Internet Technology Explained

What Is the Dark Web?

Gavin Phillips 27-03-2019

The dark web is a subsection of the internet. The name “dark web” conjures up all kinds of ideas. Is it dangerous? Do criminals lurk there? What might you find on the dark web?


They are all excellent questions. What is the dark web?

What Is the Dark Web?

The dark web is a subsection of the internet that is not indexed by regular search engines. You can only access the dark web using specialized software, such as the Tor Browser.

Keep reading for more information on accessing the dark web using the Tor Browser!

That is because the dark web requires your browser to use specific security and privacy configurations that can communicate with the network of anonymous websites, on their anonymous hosts.

The dark web carries a notorious reputation as the haven of criminals, terrorists, nefarious sites, and everything in-between. In truth, it is a mixture of many things with a healthy sprinkling of myth and legend. And for more, take a look at the truth behind those dark web myths 6 Dark Web Myths Debunked: The Truths Behind Them You've heard about the Dark Web, but is it really as scary or illegal as you've been lead to think? Read More .


Are the Dark Web and Deep Web the Same?

The dark web is not the deep web.

The dark web is a series of anonymous websites. The deep web refers to other sites whose contents are not indexed by search engines.

For instance, your online banking portal is part of the deep web—but not the dark web. Another example is the Wayback Machine. The Wayback Machine accesses cached images of sites found the deep web. Other examples are academic databases, legal documents, scientific reports, medical records, and so on.

What Is the Black Web?

The black web is nothing to do with the dark web or the deep web. It is a term that is sometimes confused with the dark web, but in reality, isn’t widely used or even acknowledged as an alternative.


How Does the Dark Web Work?

The dark web (also sometimes referred to as a darknet) is an overlay network. That means it is a network on top of a network. You can only access dark web sites using special software.

The majority of people use the Tor network to access darknet websites. Tor stands for The Onion Router. Just as an onion has many layers, as does the Tor network. When you download the Tor Browser, you can access a whole new world of websites that use the .onion domain.

Onion sites don’t use the regular DNS system that the “Clearnet” (that’s the regular internet) uses. Usually, when you type a URL into your address bar and hit Enter, your browser looks up the DNS address of the URL and takes you there. If you try that with an onion domain in a regular browser, you’ll go nowhere (except an error screen).

chrome onion url not resolve


Another key difference is how the darknet processes your data and your route across the internet to a hosting server. The structure of the darknet is meant to keep the sites, services, and users anonymous. When you use Tor to access the darknet, your internet traffic moves through several anonymous nodes from your computer to the onion site you want to visit.

Is the Dark Web Illegal?

The dark web isn’t illegal. That’s because it is just a network of anonymized servers. However, the legality of accessing the dark web depends on your jurisdiction.

Most people use the Tor Browser to access the dark web. The Tor network uses strong encryption to protect users and their data. Therefore, anywhere where strong encryption is illegal, accessing the Tor network is illegal by extension.

In China, using strong encryption is illegal; therefore, using the Tor network is a criminal activity. Furthermore, the Chinese government continues to explore methods to outlaw the use of Virtual Private Networks, another form of encryption people can use to enhance their privacy. Russian citizens face similar issues.


Is There Illegal Content on the Dark Web?

That’s an important distinction. The dark web itself isn’t illegal. Websites on the dark web host illegal content of all kinds. Moreover, authorities struggle to restrict illegal content because of the dark web structure. If each website and node within the network remains secure, tracking down the owner of a specific site becomes incredibly difficult.

Taking down illegal content found on the dark web is made even harder with the use of servers in countries with lax or indifferent attitudes to internet security and censorship. If someone wants to host a website on the dark web while remaining anonymous, they can use “bulletproof hosting” providers.

Bulletproof hosting providers turn a blind eye to criminal activities taking place on their servers. The idea is that when the authorities do eventually track the server owner and location down, nothing is traced back to the website owners. The buck stops with the bulletproof host, and the website owners move on without issue.

The majority of bulletproof hosting services are now found in places with questionable law enforcement. That hasn’t always been the case though. At one time, San Jose-based McColo was the largest bulletproof hosting provider in the world.

Is there illegal content on the dark web? Yes, absolutely. Will you bump into those things immediately? No. Well, maybe. But only if you’re seeking it out.

How Do I Access the Dark Web?

The easiest way to access the dark web is by using the Tor Browser. The Tor Browser is a modified Mozilla Firefox browser that uses Torbutton, TorLauncher, NoScript, and HTTPS-Everywhere.

  1. Head to the official Tor Project Only download the Tor Browser from this site. Select the Download Tor Browser button, wait for it to download, then install.
  2. Once installed, open the Tor Browser. If the browser informs you about an update, install it immediately.
  3. You should now see the New to Tor Browser welcome message. It contains some handy tips, so give it a read if it’s your first time.

Here is another tip: Don’t mess around with the Tor Browser security settings. Unless you know what you are doing, you could inadvertently expose yourself, negating the effect of the Tor network.

Should You Use a VPN on the Dark Web?

In a word, Yes. You should always use a VPN when connecting to the dark web. Heck, these days, you should use a VPN most of the time when you’re online. A VPN protects your data and gives you an additional security boost while online. Still not sure? Here are 11 reasons why you should get yourself a VPN right now 11 Reasons Why You Need a VPN and What It Is Virtual private networks can protect your privacy. We explain what exactly they do and why you should use a VPN. Read More .

When you access the Tor network, everything within your Tor Browser is encrypted. It does not encrypt anything else. If you open a regular Chrome browser and complete a web search, you do not have the protection of encryption. That’s where the VPN steps in.

If you’re looking for a great VPN—one that I use myself—look no further than Private Internet Access. Use the link to get yourself a massive discount!

The Dark Web Isn’t Scary

The Dark Web isn’t scary. It has a bad reputation. There are a whole host of darknet sites you can visit for entirely legitimate reasons. There’s a bunch of ways you can seek out active dark web sites, too.

Want to learn more about Tor Browser and the dark web? Check out our unofficial guide to using Tor Really Private Browsing: An Unofficial User’s Guide to Tor Tor provides truly anonymous and untraceable browsing and messaging, as well as access to the so called “Deep Web”. Tor can’t plausibly be broken by any organization on the planet. Read More !

Related topics: Anonymity, Dark Web, Tor Network, VPN.

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