The dark web or “DarkNet” is a deeply hidden part of the Internet that most people are not aware of, or have only heard of from movies and TV. The dark web is not accessible via traditional search engines.
There are three levels of the Internet, the public Internet, which we all use to research information, connect with other people and make purchases. Then there is a more extensive section called the “deep web” which is vast information housed online for universities, company intranets, huge databases and restricted-access, pay-per-view websites. Then there is a tiny portion at the very bottom, called the dark web which houses a network of exclusive, peer-to-peer, private websites as well as larger networks like Tor, I2P, and Freenet.
Tor browser is often referred to as "The Onion Router” because of the layers of encryption in place to protect users. Tor-accessible websites use the domain .onion.
I2P stands for “Invisible Internet Project,” and these offer private, dark web hosting for users. The dark web uses a complex, layered encryption system to keep users anonymous and protected.
The Difference Between the Invisible Web and the Dark Web
The invisible web is made up of websites and online resources that are available for secure access but they are not indexed, or able to be searched by contemporary search engines; things such as libraries of data, court records and vast storehouses of information.
The dark web is different in that it is stored on separate, highly encrypted servers and accessible only via special software like Tor offering an anonymous browsing experience and restricted access to private content.
Who Uses it and Why?
The lure of the dark web is its promise of anonymity. The dark web has an unsavory reputation as being used only people with criminal records looking to procure illegal drugs, weapons or other goods and services frowned upon by law enforcement. However, journalists and whistleblowers also use the dark web to share information safety while protecting their identity. The notorious NSA government whistleblower Edward Snowden used the dark web to pass along information to national newspapers.
There was a famous dark web marketplace named Silk Road that offered a variety of illegal purchases obtainable with bitcoin currency only because it is untraceable. The store was shut down in 2013.
The dark web is also a haven for hackers that form alliances and sell their services online. Some of these hacker services work for the government and help track pedophiles and arrest other culprits. The dark web is home to some of the more prominent hacker agencies like Mazafaka, dark0de, TheRealDeal, hack forum, Trojanforge, and xDedic.
How to Access the Dark Web
Accessing the dark web takes some level of technical savvy and sophisticated software such as a particular browser called Tor. The reason for this unique browser is that it completely anonymizes and encrypts everything you do while on the dark web. That does not mean you are entirely safe, and you cannot be tracked, but it makes it much more difficult for your activities to be traced. Many of the resources on the dark web require this level of security so their operations cannot be traced using your IP while visiting them.
Once you download and fire up the browser, you only need to type in a dark web access to begin using it. For some areas or websites, you may also need special access and will have to apply for an account beforehand.
Is it Safe/Legal to Use Tor?
Tor is free software that routes all network communication through more than seven thousand relays owned and managed by volunteers. This vast relay is what provides the “onion layers” of protection.
Although it is completely legal for you to download and use a dark web browser such as Tor, it may put you on the radar with law enforcement, and suddenly you may be a “person of interest.” Even if everything you do while on the dark web is innocent and you are just curious, you put yourself on the list along with others who are there for nefarious reasons.
The thick layers of encryption make it difficult for you and your actions to be traced back to your IP address. However, that does not mean you are immune to discovery. Talented hackers with special software could potentially still access your computer and steal your information, so there is no guarantee of your safety while using the dark web.
Like with any online resource, Tor does have its vulnerabilities and is susceptible to attacks and bugs, and there has been a history of issues which have required repair.
What Type of Content is Stored on the Dark Web?
The majority of the content stored and accessed on the dark web is child pornography and black markets selling everything from drugs and guns to people for hire for illegal activities.
There are also dozens of private discussion forums where journalists and whistleblowers seek out a safe having to share information and remain anonymous.
Whether or not you decide to venture into the DarkNet is yours to contemplate. There are many factors to consider both legal and ethical. If you are a person who values privacy and wants to take a walk on the wild side, then the dark web might be for you.