Most people have heard of the dark web and the stories of the criminal activity that takes place on the dark web. For the most part, these stories are true; however, there is a lot more to the dark web than drugs, guns and stolen credit cards.
In this article, we are going to be exploring what the dark web actually is, what it is used for and how you can access it if you are interested.
Word of warning before we begin. The dark web can be dangerous and disturbing for those who are new to it. We have included some safety instructions below in the “How to access the dark web” sections. We suggest you follow them before running off to explore this new part of the Internet.
What Is The Dark Web?
The dark web is part of the Internet that isn’t indexed by regular search engines, like Google, Bing and Yahoo. You won’t be able to access the dark web through standard web browsers like Google Chrome or Firefox; instead, you need a special browser called Tor. Any type of information can be found on the dark web. It is only considered “dark” due to the limited accessibility and anonymity that comes with using Tor.
To best understand what the dark web is it is important to know that the Internet is made up of three main parts – the open (or surface) web, deep web and the dark web.
The surface web – this is what makes up around 10% of the Internet and includes everything and anything that can be found via search engines like Google. Things like Facebook, Amazon and Wikipedia are all part of the surface web.
The deep web – despite the menacing name, the deep web is merely part of the Internet that isn’t easily accessed without passwords etc. This can include things like your email account, pages you use to do online banking, company servers and even blog posts that are saved as drafts in WordPress. The deep web makes up the majority of the web.
The dark web – this is the part of the web that is only accessible through an onion router like Tor. Sites on the dark web are easily recognised by the “.onion” domain name, and they usually contain content that users don’t want to be found by Google. This can include anything from drugs and guns for sale to surveillance conscious blogs or anonymous government critics.
What Are The Differences Between The Dark Web And Deep Web?
It can be difficult to distinguish the dark web from the deep web. They are both part of the Internet and in many ways they are similar. For example, neither can be accessed by a conventional search engine like Google; however, the deep web refers to any web pages that are unidentifiable by search engines, while the dark web refers to websites that can only be accessed using the Tor browser.
Many people use the terms “deep web” and “dark web” interchangeably. In fact, this is the origin of the myth that 96% of the Internet is the “dark web”. In reality, the dark web is significantly smaller than both the deep web and the open web. The deep web is actually benign and includes everything from a blog post that is saved as a draft, to the pages you access when you bank online.
What Is The Dark Web Used For?
The first thing people think of when they consider the dark web is the criminal activity that takes place. However, the dark web is really a place of extreme online privacy, which can be used in a number of ways and for a variety of reasons.
Of course, this privacy allows criminal activities to flourish and the dark web can be used to buy things like illegal drugs or stolen credit cards or access illicit and illegal content, like child pornography. The level of illegality can vary however. For example, some use the dark web to access content that is only illegal in specific areas, such as gambling in certain US states, or to bypass local restrictions to access TV or movie services.
The dark web can also be used for completely legal and legitimate uses. For example, you can join BlackBook, a dark web version of Facebook, which in itself is a strange concept. Facebook itself also has a .onion address for users from countries that have banned the social media network. The privacy of the dark web helps protect the identity of those who live in countries where Internet access is monitored or prohibited and whistleblowers who are trying to expose government or corporate corruption.
What the dark web is used for comes down to the needs of the user and it can be as useful to journalists and protestors against oppressive governments as it can be to criminals and drug dealers.
Why Is The Dark Web Used?
Aside from criminal activity such as money laundering or visiting dark web marketplaces to buy illegal goods, the dark web is also used for a range of completely legal purposes. In fact, despite its poor reputation, the popularity of the dark web has grown significantly.
Interest in Tor and the dark web increased rapidly in the aftermath of Edward Snowden’s revelations regarding the levels of Internet use surveillance by the UK and US governments in 2013. The number of Tor users went from one million to an estimated six million after these revelations.
Many of Tor’s users simply browse the surface web through the Tor browser, the interface of which is very similar to Firefox, just to avoid government agencies or their ISP (Internet Service Provider) knowing what they are doing or looking at online.
Can The Dark Web Be Used For Good?
