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Understanding the Basics of the Internet

The internet tells us plainly what it is, a web, a world wide web in fact (thus the “www” indicator) that connects us globally to a shared space. Like a spider’s web, the internet can be beautiful, confusing, complex, and sometimes even dangerous. How and where we access this shared cyber space will helps shape our experiences and define our risks. To access the internet, users will launch an internet browser and choose something known as a search engine. Search engines, including Google, Bing, and Yahoo search and index websites which are on the internet because of links. These search engines will use these links to rank search results according to things like relevancy, inbound links, and keywords. This search is what you have probably heard generally referred to as “browsing.” Browsers search the surface of the internet for various topics.

The Internet itself is a large network of billions of computers and electronic devices that contain information and technology tools that can be accessed by anybody with an internet connection, namely using various searches which index the data. Residing on that network of computers are large volumes of documents, related texts, images, and other data which form the world wide web.

Many users access only a fraction of the total internet. We stay on the surface and mostly browse what is commonly known as the Open Web / Surface Web. This is what most people are referring to when they say “the internet.” The Open Web is anything that can be publicly viewed using a search engine such as Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc. As vast as it seems, the Open Web is estimated to be only about 10% of what is on the internet.

The next level of browsing sounds scary and mysterious, but it is not. It is the Deep Web (Invisible Web or Hidden Web). It is just like it sounds, below the surface. A lot of what exists on the deep web consists of information that you probably wouldn’t want to turn up in a web search, because it’s private and could be misused. It is where hacking often takes place as there is a lot of information criminals might value. This is where a much larger percentage of the Internet exists, and you can’t get to it unless you are authorized. The Deep Web’s contents are not indexed by standard web search-engines. A lot of the Deep Web is made of ordinary password-protected sites such as government, banking and financial records, subscription sites, legal documents and medical records. Almost every time you search internally on a website, you’re accessing deep web content.

The content of the deep web is information invisible to search engines. Here are a few examples of what is on the deep web:

  • The content of email accounts
  • The content of your social media accounts
  • Content from academic databases
  • The content of your online banking accounts
  • Medical records

If you must log in to one of your accounts by providing a username, password, or some other type of authentication, the information you access is on the deep web. The deep web can help protect your personal information and privacy.

There are some rules of thumb you should consider when browsing the internet:

  • Protect your log in information by routinely changing the login, not using the same login on all accounts and using trusted devices to access the deep web and being careful of where you access the internet to conduct your activities.
  • Create unique passwords.  Using the same password for many sites is not a best practice.
  • Do not access your personal information on the deep web on an unprotected public Wi-Fi network. Instead, use a virtual private network — commonly known as a VPN — which can encrypt your data and help protect your online privacy.
  • Do not share your log in details with person’s you do not know and trust.
  • Practice safe internet habits and teach them to minors.
  • Consider setting up alerts on your financial accounts. Many credit card companies and banks allow you to set up alerts on your accounts via their websites. These alerts range from sending you an email or text each time a transaction happens on your account to alerts when transactions meet or exceed a designated spending limit that you set.
  • Keeping your devices up to date (including apps and operating systems) can provide you with the latest security fixes.
  • Be aware, there are fake websites out there waiting to collect your valuable information. Make sure you are on a legitimate site by double-checking the URL website address to make sure it is spelled correctly. If you see a padlock and https:// in a website’s URL, that is generally a safer site to browse.
  • Be informed about the dangers of ransomware. Have your data backed up in various places so a ransomware virus does not disable all of your data, computers or other electronic devices. Ransomware is malicious software which encrypts a victim’s software and makes in inaccessible. It has crippled individuals, companies, hospitals, governments alike. Be vigilant and informed.

Posted by Jammy Kiggundu, Attorney, Social Advocate and Cyberbullying Expert on 4 Dec 2020