It is normal for many to take the Web at face value. But in reality, the Web is divided into several layers. Everything we see on the Internet every day is only a slice of the information available. This layer is called the Surface Web, which includes websites that you can easily access through popular search engines or direct URLs.
Going further in, you’ll come across the Deep Web. This is where 95% of the information resides. Here, there are medical records, academic information, legal documents, scientific reports, financial records, etc that belong to large corporates or governments. These are inaccessible via Surface Web search engines and hidden behind powerful Firewalls.
Then comes the Dark Web. As the name suggests, this place not only sounds foreboding but is indeed a place where much danger lurks with sinister intentions. This place often runs on networks of private servers, allowing communication and access only via specific means. Most of the websites are secret and only available to people with the right credentials and contacts to access.
What is the Dark Web?
The Dark Web aka Dark Net is a small part of the Internet that is kept hidden on purpose. The nature of the websites that are associated with the Dark Web is mostly marketplaces where illegal activities are carried out.
Illicit goods such as IDs, stolen credit card details, narcotics, and firearms are traded, bought, and sold. It is in the farther depths of the Dark Web that things heat up more and turn shadier and dangerous.
Deep Web versus Dark Web: What’s the Difference
Many a time, these two terms are used interchangeably as most would deem them to be more or less the same – host of illicit online activities. This is not entirely accurate. But, before we proceed, let’s look into the meaning of indexed pages.
Websites are indexed by their specific topics. Search engine indexing refers to the ‘crawling’ process that a search engine undergoes when going through multiple indexed web pages via hyperlinks during a ‘search’. Algorithms then organize this data to be returned to a user as a search result.
Since both the Deep Web and Dark Web contain non-indexed pages, popular search engines would fail to see them. The difference is in the reason they are hidden. Most of the Deep Web consists of benign sites, such as your password-protected email account and certain parts of paid subscription services like Netflix.
Whereas the Dark Web, which is a subset of the Deep Web, is intentionally kept hidden, as it’s where illegal businesses take place. On the whole, the deep web is mostly ethically neutral. However, the Dark Web is where the moral-lacking society comes together.
What You Can Buy on the Dark Web
Everything of value is a commodity on the Dark Web, to be bought, sold, or traded. The enshrouded nature of this world has effectively made it a hush and secret world, filled with untoward and salacious activities, black markets, and perks limited to a selected few.
You can expect to find many things on the Dark Web. These range from regular goods to many things that may also be illegal, immoral, or both.
Examples of what you may find for sale on the Dark Web include:
- Stolen credit card numbers
- Fake passports
- Social Security Numbers
- Stolen/Hacked accounts to popular websites and services
- Fake educational degrees
- Poison and other deadly chemicals
- Drugs (Both pharmaceutical and recreational)
- Firearms and ammunition
- Illegal wildlife
And much more.
Take note that some of the above that are for sale on the dark web could be purely shams. They are intended to get your bitcoins without making good on the promise. But, if anyone is looking to buy such things, they don’t earn any sympathy as victims of the scam.
Even as such, it doesn't make the Dark Web any less dangerous or disgusting.
Should You Venture Into the Dark Web?
There’s a reason why the Dark Web is hidden and stays hidden; this is where many illegal and sinister activities take place. Cybercriminals often use it as a platform to put up stolen credentials as commodities to be bought, sold, or traded.
Aside from this, there are other various illegal business dealings that cannot be conducted out in the open. And in some nasty nooks and crannies of this hellhole on earth, there are even sites that deal with the worst predilections of humanity.
So, for most of us, the answer to this question is an easy ‘No’, unless you need to do something that needs full anonymity, such as whistle-blowing, reporting on crime syndicates or trying to bypass state censorship. Otherwise, steer clear of this place. Always be conscious of your online security and privacy no matter what.
Accessing the Dark Web Safely
The underbelly of the Internet is accessible only in a few ways. The most popular one is via TOR network. It stands for ‘The Onion Router’ because it is basically sending encrypted traffic through multiple relays around the globe as it hides content, the sender, and their location. This creates layers and layers of protection in concealing where they go, the content accessed, and their own identity.