Of course, with so much anonymity the dark web is often used by criminals. However, not all of the users of the dark web are interested in illegal activity. The dark web is also used by journalists, whistleblowers, law enforcement agencies and other legitimate users who are only interested in incognito communications. In fact, the Tor network was created as an anonymous way to communicate and it serves an essential purpose in allowing people to communicate in countries that censor and repress free speech.
The dark web also provides plenty of practical value for a range of organisations, such as law enforcement agencies or cybersecurity specialists. By keeping a watchful eye on the dark web these organisations can stay up-to-date with the tools and tactics used by criminals on the dark web. Likewise, many mainstream media organisations like to visit the dark web to stay up to date with whistleblower sites and any other newsworthy topics.
What Can You Buy On The Dark Web?
It is impossible to ignore the commercial side of the dark web. The available black market of illegal services can include buying anything from illegal drugs, firearms and stolen credit card details. It has even been rumoured that you can hire a hitman on the dark web. Before it was shut down, the Silk Road was a well known dark web marketplace where you could buy almost anything. The site even had a user-review system for its drug trade.
The dark web is also a haven for cybercrime, with malware, hacking tools and even hackers for hire available for the right price. Personal details for sale are common on the dark web. Things like credit card numbers, stolen subscription details, hacked Netflix accounts and logins for various bank accounts can all be found and purchased on the dark web.
Pornography is also widely available on the dark web, including child pornography. In fact, the host of the original Hidden Wiki was arrested in 2011 for hosting child-abuse images and the Hidden Wiki site was actually hacked to remove links to those images.
Despite the wide range of services available, commerce on the dark web is dangerous and risky. Not only might you end up in jail for buying illegal or illicit goods and services, but there is no guarantee that what you are trying to buy will arrive. Many retailers simply disappear with your money and set up shop under a new alias or there is a chance that your purchased goods will be seized at border crossings or en-route.
Bitcoin & Cryptocurrency
A discussion around the dark web and it’s black marketplace wouldn’t be complete without mentioning cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. Cryptocurrencies are what allows private transactions on the dark web, and the open web, to take place.
The dark web has flourished thanks to cryptocurrencies, which allow transactions to take place without the identity of either the buyer or seller being known. Nearly every transaction on the dark web involves a cryptocurrency like Bitcoin. However, the anonymity of cryptocurrencies has its own risks, and scams are commonplace.
Is The Dark Web Illegal?
The dark web is notorious for being a place you can buy illegal or illicit goods or services, such as illegal drugs or hackers for hire. For example, The Silk Road was a dark web site infamous for the range of drugs that were purchasable on the site. The Silk Road was shut down by the FBI in 2013 and the site’s founder Ross Ulbricht was arrested and sentenced to life in prison. AlphaBay was another popular dark web marketplace filled with illegal content.
Using Tor and accessing the dark web is completely legal – assuming you aren’t in a country with a less than friendly regime that restricts web access. However, what you do on the dark web is a different story. A report called “The darkness online”, published in 2016 by King’s College London, discovered that only half of the sites live on the dark web contained illegal or illicit content.
If you decide to access and use Tor and the dark web, it is up to you to be careful of what you access and who you interact with. This prevents you from inadvertently viewing or accessing illegal content and earning the ire of various law enforcement agencies.
Is The Dark Web Safe?
Anonymity comes with a price and the dark web is a haven for criminals and hackers who prefer to operate in the shadows of the dark web. Visiting the dark web could expose you to scammers and cyber criminals who will attempt to infect your device with malware or steal your personal information. Scams are also common on the dark web and without a review system or any feedback, there is no way to distinguish from legitimate services and those that are out to scam you.
Trying to buy anything on the dark web, especially illegal goods, is incredibly risky. Aside from the risks of jail time from buying illegal content, dark web commerce completely lacks quality control. When both the seller and the buyer are anonymous it is impossible to know who to trust. Even sellers with long-term records and positive reviews are known to suddenly disappear with their would-be customer’s Bitcoin.
