What Is The Dark Web? How To Access It And What You Will Discover

Dark web explained: The term “dark web” sounds ominous, and there’s a reason for that....

What Is The Dark Web? How To Access It And What You Will Discover

Dark web explained: The term “dark web” sounds ominous, and there’s a reason for that. The dark web is a part of the internet and made up of hidden sites that you can’t find through conventional web browsers. Instead, you must rely on browsers and search engines designed specifically to unearth these hidden sites.

There’s a lot of mystery around this part of the internet as well. On the dark web, sites utilize encryption software to keep visitors and proprietors anonymous and their locations hidden. It’s why there’s so much criminal behavior on the dark web. Everything from illegal drug and gun transactions to illicit pornography and stolen credit card and Social Security details may be found on the dark web.

However, you should be aware that there are valid reasons to access this obscure section of the internet.

Dissidents who are afraid of being prosecuted by their governments may connect with one another on the dark web. You can go to the dark web to get medical advice that you wish to keep private. Journalists sometimes utilize the dark web to stay anonymous, either themselves or their sources.

This guide will teach you about the black web, the websites that fill it, and how to access it. However, be cautious: the black web may be deadly. If you wish to investigate it for criminal actions, you might be prosecuted and sentenced to prison. Scammers and cybercriminals may target you based on where you go and what you download, and they may try to infect your devices with malware or steal your personal information. 

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • The dark web refers to encrypted online content that is not indexed by conventional search engines.
  • Specific browsers, such as Tor Browser, are required to reach the dark web.
  • The dark web pulls up sites using information that isn’t indexed online, such as bank accounts, email accounts, and databases.
  • People who use the dark web can maintain their privacy and freely express their views.
  • It also has a reputation for being associated with illicit and unethical activities.

Understanding the Dark Web

The dark web, as its name indicates, is an underground hidden network. It consists of a collection of websites that are not accessible to the general public. This implies they can’t be found using regular search engines like Google.

Because they have indexes of links to websites, traditional search engines produce results. These are sorted by relevance and keywords. The dark web, on the other hand, makes advantage of information that isn’t available on these other search engines, such as content from personal accounts like email, social media, and banking, as well as personal and professional databases and documents (legal and medical).

The dark web, sometimes known as the darknet, is similar to the early days of the internet in the late twentieth century. There is a lot of information on getting it to work, but there isn’t much to do once you get there. On the black web, a lot of the stuff is quite amateurish. Individuals, on the other hand, find it far easier to build websites and gain attention. As of 2020, IT behemoths and huge media conglomerates have relatively little impact on the dark web.

The dark web, like the early internet, has a reputation for being a shelter for unlawful activities and is commonly linked to illegal and criminal conduct. While the dark web has been involved in illicit and immoral operations, it also serves as a social outlet for those who might otherwise be punished because of their identities or political opinions. It also provides legal authorities with extra powers to capture those who engage in immoral behavior.

The dark web is still very much a work in progress, and its full costs and benefits are not yet known.

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What Is It and Why Do People Use It?

The dark web is a section of the internet where users may employ a variety of encryption techniques to access unindexed online material anonymously. While the dark web is often linked with illicit activity, it is also utilized by the intelligence community, whistleblowers, journalists, and regular individuals whose communications may be monitored or blocked by the government.

History of the Dark Web

The dark web first officially appeared in the early 2000s along with the creation of Freenet, which was developed by Ian Clarke to secure users against government intervention and cyber attacks. The system, which is still available today, allows users to express themselves freely without being tracked online.

The Onion Router was a project financed by the US Naval Research Laboratory (TOR). TOR provided a simple and secure mechanism for intelligence sources to communicate, especially in difficult environments where personal safety is paramount. It is currently one of the most popular browsers for accessing the dark web, and it makes use of databases to assist individuals navigate and find the information they need.

The rise of cryptocurrencies increased the popularity of the dark web, especially for cyber criminals. That’s because digital currencies often provide a great deal of anonymity for people who buy and sell on the dark web.

There have been requests for the dark web to be regulated because of its links to illegal activity. The G20 and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), for example, have both requested that cryptocurrency businesses share information about buyers and sellers in online transactions. They claim that this is especially true when it comes to assisting law enforcement in tracking down criminal groups and unlawful operations.

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What is the dark web, deep web, and surface web?

The Internet is sizable with millions of web pages, databases, and servers all run 24 hours a day. But the so-called “visible” Internet (aka surface web or open web) — sites that can be found using search engines like Google and Yahoo — is just the tip of the iceberg.

