The Multiple Layers of the Internet
Deep web and dark web are terms that have gotten a lot of media attention lately, but what do they actually mean and why are they relevant to legal research? The internet (the world wide web) is broken down into two primary components, and an often-misunderstood tertiary component. First is the “surface” web, second is the “deep” web, and third is the “dark” web, which is actually a subset of the deep web. To understand the real value of “big data,” and why it is so important to help attorneys in gaining useful insights into the people involved in their cases, it helps to understand what all three are, and how to access the information found in them.
The Surface Web
The surface web is the part of the internet that most people interact with, and what they consider to be “the internet.” It is the information that you see when you use a web browser to “surf” the web. This includes websites that you visit every day, such as Wikipedia, CNN, Facebook, etc., and anything that shows up in search engines such as Google, Yahoo, and Bing. It is where you shop on Amazon and bid on auctions at eBay. While this appears to be an extremely large network of information, with over one billion documents and counting, it is only a small fraction of the total World Wide Web.
The Deep Web
The deep web is where the majority of the internet exists, making up around 96% of its actual content. It is estimated to be hundreds of billions of documents in size, and growing exponentially. It consists of all “online” data which is not cataloged and/or indexed by search engines. Despite a large portion of it being accessible to the public in principal, there are specialized access requirements to get to it:
- It is not cataloged anywhere, and you can’t “Google” or search for it, so you have to know that it even exists.
- Even if you know it exists, you still need to know specifically where to find it.
- Even when you know data exists, and have located where to find it, you need a combination of unique access permission (username/password) and encryption/decryption capability to access the data.
The deep web is where data that needs to be secured from uncontrolled access is stored. This includes official public records, DMV data, legal documents, financial records, government resources, etc.
The Dark Web
The third, and most misunderstood part of the web is the dark web. The dark web is a subset of the deep web, that in addition to not being indexed, is intentionally operated in an anonymous and obfuscated manner. It is hidden and inaccessible to normal web browsers, requiring specific tools to access data hidden within it. The dark web was originally designed for military use in the mid 1990’s, to allow spies and intelligence agencies to anonymously send and receive messages using a multilayered encryption and communication stack referred to as “The Onion Router” (Tor). This section of the internet was intentionally left open to be accessible to the public domain through use of proper tools and protocols, in order to create a sufficient flow of information for the military to be able to hide their messages in the “noise” created by data traffic. However, because of the very nature of the dark web – to make data and communications impossible to track and find – it quickly became a tool that was adopted for illegal use soon thereafter. Today it contains a wealth of data of all types that is impossible for most people to access due to lack of means, methods or know how, some of which can be incredibly valuable to legal cases at many levels.
FindMyWitness – Big Data at Every Level of the Web
FindMyWitness (FMW) has created a unique big data tool that allows attorneys, private investigators, law enforcement organizations, and government agencies quick and easy access to a large number of data sources at the click of a button, which span the web at a level inaccessible to individual users. Manual searches during legal research comb through data on the surface web, which is limited and often inaccurate. FMW ties into the deep and dark web to find information from dozens of sources in a matter of seconds, and compiles them into a simple, easy to read report. No other single source of people information finds data valuable to legal cases from across the entire online spectrum. This includes DMV records, data breaches showing accounts on Ashley Madison/Adult Friend Finder/Other, real-time vehicle tracking data across the nation, mobile phone numbers, liens and mortgage, and much, much more.
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