How To Access The Dark Web
If you are still interested in getting on the dark web then it is important that you take steps to remain safe and legal. Accessing the dark web requires using Tor, an anonymous browser. Unlike other web browsers, like Chrome or Firefox, which take the most direct route from your computer to the web, the Tor browser makes use of a random path of encrypted servers to connect to the web without the risk of being tracked.
Tor can be downloaded for all desktops from the Tor site at torproject.org. Once you have downloaded and installed the browser you are ready to enter the dark web. However, before you get lost in the dark there are some things you should consider first to stay safe.
Can The Dark Web Be Accessed By Phone?
The torproject.org also provides a way for you to install an official Android dark web browser, called Orbot. This can be downloaded from both Google Play and the Tor site. The Android version is free, however, iPhone users need to pay for an Onion Browser. The paid version is well-reviewed and was built from the official code.
How To Use The Dark Web
Using the dark web is similar to using the open web. With Tor installed it is fairly easy to access the dark web, however, it is less intuitive to access the “hidden services”. Using Tor can be difficult and it has limited functionality which makes it hard to log on to familiar sites. Dark web search engines do exist to help you use the dark web, but they do struggle to keep up with the shifting landscape.
The dark web has flourished because of Bitcoin, the cryptocurrency, which has allowed the growth of the dark web marketplace. In turn, the dark web has boosted the importance and worth of bitcoin. If you plan on conducting business on the dark web then you are going to need some Bitcoin or some variant.
Of course, using cryptocurrencies doesn’t guarantee that it is safe for business. Anonymity comes with the risks of scammers and thieves. But if you are shopping for illegal goods or services, what do you expect?
How To Search The Dark Web
Once you have installed Tor you can open up the web browser, which will confirm that you’re connected to the tor network and show that the IP address that you are using to connect isn’t the same as your own. From there you can begin to browse the dark web.
A good starting point for new Tor users is thehiddenwiki.org. The Hidden Wiki will give you a long list of links for a wide range of sites on the dark web. There are also a number of search engines available, such as Torch or Grams. However, even some of the best search engines will often give you irrelevant or duplicated results to your search query, and be prepared for half the results to time out or display a 404 error.
What Does The Dark Web Look Like?
The dark web is visually distinct from the open web. Site design is often rudimentary with darker backgrounds being fittingly popular. The experience of browsing the dark web is reminiscent of using the Internet in the late 90s. The speed of the Internet is also similar to the 90’s dial-up experience. Making use of Tor can slow down the browsing experience significantly.
Another difference between the dark web and the open web is the naming structure. Instead of ending in .com or .co.uk, websites on the dark web end in .onion. This is actually what stops regular search engines without the appropriate proxy from reaching these sites. Dark web sites also make use of a scrambled naming structure to create URLs that are difficult, if not impossible, to remember.
What Is Browsing The Dark Web Like?
With all of the commercial activity on the dark web, you might think that browsing it would be easy. It isn’t. Using Tor and browsing the dark web is an experience that mirrors the dark web itself, unpredictable, unreliable and frustratingly slow. Dead ends, timed-out connections and 404 errors are maddeningly common on the dark web. Searching the dark web is also difficult and reminiscent of using Ask Jeeves in the late 90s. Even one of the best search engines, such as Torch or Grams, often provides repetitive or irrelevant results to your query. They are also distinctly different from Google with big adverts for “cheap passports!” or “Hacked Paypal Accounts”.
The main issue with browsing the dark web is that if you aren’t looking for illegal content like buying fake passports or illegal drugs then things get limited very quickly. The dark web is similar to the open web of 1995 with unreliable web pages like directories, pet projects and hobby sites making up the majority of live sites and useful search engines and results are few and far between. The dark web is as chaotic as you would expect when everyone’s identity is anonymous and many are out to scam each other.
How Big Is The Dark Web?
The study by King’s College London, “The Darkness Online”, found around 300,000 addresses within the Tor network, which were comprised of an estimated 205,000 web pages. The study also performed a deep search that discovered 5,205 live sites on the dark web. Over half of these (2,723) contained illegal web content.
How Much Of The Internet Is The Dark Web?