There are several terms surrounding the non-visible Web, but it’s worth knowing how they differ if you’re planning to browse off the beaten path.

The surface web or open web

The open web, also called the surface web, includes any public web content that is indexed by search engines. Web pages on the open web will show up in search results on sites like Google and Bing. While a large volume of traffic visits on the open web every day, it only represents 4% of the content on the internet.

This folder contains all widely visited public-facing websites that can be browsed using standard browsers such as Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, and Firefox. Websites are often identified by registration operators like as “.com” and “.org,” and may be found using common search engines.

Locating surface web websites is possible because search engines can index the web via visible links (a process called “crawling” due to the search engine traveling the web like a spider).

The deep web

The deep web refers to any web content that is not indexed – or pages that can’t be found with a search engine. Examples of the deep web include any websites that are behind a paywall or require log-in credentials. Most internet users access the deep web several times a day to perform common tasks, such as checking email, accessing a bank account or reviewing health or school records. Items you would not be able to simply access by clicking on a link from a search engine. The deep web constitutes over 90% of online content and is inaccessible via search engines.

Following the analogy, large search engines may be compared to fishing boats that can only “catch” webpages that are near to the surface. Everything else is out of reach, from scholarly papers to private databases and more unlawful stuff. The black web, which is a subset of the deep web, is also included.

While many news outlets use “deep web” and “dark web” interchangeably, much of the deep portion as a whole is perfectly legal and safe. Some of the largest parts of the deep web include:

  • Databases: both public and privately protected file collections that are not connected to other areas of the web, only to be searched within the database itself.
  • Intranets: internal networks for enterprises, governments, and educational facilities used to communicate and control aspects privately within their organizations.

If you’re wondering how to access the deep web, it’s likely that you already do. All web sites that are unidentified by search engines are referred to as “deep web.” Deep web sites may be protected by passwords or other security barriers, or they may simply instruct search engines not to “crawl” them. These pages are more hidden due to the lack of visible connections for a variety of reasons.

The “hidden” information on the bigger deep web is often cleaner and safer. The deep web contains anything from draft blog entries to pending web page redesigns to the pages you reach while banking online. Furthermore, they pose no risk to your computer or your overall safety. To preserve user information and privacy, the majority of these pages are kept hidden from the open web, such as:

  • Financial accounts like banking and retirement
  • Email and social messaging accounts
  • Private enterprise databases
  • HIPPA sensitive information like medical documentation
  • Legal files

As you go farther into the deep web, the light becomes more dangerous. Some users may be able to overcome local limitations and access TV or movie services that aren’t accessible in their region by using bits of the deep web. Others go a step farther, downloading unauthorized music or stealing movies that haven’t yet been released in cinemas.

At the dark end of the web, you’ll find the more hazardous content and activity. Tor websites are located at this far end of the deep web, which are deemed the “dark web” and are only accessible by an anonymous browser.

Deep web security is more important to the typical internet user than dark web security because you may wind yourself in harmful regions by accident: many parts of the deep web can still be accessed using standard web browsers. This is how people might get up on a pirate site, a politically extreme forum, or watching alarmingly violent stuff by following enough tangential paths.

The dark web

The dark web is an unindexed web content network. Dark web activity is rendered anonymous by a variety of encryption and routing mechanisms, which is the most significant distinction between the deep and dark web. The dark web is also uncontrolled, which means it is operated and maintained by a global network of individuals. Thousands of volunteers maintain proxy servers to relay dark web queries through this network. As a result, no one is in charge of making rules or enforcing them. The dark web’s operational paradigm is what makes it such a lucrative and enticing tool for hackers and others with dubious motives.

The dark web, however, is a very concealed portion of the deep web that few will ever interact with or even see. In other words, the deep web covers everything under the surface that’s still accessible with the right software, including the dark web.

Breaking down the construction of the dark web reveals a few key layers that make it an anonymous haven:

  • No webpage indexing by surface web search engines. Google and other popular search tools cannot discover or display results for pages within the dark web.
  • “Virtual traffic tunnels” via a randomized network infrastructure.
  • Inaccessible by traditional browsers due to its unique registry operator. Also, it’s further hidden by various network security measures like firewalls and encryption.

The reputation of the dark web has often been linked to criminal intent or illegal content, and “trading” sites where users can purchase illicit goods or services. However, legal parties have made use of this framework as well.

