What is Dark Web

The term "dark web" has an ominous ring to it, and for good reason. It is part and parcel of the internet comprising of hidden sites that users cannot find via conventional browsers.

Updated: 27 May, 22 by Susith Nonis 6 Min

List of content you will read in this article:

The term "dark web" has an ominous ring to it, and with good reason. It is part and parcel of the internet comprising of hidden sites that users cannot find via conventional browsers. Instead, when using this side of the web, you have to rely on search engines and browsers that have been specifically designed to show them.

There is a lot of secrecy in matters dark web. Sites utilize encryption software to ensure the anonymity of site owners and visitors. It also helps to conceal their location. This anonymity is the reason why thousands of users conducting illegal activity favour it. If you find yourself in this realm, you'll see anything from illegal arms, illegal drugs, stolen Social Security details, and even child pornography.

The dark web is believed to have started in 2000 when Freenet was released. Ian Clarke is the University of Edinburgh student who created it as his thesis project. When creating Freenet, Clarke intended to develop a "Distributed Decentralised Information Storage and Retrieval System" to pioneer a new way of communicating and sharing files online anonymously. 

Clarke's groundwork was the foundation of the Tor Project, which was subsequently released in 2002 before its launch as a browser in 2008. With Tor, web users could surf the internet anonymously and check out sites that were seen as part of the dark web.

Originally, the U.S. Department of Defense used the dark web for anonymous communication. It has become a hotbed for users who want to maintain anonymity worldwide. These individuals use it for both legal and illegal reasons. The dark web utilizes "onion routing," a technology that protects people from tracking and surveillance. It achieves this by using a random pathway of encrypted servers.

When users access a website on the dark web using Tor, their information goes through numerous relay points. This covers their tracks, ultimately rendering their internet behaviour untraceable.

The surface web is the most-known part of the internet. Also known as open web, these sites are visible to the everyday user. You don't need Tor or such special software. The sites on the open web are indexable and can be found when you use search engines. The open web comprises most of the .com, .org, and .net sites. However, this is just about 5% of the total available internet content.

The rest is found on the deep web and the dark web. Therefore, it is right to think of the surface web as the tip of the internet iceberg.

Millions of internet users gain access to private databases like email inboxes and bank accounts every day. Such pages are unindexed and protected by authentication forms, passwords, and security walls. About 90% of all the sites on the internet are found on the deep web, with most belonging to government agencies, non-profits, and corporations. 

The dark web, which some conflate with the deep web, exists within the latter space. A great way to tell these apart is through their characteristics. The deep web is mostly made up of benign sites, while the dark web uses encryption to hide users' identities and locations. Generally, most normal internet users will never be on the dark web.

Because the dark web is anonymous, it is popular for both illicit and illegal uses. They include activities like trading illegal drugs, passwords, stolen identities, illegal pornography, weapons, and a long list of similar harmful things. Governments have put concerted efforts toward shutting down some sites, including Hansa, AlphaBay, and Silk Road. 

The anonymity provided by the dark web has also resulted in several data breaches over the last decades and cybersecurity threats. Some things you're bound to come across on the dark web are:

1. Drugs

The dark web is perhaps most known as a black-market avenue for visitors who want to buy or sell drugs. A good example is the Silk Road site. Users went on this site to get drugs which raised the alarm resulting in an FBI shutdown in 2013. That didn't stop a newer version of the same site from cropping up a year later, although this, too, was shut down.

2. Firearms

A study by the Rand Corporation in 2019 revealed that it is quite easy to purchase firearms on the dark web. The same study revealed that of these firearm listings and ads, 60% originated from the U.S. However, the main market was Europe, where revenues from firearm sales are nearly five times that in the U.S. 

Pistols are the most commonly advertised firearm on the dark web, closely followed by rifles.

3. Pornography

The dark web houses a lot of pornography which is not particularly surprising. Most people prefer to keep their identity hidden when watching or looking for porn online, and the dark web provides the opportunity to do so. The problem is that the dark web is popular for distributing illegal pornography like child pornography. Different news coverage puts the number of child pornography content on these sites in the hundreds of thousands.

4. Bank account details

The same cybercriminals that sell credit card details also sell bank account passwords and numbers of unknowing victims. These bank details are usually for checking accounts and online savings accounts. These criminals do a lot of damage when they purchase your bank account details. 

They can easily use this information to drain your account or make expensive purchases using your money.

Although the dark web is popularly used for illegal and illicit activities, it also has other legal uses. You can find online versions of books that have not been printed for years. Political dissidents and whistleblowers also use the dark web to communicate and circumvent government scrutiny and oppression. 

Lastly, journalists sometimes use this part of the internet to gather confidential information and keep their sources anonymous.

The dark web is an interesting part of the internet. While it is sometimes used for good, it is also used for illegal activities. Therefore, if you ever use the Tor to access this site, be careful while navigating these sites as it can be a dangerous uptaking.

Susith Nonis

Susith Nonis

I'm fascinated by the IT world and how the 1's and 0's work. While I venture into the world of Technology, I try to share what I know in the simplest way with you. Not a fan of coffee, a travel addict, and a self-accredited 'master chef'.