Many people mistakenly believe that the dark web is the huge sinister mass lurking under the surface of the world wide web. The reality is the dark web is tiny. The dark web was estimated to contain 205,000 web pages by “The Darkness Online” report in 2016. In comparison, in 2013 Google estimated that the open web was comprised of over 30 trillion pages. In other words, compared to the open web the dark web is a tiny tip of the deep web iceberg that whilst sinister, isn’t particularly large.
Who Created The Dark Web?
The dark web itself wasn’t actually created, it is simply part of the Internet. Rather Tor, or The Onion Router, was developed by the United States Naval Research Laboratory. Tor allowed users to remain anonymous whilst browsing the Internet. It also allowed users to create dark web sites that end in the .onion domain suffix that provided an anonymous hidden service that was only reachable through the Tor network.
Websites on the dark web are created and managed by individuals and groups, just like on the open web. Not every website on the dark web is for illegal activity, however many are set up by scammers who constantly move around.
Other pages on the dark web have been created by those who have little choice but to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals from governments in countries with strict Internet access laws.
Why Was The Dark Web Created?
The Onion Router Project wasn’t started with the aim of creating a hidden corner of the world wide web. The actual aim of Tor was to allow secret agents and dissidents friendly to America in other countries to communicate with each other without the risk of their conversations, origins and destinations being intercepted and tracked. However, people and criminals soon realised it could be used to obscure any online communications and actions.
When Was The Dark Web Created?
The Tor Project was made available to the public in 2004 but the idea of “onion routing” began in the mid-1990s. Tor gained popularity in the mid-2000s, but it remained difficult for less-tech savvy people to use. To make the dark web more accessible the Tor Browser was developed in 2008.
Why Is The Dark Web Dangerous?
Browsing the dark web can be interesting and exciting, but it can also be horrifying and dangerous. There is almost a complete lack of law enforcement presence on the dark web, which means illicit and illegal content and material can be easily found. This can even include child abuse images, which could be very traumatic for unprepared viewers.
Accessing the dark web can also leave you vulnerable to cybercriminals if you don’t take appropriate precautions. Depending on what you click on the dark web you could be exposing yourself to malware which can infect your device and steal your personal information.
Personal data is also very valuable on the dark web which can be leveraged by less than savoury characters. For example, the Ashley Madison hack led to large amounts of the site’s user’s personal data, such as real names, phone numbers and addresses for sale on the dark web. This leak led to some users being blackmailed. This shows that even if you don’t know very much about the dark web, there is a chance that it already knows things about you.
Finally, accessing the dark web for illegal reasons could leave you facing prosecution and jail time if you aren’t careful. You have been warned.
Can The Dark Web Be Shut Down?
The short answer is no.
Many people believe that the dark web should be shut down, however, this shows a degree of ignorance about how the dark web works and why it exists. Shutting down the dark web would require shutting down every site and relay at the same time. According to Tor’s metrics, this would involve shutting down over 7,000 secret nodes worldwide.
Why Hasn’t The Dark Web Been Shut Down?
Shutting down the dark web would be virtually impossible. The combined governments from various countries could barely keep the world’s largest torrent website, Pirate Bay, from operating openly on the open web, let alone attempting to shut down an entire network of sites that had encrypted communications and hidden IP addresses hosted worldwide.
Will The Dark Web Ever Be Shut Down?
One of the biggest barriers to shutting down the dark web is that not everything that happens on the dark web is illegal. This means there isn’t really any real grounds to shut it down. Governments and law enforcement agencies can continue to target illegal services, like Silk Road, but many people use the dark web for completely honest reasons and could suffer if it was no longer accessible.
If You Do Decide To Visit The Dark Web
In conclusion, if you can tolerate the performance and access issues of using Tor and the unreliability of the dark web, combined with the occasional shock, then satisfying your curiosity and visiting the dark web is fine. However, if you do decide to visit the dark web then browse carefully and DO NOT divulge any personal information. Be completely anonymous and take steps to protect your identity.
It is easy to stumble upon illegal or shocking content on the dark web, be careful what you are accessing and don’t do anything that you wouldn’t do in real life. Tread carefully, it’s a long way down into the dark.