When it comes to dark web safety, the deep web dangers are very different from dark web dangers. Illegal cyber activity cannot necessarily be stumbled upon easily but tends to be much more extreme and threatening if you do seek it out. Before we unpack the dark web’s threats, let’s explore how and why users access these sites. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of the Dark Web 

Advantages

The dark web allows users to keep their anonymity while expressing themselves freely. For many innocent individuals who are harassed by stalkers and other criminals, privacy is crucial. The growing trend of potential employers monitoring posts on social media might make it harder to have open and honest conversations in public.

Finally, the popularity of the dark web with criminals makes it a perfect way for undercover police officers to communicate.

Disadvantages

Some people will undoubtedly misuse the authority that comes with accessing the dark web to facilitate illicit conduct. The dark web and cryptocurrency, for example, theoretically make it much simpler to hire someone to conduct certain crimes.

While the dark web promises privacy to its users, it can also be used to violate the privacy of others. Private photos, medical records, and financial information have all been stolen and shared on the dark web.Pros

  • Ensures privacy and freedom of expression
  • Allows law enforcement to identify criminal organizations

Cons

  • Makes it easier to engage in criminal activity
  • Can be used to violate the privacy of others

How to Access the Dark Web

To access the dark web, users need a special browser, the most common of which is Tor, short for “The Onion Routing” project, which launched in 2002 and serves millions of users. Another is I2P (Invisible Internet Project), which specializes in the anonymous hosting of websites on the dark web.

When a dark web browser is installed on a device, it works just like any other browser. On the other hand, users may find it challenging to locate the information they need on the dark web. Addresses are often a jumble of digits and letters, making them difficult to recall or retrieve manually. Due to the ephemeral nature of many dark web actors, addresses change regularly. Finally, because all traffic on the dark web is routed through a network of proxy servers run by hundreds of volunteers across the world, the search process is often sluggish.

What Can You Find on the Dark Web?

Users may access a broad range of services and material on the dark web, some of which skirts or ignores legislation. While the dark web’s users’ intentions and goals may differ, the black web itself is neither good nor negative. The dark web, like the open web, provides an alternate, highly anonymous environment in which to interact with other users and material online.

Dark Web Activities

The dark web, like the open web, has a tremendous amount of information and a diverse range of material. One dark web website could specialize in online chess tournaments, while another provides totally anonymous chat and email services. The dark web has been critical in recent years in allowing people to connect freely in places where speech is banned or endangered.

Most people associate the dark web with illicit activities, such as hosting pirated movies, music and books, operating digital marketplaces for drugs and weapons or the sharing of pornography. From a cyber security perspective, the dark web is where cybercriminals sell or trade stolen information, such as personal banking details, social security numbers, digital credentials, IP or other trade secrets.

The dark web, like the open web, has a tremendous amount of information and a diverse range of material. One dark web website could specialize in online chess tournaments, while another provides totally anonymous chat and email services. The dark web has been critical in recent years in allowing people to connect freely in places where speech is banned or endangered.

Dark Web Commerce and Cryptocurrency

All transactions on the dark web are carried out with Bitcoin, a virtually untraceable digital money, and other forms of digital currencies to guarantee anonymity. As a consequence, users of the dark web may engage, communicate, share data, and do business in a private manner.

Is the Dark Web Illegal?

Similar to using a standard web browser to access the open web, the act of using Tor or a dark web browser to access the dark web is not illegal in and of itself. It is illegal to perform illegal acts on the dark web, regardless of the level of anonymity provided by the platform.

Users of the dark web should be aware that, while their behavior is ostensibly anonymous, interacting with persons who are engaging in unlawful activity might have legal consequences. Hundreds of people have been arrested throughout the world as a result of recent high-profile takedowns of dark web marketplaces like as Silk Road, Alpha Bay, and Wall Street Market, emphasizing the dangers of engaging in criminal activity in any form.

Dangers of the Dark Web

The dark web is a common gathering place for hackers and other cybercriminals, which can make browsing the dark web a risky activity. Visitors to the dark web should exercise extreme caution when downloading files, as they may infect your devices with viruses, malware, trojans, ransomware or other malicious files. At a minimum, users should ensure that their cybersecurity defenses are activated and up-to-date.

However, many of the dark web’s operators are extremely competent digital enemies who can outsmart even the most basic protection procedures. CrowdStrike, a major cybersecurity company, advises all enterprises and people to avoid accessing the dark web. 

