The Dark Web is a lot like your regular, everyday World Wide Web which you can safely browse to access websites. But there’s one big difference — mainstream search engines such as Google do not index sites on the Dark Web. That’s actually why this area is called “dark.”
What is the Difference between the Dark Web and the Deep Web?
The Dark Web is often confused with the Deep Web, however, there is a distinction.
The Web is divided into three layers: the Surface Web, the Deep Web, and the Dark Web. The Surface Web consists of websites that are indexed by search engines like Google and Bing and can be accessed using regular web browsers.
Beneath this lays the Deep Web. Its content is not indexed by traditional search engines because viewing it entails authentication. Online bank account pages, travel itineraries, web forums that require registration, and email accounts are some of the examples of the Deep Web content.
And then at the very bottom lies the Dark Web, which evolved from the US Military’s TOR network. Websites on the Dark Web are not indexed by mainstream search engines and can’t be accessed through standard web browsers. More on it below.
How did the Dark Web start?
During the 1990s, the US Military needed a way for their spies to send back information safely. They built a network where data could be exchanged anonymously. Thinking that it would be more difficult for the enemy to identify coded messages from their agents, they shared the system with the general public and buried their ciphers within data from thousands of other users. This is how The Onion Router (TOR) began. The name refers to the technique of anonymizing data by applying layers of encryption — like the layers of an onion.
How can You Access the Dark Web?
Websites in the Dark Web bear .onion extension instead of the usual “.com”, “.net”, “.org,” or any of the other TLDs we normally encounter on the Web. Beyond the domain extension, what makes them truly different from regular websites is that they are published anonymously.
In order to access these sites, you need a specific browser. The most popular one is called Tor, which operates within the TOR network we previously described. You use it just as you would use Chrome or Firefox. The difference is that Tor keeps you anonymous and hides your online activity from others. Alternatives for the Tor browser include Subgraph OS, Waterfox, I2P, Tails, and Whonix. These offer additional features not available in Tor.
What can You Find on the Dark Web?
You will find two types of things here. First, there are forums, chat rooms, and file hosts for a wide variety of topics and interests. Some may seem odd and disturbing, such as creepy experiences shared on forums, others are entertaining, like real-life scavenger games, for example. Nevertheless, there’s nothing maleficent here, just people using the anonymity to freely express themselves.
The second type of thing you will encounter on the Dark Web are products and services you can buy. The merchandise can be frightening as with the sites that advertise human body parts for sale. Others may be quite frivolous, as with the buyer who ordered a “mind-blowing experience” from a vendor and a few days later received a vacuum cleaner.
There are also websites and individuals who sell products or offer services that are outright malicious and illegal. You may encounter offers for drugs, guns, counterfeit products, stolen goods, and extreme pornography. Some advertise sketchy services that include launching remote access trojans (RATs), keyloggers, and phishing, and stealing customer data and passwords. It’s also possible to find people here eager to conduct DDoS attacks, rent botnets, and plant malware in the target’s systems.
However, several legitimate companies have also opted to maintain a presence on the Dark Web. They do this to cater to people in locations where authoritarian governments curtail freedom of expression, and access to information is limited.
Is the Dark Web Unsafe?
Much of the Dark Web is considered to be unsafe. And even if users are careful and conscientious about their transactions here, they could end up victims of some evil cons. There are plenty of stories about people who paid for something illegal only to be disappointed by what they got, if the goods were even delivered at all. A good example of this are the so-called “red rooms’” where scammers promise to feature humans or animals being tortured. The scenes often turn out to be staged, or the vendor disappears after receiving the payment.
Since many of the sites on the Dark Web promote criminal activities, it isn’t surprising to learn that law enforcers are present there too. They intend to catch individuals engaged in contraband trade. You could get drawn into an investigation, or you may even be prosecuted for being associated with criminals, even if you haven’t done anything against the law yourself.
You can also unknowingly expose your computer to malware or viruses. Many casual Dark Web visitors, for example, fall victim to attacks that turn their devices into bots for a malicious botnet, without them ever knowing what happened.
So if you are thinking of an excursion into the dark side of the Web, you’d better proceed with caution.