The Dark Web Unveiled: What It Is and How to Stay Clear

Dark Web  picture with hooded "hacker" working on a laptop.

The Internet, a global system that holds information on all things, comes in different layers. The most hidden one called the dark web, is inaccessible through regular browsing. It holds many websites that you won’t be able to find through Google or any regular alternative search engines.

The dark web is a hub for good resources and private communication channels. It is also a popular hideaway for criminal activity, offering users everything from illegal access to drugs and weapons to marketplaces for stolen personal or financial information.

It takes special software to access this layer of the internet in order to maintain the anonymity and privacy of online activity. But is it really worth it to navigate through the many dangers of the dark web?

In this article, we’ll be explaining what the dark web is and how it works. We’ll provide different examples of how it is a hub for cybercrime and what different dangers you can expect to find when navigating it.

What Is the Dark Web and How Does it Work?

Dark Web title with hoodied man and code and windows behind him

It’s hard to accurately pinpoint the origins of the dark web, however, it’s even harder to avoid hearing about it in conversations regarding digital security and technology. Once used by the United States Department of Defense as a resource for safe and private communications, the dark web is now the go-to part of the internet for users who wish to remain anonymous.

It uses a technology called “onion routing” which involves a cluster of nodes and networks, the “darknets”, that encapsulate messages in different layers of encryption, much like the layers of an onion. This protects users from unwanted surveillance and tracking while communicating.

Accessing this part of the internet requires specific software like Freenet, I2P (Invisible Internet Project), or Tor (The Onion Router). The latter is, by far, the most popular dark web browser. According to Statista, more than two million people use Tor daily, in Germany alone.

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Tor offers strong layers of encryption and has the ability to randomly bounce internet traffic through its networks of relays. This helps protect user identities, online activities, and locations, allowing them to remain anonymous.

Because the dark web isn’t accessible or supported by Google or other common search engines, it holds several unregulated websites that aren’t overseen by any organization or government and therefore operate without restrictions.

This dark corner of the internet is often (and correctly) associated with sinister and illegal activities including drugs, weapons, and human trafficking. However, some users take advantage of the dark web for more legitimate purposes.

Is the Dark Web Useful?

Yes, the dark web can certainly be useful. While it is home to a wide variety of questionable content (at the very least), there are still a few legitimate uses for it. Some of them might include:

  • Using anonymous email services. Users who trade sensitive information via email and feel the need for an extra layer of anonymity often take advantage of the dark web’s available encrypted email services.
  • Circumventing government censorship. Certain countries have government surveillance measures in place to spy on and oppress political dissidents. Here users often resort to the dark web to bypass internet restrictions and communicate freely while avoiding government censorship and scrutiny.
  • Collaborating anonymously with journalists. Whistleblowers report cases of fraud, abuse, corruption, or public health dangers. They often feel threatened by different organizations and therefore prefer the privacy and anonymity provided by the dark web to communicate and collaborate with journalists.
  • Securing cryptocurrency wallets. Transactions with cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin are public and traceable. The dark web offers different services and techniques that help enhance the anonymity of bitcoin transitions, making it complicated to trace a particular coin.
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There are many more legal uses for the dark web, however, for every legitimate use, there’s a wide variety of illegal ones. Yes, the dark web might be beneficial for some but are the dangers lurking within worth it?

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The Dark Web and Cybercrime

Graphic with hacker with mask shown on laptop with password, identity, etc.

There are a number of dangers associated with using the dark web. Different types of cybercrime including identity theft, credit card fraud, malware distribution, and scams are only a few examples of what users can experience while using the dark web. 

Most illegal activities on the dark web occur in darknet markets or marketplaces, where users transact illegal products and services. In 2022, the total value received by these markets worldwide amounted to $1.5 billion.

An example of the illicit products sold in these hubs includes stolen and counterfeit data. Scammers worldwide have access to personal data (full names, home addresses, and phone numbers), financial data, online account logins, medical data, confidential corporate data, and even forged documents such as fake passports, stolen driver’s licenses, and IDs.

However, compromised personal data and accounts aren’t what makes the dark web such a dangerous place. These black markets give cybercriminals access to many other illegal services, such as:

  • Off-the-shelf software exploit kits, to find and attack vulnerabilities in systems
  • Ready-to-use malware, including keyloggers, spyware, Trojans, and ransomware
  • Access to networks of private devices infected with malware, also known as botnets
  • Money laundering

The list of illicit uses for the dark web goes on and comprises increasingly worse activities and services. These include everything from access to drugs and human trafficking to child sexual abuse material and hitmen for hire.

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For those wanting to navigate this corner of the internet, there are a few ways to make the experience safer:

  • Avoid unsecured sites, never give away personal information, stay away from downloads and illegal content, and use antivirus.
  • For increased safety, use a VPN to better protect your privacy, keep your devices up-to-date to reduce vulnerabilities, and use dark web directories to go to genuine sites.

The Dark Web Unveiled – Final Considerations

It’s not illegal to access the dark web, however, most of the activities that happen in this layer of the internet are criminal in nature. Scams, phishing tactics, and exploitative malware are just a few of the dangers that regular users face when using the dark web.

You can learn a lot more about staying safe on the Internet, including the dark web, by enrolling in HomeTechHacker’s Personal Cybersecurity Protection course, reading The Personal Cybersecurity Manual, and taking advantage of the cybersecurity articles on this site.

It’s very important to remain vigilant when accessing it as well as protect personal information and avoid downloading anything off of any website. The dark web might be a beneficial resource to some but oftentimes that comes at the expense of others.

Raquel is a content writer with extensive experience in writing, education, and tech. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology and a Master’s Degree in Forensic Genetics, both from Porto University. She also has a certificate in Writing in Science from Stanford University.

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The Dark Web Unveiled: What It Is and How to Stay Clear

by Raquel Santos time to read: 5 min