Dark web tools and services 

The Into the Web of Profit report identified 12 categories of tools or services that could present a risk in the form of a network breach or data compromise:

  • Infection or attacks, including malware, distributed denial of service (DDoS) and botnets
  • Access, including remote access Trojans (RATs), keyloggers and exploits
  • Espionage, including services, customization and targeting
  • Support services such as tutorials
  • Credentials
  • Phishing
  • Refunds
  • Customer data
  • Operational data
  • Financial data
  • Intellectual property/trade secrets
  • Other emerging threats

The report also outlined three risk variables for each category:

  • Devaluing the enterprise, which could include undermining brand trust, reputational damage or losing ground to a competitor
  • Disrupting the enterprise, which could include DDoS attacks or other malware that affects business operations
  • Defrauding the enterprise, which could include IP theft or espionage that impairs a company’s ability to compete or causes a direct financial loss

For some years, ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) kits have been accessible on the dark web, but with the advent of specialized criminal gangs like REvil or GandCrab, such products have grown significantly more deadly. These organizations create complex malware on their own, sometimes combining it with pre-existing tools, and spread it through “affiliates.”

The affiliates distribute the ransomware packages through the dark web. These attacks often include stealing victims’ data and threatening to release it on the dark web if the ransom isn’t paid. 

This is a profitable and successful company concept. REvil was used in 29 percent of IBM Security X-ransomware Force’s engagements in 2020, according to IBM Security X-Force. The criminal gangs who created the virus receive a percentage of the affiliates’ revenue, usually between 20% and 30%. REvil made $81 million in earnings last year, according to IBM.

Dark web browser

All this activity, this vision of a bustling marketplace, might make you think that navigating the dark web is easy. It isn’t. The place is as messy and chaotic as you would expect when everyone is anonymous, and a substantial minority are out to scam others. 

Tor is a browser that may be used to visit the dark web while remaining anonymous. Your web page requests are routed through a global network of proxy servers operated by hundreds of volunteers, rendering your IP address untraceable and unidentifiable. Tor works like magic, but the ultimate result is comparable to the dark web itself: unstable, sluggish, and unpredictable.

Still, for those willing to put up with the inconvenience, the dark web provides a memorable glimpse at the seamy underbelly of the human experience – without the risk of skulking around in a dark alley. 

Dark web search engine

Dark web search engines exist, but even the best are challenged to keep up with the constantly shifting landscape. The experience is reminiscent of searching the web in the late 1990s. Even one of the best search engines, called Grams, returns results that are repetitive and often irrelevant to the query. Link lists like The Hidden Wiki are another option, but even indices also return a frustrating number of timed-out connections and 404 errors.

Dark web sites

Dark web sites look pretty much like any other site, but there are important differences. One is the naming structure. Instead of ending in .com or .co, dark web sites end in .onion. That’s “a special-use top level domain suffix designating an anonymous hidden service reachable via the Tor network,” according to Wikipedia. Browsers with the appropriate proxy can reach these sites, but others can’t.

Dark web sites also use a scrambled naming structure that creates URLs that are often impossible to remember. For example, a popular commerce site called Dream Market goes by the unintelligible address of “eajwlvm3z2lcca76.onion.”

Many dark websites are set up by scammers, who constantly move around to avoid the wrath of their victims. Even commerce sites that may have existed for a year or more can suddenly disappear if the owners decide to cash in and flee with the escrow money they’re holding on behalf of customers.

Law enforcement officials are getting better at finding and prosecuting owners of sites that sell illicit goods and services. In the summer of 2017, a team of cyber cops from three countries successfully shut down AlphaBay, the dark web’s largest source of contraband, sending shudders throughout the network. But many merchants simply migrated elsewhere.

The Tor network’s anonymity makes it particularly vulnerable to DDoS, according to Patrick Tiquet, Director of Security & Architecture at Keeper Security and the firm’s resident expert on the subject. “To avoid DDoS, sites are continuously changing addresses, which creates a very dynamic situation,” he stated. As a result, “search quality varies greatly, and most of the content is old.”

Types of threats on the dark web

If you’re considering using the dark web for basic privacy purposes you might still question, “Is dark web dangerous to use?” Unfortunately, it very much can be a dangerous place to be. Below are some common threats you may face during your browsing experiences:

Malicious software

Malicious software — i.e. malware — is fully alive all across the dark web. It is often offered in some portals to give threat actors the tools for cyberattacks. However, it also lingers all across the dark web to infect unsuspecting users just like it does on the rest of the web.

The dark web doesn’t carry as many of the social contracts that website providers follow to protect users on the rest of the web. As such, users can find themselves regularly exposed to some types of malware like:

  • Keyloggers
  • Botnet malware
  • Ransomware
  • Phishing malware

If you choose to explore any sites on the dark web, you risk being picked out and targeted for hacking and other crimes. The majority of malware infestations can be detected by endpoint protection software.

