Disappointing mock exam results sent a 16-year-old schoolgirl to a suicide chatroom on the Dark Web. The next morning, she was found dead.
What IS the Dark Web, and what can parents do to keep their children safe?
A report on the suicide of UK high-schooler Leiliani Clarke in The Sun last week cited a coroner’s finding that the teen had sought “encouragement from horrendous websites which prey on the vulnerable” - including a suicide chatroom on the Dark Web.
We asked Family Zone cyber expert Brett Lee, founder of Internet Safe Education, to explain what the Dark Web is, how it operates, and what parents can do to protect their children.
What is Dark Web?
The Dark Web is the World Wide Web’s evil twin.
The Dark Web exists under the ‘surface web’ we all familiar with. This is the public internet we use everyday and access through standard browsers like Chrome, Safari or the like.
But this surface web accounts for only 4% of the total internet: the proverbial tip of the iceberg. The rest of the iceberg is hidden. That’s we call the Deep Web.
What's the difference between the Dark Web and the Deep Web?
The majority of the Deep Web is neither dark nor dangerous. It is simply not accessible via your public browser. (Think government archives, or an organisation’s internal communications system.)
But the very deepest portion of the Deep Web iceberg is dangerous. It can only be accessed through a secret system of servers that exists entirely separately from the public internet. That bottom-most layer is what we call the Dark Web.
Who uses the Dark Web?
The Dark Web exploits that secret system of servers to allow users to engage in criminal or dangerous activity and remain anonymous. Typically, users access the Dark Web to
- Traffic in drugs
- Obtain illegal weapons
- Hire a hitman
- Book a child sex holiday
or, like Leiliani Clarke, to enter a suicide chatroom.
How do users access the Dark Web?
Very, very easily. The Dark Web may be secret - but it’s hiding in plain sight. Anyone can access it simply by downloading a free browser called TOR.
TOR stands for ‘The Onion Router’. It works by adding multiple layers of encryption onto your website traffic as it bounces around their network, then slowly peeling those layers off, one by one, so by the time your internet activity has reached the website you’re seeking, no one could possibly detect your identity. Hence, the term ‘onion’ routing.
TOR is available as a free download for Windows, Mac, Linux and Android operating systems, but not for iOS (iPhone or iPad).
How likely is my child to be accessing the Dark Web?
Generally the Dark Web is not that attractive for most kids. There’s no social media there, and no friends. But the Dark Web does have attractions that may draw older children in (fake I.D.s for under-age drinking, for example, or local cannabis dealers).
And then there’s simple curiosity. Children love to learn and explore. So it’s only natural that some may want to investigate this underworld. But we need to apply the same logic to a dark, dark internet as we would to a deep, dark cave.
While it might seem intriguing to children, there are enormous risks involved. No parent or carer in in their right mind should allow them to play on the Dark Web.
How do I protect my child?
Remember, there is only one way to enter the Dark Web: through the TOR browser.
Family Zone experts have rated TOR as a Hazard App. So if you have Family Zone installed, and your child attempts to download it, you will be alerted instantly.
If you suspect your child has been using TOR on an unprotected device, search installed apps for ‘TOR.’ (Remember, the TOR browser is not compatible with iPhone or iPad.)
If you find it has been installed, remove it immediately - and explain to your child why you’ve done so.
Ensure they understand the dangers of the Dark Web, and endeavour to keep the lines of communication open and blame-free.
Family Zone can identify TOR - and hundreds of other risky apps that have been rated “Hazardous” by our cyber experts. But please be aware that - as the tragic case of Leilani Clarke illustrates - it may be depression and distress, not criminal intent, that has motivated a child to seek out the Dark Web. If you suspect your child is having thoughts about self harm, seek professional help immediately.