The dark web, also known as “darknet” is a portion of the internet that lies outside the boundaries of traditional search engines. You won’t find any links to sites or pages for dark web content on Google. The dark web is a small portion of the deep web which is not indexed by search engines or accessible by traditional means.
Most people have heard references to the “dark web” but don’t really know what it is or how it works. At times, especially after a significant data breach, information is sold on the dark web. Cybersecurity researchers have run tests that prove about 57% of the content and websites on the dark web are selling illicit goods and services. That figure was calculated in 2015; by now, it is estimated to be much higher.
The dark web is actually made up of many small darknets (peer-to-peer) networks such as Tor, Freenet, I2P, and Riffle. These networks may be owned and operated by government entities or private individuals. Another portion of the dark web called Clearnet is devoid of encryption and widely frequented by many users. The Tor network is also referred to as “Onionland.” The reference is because websites on the dark web don’t end in .com or .net, they end in .onion.
One of the infamous darknets on the dark web was Silk Road, which was an illegal marketplace specializing in drug trafficking, among other things. Silk Road ran from February 2011 until October 2013 when the FBI arrested Ross Ulbricht, the pseudonymous founder “Dread Pirate Roberts.” However, in November of 2016, Silk Road 2.0 surfaced, and again, the FBI had to shut it down and arrest the developers. After that, Silk Road 3.0 surfaced. The original Silk Road gained a lot of notoriety after Gawker; an online publication ran a story about it.
What Will You Find There?
The dark web is a breeding ground for illegal activity. Some of the things you will find there are online marketplaces to buy stolen financial and private data (for identity theft), drugs, pornography, and other highly illegal products and services. Payment is made through trades or cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin to hide the trail. Bitcoin has actually helped the dark web experience an enormous growth spurt.
Other things you can expect to find on the dark web are: guns, counterfeit money, credit card numbers, bank account details, stolen credentials, phishing and ransomware kits (to wage campaigns and steal from people) prepaid debit cards, hacked Netflix accounts, a “lifetime” Netflix account that you can purchase for $6. You can also buy usernames and passwords or hire a hacker to break into somewhere for you. The sky really is the limit on the dark web.
Along with the illegal stuff, there are also many legitimate networks such as chess clubs, social networks, hard-to-find books, and collectibles, as well as chat rooms for innocent purposes. Additionally, you will find a few whistleblower sites and political news forums for people who live in countries where “free speech” is not allowed.
The websites on the dark web may look very similar to regular sites. Some marketplaces even use ratings, reviews, and shopping carts. However, when you are dabbling in illegal goods, you don’t really know who you are dealing with. You take your chances with any transaction conducted on the dark web.
What is the Dark Web Used for?
The dark web was created to bring buyers and sellers together who require anonymity when dealing with each other. This anonymity is not only used for nefarious activities but also for journalists who want to interview sources who need to remain anonymous or live in countries where serious sanctions would prevent them from revealing information. Whereas the World Wide Web is monitored and considered non-private, the dark web is completely secure. The dark web uses tight encryption technology to keep everyone anonymous and everything private.
Due to its secretive nature, the dark web has attracted hackers, cybercriminals, drug lords, child pornographers, and even hitmen selling their services online. Many websites are owned by scammers and only use them for a short time before pulling the plug and opening up shop elsewhere.
Researchers estimate that at least $180 million of business was conducted on the dark web in 2015, and that was five years ago! Undoubtedly, that number is substantially higher now.
Websites on the dark web often require a specific proxy server, or you cannot access them. Additionally, the URLs are scrambled, so you can’t easily remember them or track them down. This is to thwart law enforcement who is always trying to get a foothold in the door to regulate the dark web. However, according to cybersecurity experts CSO, law enforcement is getting better at monitoring and enforcing the law on the dark web. In 2017, they shut down the largest marketplace for illegal contraband called AlphaBay.
Government law enforcement officials have dedicated hackers and task forces that infiltrate the dark web to find and apprehend criminals doing business there.
How to Access the Dark Web?
To get on the dark web, you need to use a special anonymizing browser such as Tor or some other special software. Tor runs through dozens of proxy servers, making your IP address untraceable and unidentifiable. However, navigating the dark web is not an easy task for a novice. As CSO puts it, “Tor works like magic, but the result is an experience that’s like the dark web itself: unpredictable, unreliable and maddeningly slow.”
Searching the Dark Web
Dark web search engines are rare and cannot be trusted. Because the content is continuously changing and moving, your results will be erratic and most likely result in a lot of 404 errors.
When buying or selling on the dark web, every transaction requires encryption, which means a PGP key. Some vendors use an escrow service so that the funds are held until the goods are delivered but again, no guarantees there, especially when dealing across country lines.
One site on the dark web Deep.Dot.Web is a news site and reports stories of buyers and sellers who have been arrested for transactions dealt through the dark web.
If you want to explore the dark web, do so at your own risk. Take some time to learn the landscape first so you don’t head into a dark alley that you can’t easily escape.