The threats of online browsing can extend into the unplugged world if your computer or network connection can be exploited. Anonymity is powerful with Tor and the framework of the dark web, but it is not infallible. Any online activity can carry breadcrumbs to your identity if someone digs far enough.

Government monitoring

With many Tor-based sites being overtaken by police authorities across the globe, there is a clear danger of becoming government target for simply visiting a dark website.

In the past, illegal drug marketplaces like the Silk Road have been used for police monitoring. Law enforcement has been able to learn user identities of consumers and onlookers alike by using bespoke software to infiltrate and analyze behavior. Even if you never make a purchase, you may be observed and incriminated later in life for unrelated behaviors.

You may be monitored for various forms of activity as a result of infiltrations. In certain nations, evading official prohibitions in order to investigate new political views is a criminal violation. For this reason, China deploys the “Great Firewall” to restrict access to popular websites. Being a visitor to this site runs the danger of being placed on a watchlist or being targeted for a prison term right away.

Scams

Some alleged services like the professional “hitmen” may just be scams designed to profit from willing customers. Reports have suggested the dark web offers many illegal services, from paid assassinations to trafficking for sex and weapons.

Some of them are well-known and well-established hazards that circulate in our little corner of the internet. Others, on the other hand, may be using the dark web’s reputation to defraud people of enormous quantities of money. Additionally, some people on the dark web may undertake phishing schemes in order to steal your identity or personal information in order to extort money from you.

End user protection against exploitation by the dark web

Regardless of being a business, parent, or any other user of the web, you’ll want to take precautions to keep your information and private life off the dark web.

Identity theft monitoring is critical if you want to keep your private information from being misused. All types of personal data can be distributed online for a profit. Passwords, physical addresses, bank account numbers, and social security numbers circulate in the dark web all the time. You may already be aware that malicious actors can use these to harm your credit, engage in financial theft, and breach of your other online accounts. Leaks of personal data can also lead to damage to your reputation via social fraud.

Antimalware and antivirus protections are equally crucial to prevent malicious actors from exploiting you. The dark web is filled with information theft from malware-infected users. Attackers can use tools like keyloggers to gather your data, and they can infiltrate your system on any part of the web.

How to access the dark web safely

If you have a legitimate or viable need to access the dark web, you’ll want to make sure you stay safe if you decide to use it.

7 Tips for safe access to the dark web

  1. Trust your intuition. To prevent being conned on the internet, you should practice safe online conduct. Not everyone appears to be who they claim to be. To stay secure, you must be cautious about who you speak with and where you go. If anything doesn’t seem right, you should always take action to get out of the circumstance.
  2. Detach your online persona from real life.Your login, email address, “actual name,” password, and even payment card should never be used in any other context. If required, create fresh disposable accounts and IDs for yourself. Before making any purchases, get prepaid, untraceable debit cards. Anything that may be used to identify you, whether online or in person, should be avoided.
  3. Employ active monitoring of identify and financial theft. Many online security services now offer identity protection for your safety. Be sure to take advantage of these tools if they are made available to you.
  4. Explicitly avoid dark web file downloads. In the lawless area that is the dark web, the fear of malware infection is substantially higher. If you do decide to download, real-time file scanning from an antivirus application can assist you examine any incoming files.
  5. Disable ActiveX and Java in any available network settings. These frameworks are notorious for being probed and exploited by malicious parties. Since you are traveling through a network filled with said threats, you’ll want to avoid this risk.
  6. Use a secondary non-admin local user account for all daily activities.Most machines’ native accounts will have full administrator access by default. To carry out its duties, most malware must take advantage of this. As a result, restricting the account in use to stringent privileges can impede or stop the spread of exploitation.
  7. Always restrict access to your Tor-enableddevice. Protect your children or other family members so they aren’t at risk of stumbling across something no one should ever see. Visit the Deep Web if you’re interested, but don’t let kids anywhere near it. '

How to Protect Yourself on the Dark Web

Knowing if your data is on the dark web is important to defending yourself against attackers. Dark web monitoring tools are akin to a dark web search engine (like Google). These technologies aid in the discovery of leaked or stolen data such as compromised passwords, hacked credentials, intellectual property, and other sensitive information that is shared and sold on the dark web by bad actors. Learn how CrowdStrike’s Falcon X ReconTM technology can help you safeguard your brand and data.

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