What is the Dark Web?

You’ve heard the term Dark Web before, but what is it exactly? We take a look at what you need to know about the dark web.

In the last quarter-century, the internet has changed how we do everything. From banking, shopping, and entertainment to food delivery and telecommuting, the internet has brought us closer to together in some respects, but farther apart in my others. Then there’s the dark web, which is something completely different.

Created and maintained on the so-called “darknet,” the dark web requires specific software, configurations, or authorization to access. Though it would be wrong to call the dark web entirely evil, it does contain some dangerous and illegal locations. Here’s a look at the dark web and what it means to you as a computer and overall internet user.

Not the Deep Web, but Part of It

As previously noted, the deep web and dark web aren’t the same. The former includes web content that’s hidden behind the HTTP forms found across the web. The content found on the deep internet can consist of webmail, online banking, social media pages and profiles, web forums, and anything else that is private from the public. It can also feature anything behind a paywall, such as an online newspaper or magazine.

Like other web content, the information found on the deep web is accessible through a web address. However, accessing this content usually requires entering a password or another type of security access, such as a fingerprint or retina scan, depending on the requirements.

The dark web is technically part of the deep web because it, too, is found behind the HTTP forms that make up the broader internet.

Accessing the Dark Web

To access the darknet, you need to use networks like Tor (called “The Onion Routing” project) and I2P (“Invisible Internet Project”). The former typically includes content identified by the “.onion” domain, although you can’t access these pages through a commercial browser like Microsoft Edge or Google Chrome. Tor provides anonymous access to the internet, while I2P offers anonymous hosting of websites. Together, they have created a faceless system that has multiple layers of encryption provided by intermediate servers spread throughout the world. These servers make it impossible for websites to track geolocation and the IP of their users. The combination means users can ultimately talk, blog, and share files confidentially.

Computer Crime

The kind of information you can find on the dark web isn’t for the faint of heart. It can include illegal activities such as media exchange for pedophiles and terrorists; the selling and buying of drugs; and software exploits also highlight the dark web. Content here typically falls in one of a handful of categories, none of them good.


Internet access is available across the globe. In many locations, there’s public Wi-Fi, which means the cost of internet access is becoming lower each year. With so many people online, there’s a criminal motive to intentionally harm the reputation of users, causing physical or mental harm, or create a loss for the victim, either directly or indirectly. The dark web, unfortunately, serves as a Petri dish for computer scams, big and small.

Cyber-crimes, which can cross international borders and sometimes involve state-sponsors, cooked up on the dark web, include computer threats and exploits, financial fraud schemes, and more. Computer threats can consist of but aren’t limited to the creation and transport of malware, spyware, backdoors, payloads, Denial of Service, and phishing.

Financial fraud crimes include identity theft, bank fraud, carding, extortion, and more.

File Sharing

A critical aspect of cybercrime is file sharing. This component can include using the dark web to transport pornography, including child-related pornography. Pirated software, or warez, is also heavily trafficked through dark web file sharing.

Illegal Goods and Services

The selling and purchasing of illicit goods and services such as drugs, hitmen, weapons, modern-day slavery, and more, is rampant on the dark web. The biggest reason for this is the rapid rise in recent years of bitcoin and other cyber currency.  This type of money, which has replaced wire transfers, PayPal, and stolen credit cards, as the payment method of choice among criminals, is untraceable.

Better Uses of the Dark Web

The dark web isn’t all wicked. However, the degree in which some of its better uses are good largely depends on where you’re located. These uses include protecting political dissidents, providing an off-the-grid forum for whistleblowers and news leakers, and opportunities for users to circumvent network censorship and bypass governmental firewalls. Parts of the dark web can also provide privacy for citizens in countries where targeted, and mass surveillance is plentiful.

Facebook Tor

Interestingly, Facebook offers one of the largest Tor-related forums in the world. The network address, facebookcorewwwi.onion, is a backronym that stands for Facebook’s Core WWW Infrastructure. Designed primarily for users in countries where the social network is not allowed (mostly because of political censorship), the Facebook Tor offers a high level of protection against snooping and surveillance.

In launching the site in 2014, Facebook explained:

  • Our goal has been to provide a strong guarantee that people are indeed connected to Facebook, all while experiencing a much faster connection designed to only leave the Tor network once inside our infrastructure.

Ways to Access the Dark Web

Besides Tor and I2P, there are other ways to gain access to some part of the dark web. These include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Freenet, which is a friend-to-friend darknet used to bypass censorship.
  • OneSwarm is a free site that offers a P2P file-sharing service that also protects your privacy.
  • Tribler, where you can search and download torrents without censorship.
  • Zeronet, which is open-source software where you can visit uncensorable websites using Bitcoin cryptography and the BitTorrent network.

Is the Dark Web Safe?

In many respects, the dark web is the same as the internet as a whole. It has good places to visit, and also terrible ones. However, it’s essential to understand you’re not just going to stumble into a danger zone accidentally. If you begin using Tor and find information on illegal drugs, for example, it’s probably because you’ve been looking for it!

The first way to protect yourself from the most wicked aspects of the dark web is simply not to use any of the tools that will get you there. This means not downloading and installing Tor and other services. The second way is to monitor your accounts and information by making sure things like passwords haven’t been compromised. Better yet, use a password-generating tool such as 1Password to create and maintain secure passwords. Taking it a step further, purchasing identity theft protection membership is also advisable.

And Yet

Despite its nasty underbelly, the dark web does offer some valuable resources. Increased privacy, communication without the threat of surveillance, and whistleblower protection are three aspects worth exploring.

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