Using the TOR Browser
To access .onion sites you will need to use the TOR Browser. It is free. It is recommended to hide your TOR Browser download using a VPN. Based on Firefox, TOR Browser allows you to surf both the Clear Web (Surface Web) and Dark Web. While doing so, all your traffic is automatically routed through the TOR Network.
It is best to download the TOR Browser only from the official website. This is to avoid the risk of downloading malware, spyware, or other viruses into your device. TOR Browser is officially only available on Windows, Mac, Android, and Linux. Best to avoid using third-party mobile browsers that utilize the TOR Network.
Sign Up for a Virtual Private Network
Consider using a Virtual Private Network (VPN). The Dark Web is a place where you definitely do not want people to be able to identify or trace you. Aside from not giving out the information yourself, you need to mask your point of origin.
This works best with VPN services which offer secure servers you use as a buffer between you and the dark web. VPNs also help encrypt your data so you stay even safer no matter which part of the web you're browsing. They will also help prevent your ISP from knowing what you're doing.
In fact, I recommend you use a VPN even if you're only using it on the clear web.
If you're finding your way around the dark web, you'll also need a navigation guide. Meet DuckDuckGo, the more uncommercial version of Google. The main difference is that DuckDuckGo respects your privacy so it doesn't collect your data. More importantly, it is able to see dark websites so you can find places that you want to visit by using it.
Get a Secure Email Address
You’re almost done but before you dive into the murky depths, you’ll need to sign up for an untraceable email address as you’ll need an email address to register for many .onion websites. There are many sources for this available and you can get one either on the open web or the dark web itself.
If this is a one-off trip and you simply want to experience something, consider using a disposable email address that can be found on the dark web. Most of these have a short validity period which is sufficient for you to carry out the verification for a service.
Is it Safe to Play in the Dark Web?
The Dark Web has no shortage of scams, phishing sites, and malware designed to trick newbies. Yes, links on the clear web oftentimes are also malicious, but at least HTTPS can be used to help verify the legitimacy of the website using SSL certificates but this is not possible on the Dark Web.
It is normal for you to feel curious and want to ‘feel’ around the Dark Web. But, have you heard of the phrase – Curiosity killed the cat? Admittedly, there are many things in the Dark Web that you don’t usually see. But this does not change the fact that the Dark Web isn’t a place for anyone to blindly stumble around for fun.
There are tons of notorious and bad things happening in there and people like you could run into serious trouble from the bad guys and also the law enforcement, depending on what you do. Silk Road was highly successful as a cryptomarket, facilitating the trade of illicit drugs on the Dark Web.
It was taken down in October 2013 by the FBI. However, only in a matter of weeks, its void was filled up by other similar crypto-markets. Still, the Dark Web remains filled with many other unsavory things. Experimenting is fine though – as long as you remember to play it safe.
Dark Web Links to Try
Since many legitimate companies are also there you will find a ton of dark web links you can try safely. Here are some Dark Web Links to use and test if you can access the zone with the Tor Browser;
(Important Note: Remember, you can only access these Dark Web Links by using the Tor Browser or an alternative that supports .onion links)
The Hidden Wiki – The Dark Web version of Wikipedia. This version offers many Dark Web-centric topics covering everything from security (like PGP signatures) to the strange (like In Praise of Hawala).
Facebook – Yes, your favorite social media site is also on the Dark Web. While the concept may seem strange it's definitely available.
ProPublica – If you're sick of Google news and are looking for something that learns more strongly towards the /alt group then ProPublica is the Dark Web news site that fits your needs.
Galaxy3 – Again, we have an alternative service for those not fond of the mainstream. Galaxy3 is a Dark Web social media service that works just like Facebook.
Mail2Tor – This secure email service provider is a great alternative for those who hate getting stalked by Google. Gmail is fine, but like everything else Google, it follows you around the web, so try Mail2Tor!
The Dark Web is definitely not a child’s playground and certainly not a place for you to blindly stumble in and navigate carelessly. There are many illegal, disgusting, and notorious activities going on on the Dark Web.
But if you really need to venture in, take the necessary precautions and follow through the steps above carefully. Take note that both security and anonymity are paramount here and they are in your hands, so always exercise extreme caution when navigating your way around. Stay alert and be careful, as always you should.