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Dark Web 101 - Everything You Want to Know About This Mysterious Place

Posted on by Dawna M. Roberts in PrivacyDecember 11, 2020

You may have heard the term "dark web," and you might be wondering about this mysterious place. Read on to take the mystery out of it and find out what it is, why it exists, how it is used, and how you can take a trip there if you dare.

What is the Dark Web?

Not to be confused with the deep web, the dark web is a hidden (unindexed) layer of the internet frequented by cybercriminals and people who want to connect with others or purchase products and services undetected. The dark web uses encryption and routes all traffic through multiple servers, ensuring anonymity and secrecy of all who go there.

Although many who visit the dark web are nefarious individuals looking to perform some illegal act undetected, the dark web was conceived by U.S. Naval Research Lab specialists who were trying to create a private layer of the internet that was undetectable. Dubbed the Tor Network, the first section of the dark web was launched in 2002. The Tor Project released the Tor browser for public use six years after, and the dark web now contains millions of connected servers, and due to the privacy of it, it's unclear how many users. 

Why Do People Visit the Dark Web?

Because of Wikileaks, everyone is pretty well aware that the government (NSA), marketing companies, and hackers are all watching your online activities pretty regularly. If you value privacy to a strong degree and want to browse the web unwatched, then the dark web might be for you.

Sometimes the dark web is used to connect a classified source with a reporter or government agency. The person can provide information without being identified. Chat tools and forums on the dark web are used for various purposes, many of them legitimate. There are even chess groups that meet on the dark web and forums about sewing, hobbies, and other interests. Many of the sites on the dark web are not used for illicit purposes. 

Of course, there are storefronts on the dark web selling everything from guns and drugs to information stolen in data breaches for identity theft and fraud. You can buy "anything" on the dark web, even a gun for hire. Silk Road was a notorious marketplace that sold illegal wares, including ransomware and malware kits for budding young thieves. Researchers concluded that roughly 60% of all dark web sites are used for unlawful activity. 

Some of the things found easily on the dark web are prescription medications, counterfeit money, credit card numbers, stolen Netflix accounts, stolen passwords, prepaid debit cards, and rare, expensive items that are illegal to own or sell. 

How Can I Access the Dark Web?

If you want to take a walk on the wild side, download a copy of the Tor browser, which exists for download on the regular web. Be forewarned; the government does take notice of everyone who downloads it.

Once installed, you will need to find web addresses. You can use special search engines like Ahmia or Grams. Google does not work on the dark web. All websites on the dark web end in .onion. You may need to poke around a bit to find things. The dark web is chaotic and messy. Many who want to obfuscate their URL create long, confusing web addresses with random numbers and letters, making it impossible to remember. These are often criminals who want to evade detection. Government agencies spend a lot of time on the dark web looking for criminal activity and attempting to trace known criminals' location and identity to apprehend them. 

Tor is notoriously slow and unresponsive at times, and a lot of the websites on the dark web are abandoned and empty. Typically, someone sets them up, uses them for illegal activity, and moves on. 

If you decide to purchase something on the dark web. Be warned, there is no way to find out who you are doing business with, and if something goes wrong, you won't see your money again. Most transactions on the dark web are processed via Bitcoin because it is untraceable. Many dark web stores use modern websites with shopping carts, and you might get lucky with one that is legitimate. However, just be careful. Many dark web sellers set up shop and then vanish, moving onto another website after scamming victims. 

Along with the criminal activity, there are also many interesting things found there, such as a full-text version of out-of-print books, whistleblower websites, political news from other countries, educational resources, and corporate presences (like the Intel Exchange). 

There is a lot to do and see on the dark web, and although it's not easy to navigate, it might be a fun place to visit every once in a while. 

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