People around the world use the Internet every day for things such as social media, shopping, e-mail, reading news, and much more. Many connect using a standard browser like Firefox, Safari or Chrome, then launch a search engine such as Google. This part of the Internet can be referred to as the ‘normal’ web or the ‘surface’ web.
But beneath this everyday web lies another part of the net that’s not accessible with a regular search engine. The Dark Web isn’t an actual place, but rather a hidden network of websites.
Historically, only a small portion of Internet users traverse the Dark Web. Out of the billions of individuals accessing the Internet on an everyday basis, Dark Web use remains around 3 percent.
Anonymity—at a price
Their main attraction to the Dark Web is its ability to conceal information while interacting with the virtual world. This is why Tor is the most widely used Dark Web browser. (The name is derived from an acronym for the original software project name “The Onion Router.”)
When properly connected to Tor, one’s web history, online posts, instant messages, and other communication are masked. But it’s not fool-proof or impenetrable—and user activity can be traced.
The number of people visiting the Dark Web is only a fraction of all Tor users. Many use it simply to protect their legitimate, regular browsing habits. But no doubt, there are disreputable individuals using this avenue of the Internet to locate or sell hard-to-find vices.
While it’s legal to use Tor, users should be careful—it links to a lot of illegal content. By simply connecting to it, you may draw the attention of law enforcement.
What you can find
In its shadowy realms, there is a lot of low-down, dirty content on the Dark Web, with a surprising amount of goods and services for sale. Marketplaces look a lot like a Bizarro World shopping mart, where a lot of weird stuff can be had:
- Illegal drugs
- Counterfeit goods
- Stolen financial and private data
- Hacked credit cards
- Medical information
- Social security numbers
- Fake drivers licenses
- TV shows and movies
To stay hidden, Dark Web transactions are usually conducted using cryptocurrency coins, like Bitcoin. Cryptocurrency—a digital alternative to government-issued money—is also preferred due to its anonymity and speed of payments. Escrow services allow the dark marketplaces a way to provide protected crypto transactions for both sellers and buyers.
Anyone engaging in activities through these currencies and marketplaces is taking a risk. Other criminal enterprises as well as law enforcement agencies may target privacy coin users. And exit scams can occur—a popular type of fraud where Dark Web operators shut down their site and disappear with all the users’ Bitcoins—or because of a legal agency’s takeover.
It’s not all bad
There are also legitimate uses for the Dark Web. According to Forbes: “Journalists, for example, use Tor to protect the identities of their sources–and themselves–when following leads online. Citizens who live in countries where internet access is heavily restricted use Tor to bypass those restrictions. Victims of violent crimes might turn to Tor to engage in confidential discussions with a support group… Military and law enforcement agencies use Tor, too, to keep online activities on the QT.”
According to the technology news website ZDNet, “although it’s not necessary for the layperson to visit the Dark Web often, if ever, every consumer is at risk of identity theft and should have a basic understanding of how the encrypted internet functions.”
ZDNet also states that “The Dark Web is not entirely malicious, but it’s also not a safe place to visit. Novices and experts alike should exercise care and caution when visiting the Dark Web.”
Resources: Comparitech.com, FindLaw.com, Ranker.com, BankRate, Forbes, ZDNet, Condé Nast, TheStreet, Inc., AARP, Malwarebytes, Experian Information Solutions, Inc., Wired Business Media