce you to the dark and deep corners of the internet.
Deep Web Versus Dark Web
We all know what the internet is right?
And we all know how it works – a bunch of tubes with cats in them.
To put it simply, the Internet works because of open standards that allow every network to connect to every other network. A network being a group of two or more computer systems linked together. Data in the internet refers to content that can be indexed by Search Engine Spiders and bots. In short, when you type a search query into Google about LOL cats, Spiders search the data in the net to bring back those listed search results you see in Google or other search engines.
But the Internet isn’t just this neatly organized information. If anything, the Spiders are like water bugs, and they just skim the surface of what makes up the depths of the Internet.
It’s what lies beneath that surface where things get really interesting.
The Deep Web is made up of dynamically-generated Internet content. This content can only be reached by using a search box on a Deep Web website.
Surface Web search engines refer to Google, Yahoo and the like; pages I’m sure many of us visit at least once a day. These sites can lead you to websites that have a limited amount of Deep Web content.
Think of it this way. Try searching for a Kickstarter project. Most of us start by conducting a Google Search.
Google will show us some results, but not very many and certainly not very organized. These are surface web results.
If you click on one of these results, you will be taken to a Kickstarter website. Kickstarter has its own search option to search its own website and databases.
This Kickstarter search engine is an example of the Deep Web.
In this example, a Surface Web search engine (Google) led users to a Deep Web website (www.kickstarter.com) where the search box brings up Deep Web content not found by using Google search.
The Dark Web keeps things hidden or in the dark.
It refers to web pages that have been concealed to either hide in plain sight, or exist in a separate but public layer of the Internet.
Let’s break this down.
The internet is built around Web pages that reference other Web pages. To use Google as an example again, a search with them references a bunch of other sites that you can then click on.
However, if you have a destination Web page which has no inbound links you have concealed that page, and it cannot be found by users or search engines.
What do I mean by that? Let’s use this blog post as an example. Now that it’s published, it’s searchable from both the surface web and the Deep web, using either Google or the WordPress search option. But I didn’t write this blog post today, or all at once. I wrote a draft and saved it for a few days before I published it.
While it was saved but not published, it existed on the public Internet, but unless the exact URL was known, it couldn’t be found. That ‘online but hidden’ is a single example of the Dark Web.
Other examples of Dark Web content and techniques include:
- Hiding a hidden message within a Web page comment which would require knowledge of where to look. Looking at the html of a webpage, or the source code for example.
- Sub-domain names that are never linked to; for example, “internal.p4capital.com”.
- Images that are published but never actually referenced, for example “/image/logo_back.gif”.
Tor is short for The Onion Router.
It was initially a worldwide network of servers developed with the U.S. Navy that enabled people to browse the internet anonymously. Now, it’s come to the masses as a non-profit organization whose main purpose is the research and development of online privacy tools.
Yes, it’s logo is an onion.
The Tor network disguises your identity by moving your traffic across different Tor servers. It then encrypts that traffic so it isn’t traced back to you. Anyone who tries would see traffic coming from random nodes on the Tor network, rather than your computer.
To access this network, you just need to download the Tor browser. Everything you do in the browser goes through the Tor network and doesn’t need any setup or configuration from you. That said, since your data goes through a lot of relays, it’s slow, so you’ll experience a much more sluggish internet than usual when you’re using Tor.
Facebook and Tor
While it was already possible to use Facebook with Tor, the users were frequently mistaken for ‘hacked’ accounts. The Facebook account would then be ‘locked’ until this situation was resolved.
This happened because one of Facebook’s security measures was that if a user tries to log-in from an unexpected location, it would flag the account as having possibly been compromised.
Anyone whose had their Facebook account hacked knows how frustrating it can be to get control of it back. So we can’t criticize Facebook for these preventative measures.
However, this incompatibility with Tor and Facebook meant a lot of accounts were being wrongly locked out. Other problems, such as fonts not displaying correctly, marred Facebook use on Tor as well.
That all changed last week. Facebook is the very first Silicon Valley giant to provide official support for Tor.
Users can now access the site “without losing the cryptographic protections” of Tor, Facebook said. It will still be slow, but Tor users will no longer have their accounts blocked, and fonts and text will display correctly.
This may appeal to people in places where the Facebook is blocked, like China, Iran, North Korea and Cuba – which are all countries that have attempted to prevent access to the site.