You’ve seen the commercials. The ones that run late at night, seemingly for the express purpose of scaring old people.
“Your information could be on the dark web…” Spooky….
So, what’s the deal, is the dark web as dangerous as the ads would have us believe?
Here’s a dark web primer — a little background on the dangers lurking, and the benefits of going dark.
What is the dark web?
The dark web is the part of the internet that isn’t indexed by search engines. Websites and networks included in the dark web are heavily encrypted and hidden from your average Googler.
The dark web is actually one subsection of the deep web. Deep and dark are often used interchangeably, but there is an important distinction between the two terms.
The deep web covers all parts of the web currently hidden from the average internet user. It’s essentially a whole mess of data, web pages, or anything that requires credentials to view. This includes website backends — just about every website has some elements that live on the deep web.
While it’s true that a ton of illegal activity does take place here, the dark web is also a super private way to access the web — a haven for those who live in areas with strict speech regulations and banned content.
Where a lot of people get confused is grasping the concept of how one actually logs onto the dark web.
Generally speaking, you’ll need to invest in some tools; a good VPN, which obscures your online activity from the government and your internet provider, as well as a new browser.
The most common option is Tor, a private browser that lives on a USB drive, rather than your computer. There are other options, too — but you may want to read some forums for best practices before diving right in.
Why the dark web has a bad rep
The main reason the dark web has a reputation for being the seedy underbelly of the network is, well, it really does play host to the internet’s criminal activity.
You can buy drugs, guns, and credit card numbers, access hacked Netflix accounts, and find software that helps you break into other peoples’ computers.
It’s important to know that the dark web does not exist for criminal activity alone. There are some perfectly valid reasons for being there.
Aside from guns, drugs, and illegal porn, here are a couple of reasons you might opt to go dark:
Access to hidden services
Hidden services are sites protected by Tor, and therefore, not accessible to those using Google or Firefox. Websites protected by Tor are visible to the public, but their IP addresses are hidden from view.
In this day and age, it’s not surprising that some people want to sidestep all of the data collection methods, ad tracking, and other privacy issues facing the mainstream web. In some cases, people live under governments that track their online activity.
The dark web can keep dissenters protected online, especially in cases where they could be in danger should their identity become known.
Others just want to browse the web securely. While most people don’t care too much if Google has access to their data or Facebook pushes targeted ads, others are deeply troubled by the current state of things. The dark web presents an opportunity to opt out without ditching technology altogether.
Are there actual dangers with visiting?
Yes and no. The biggest dangers on the dark web apply to those actually engaging in illegal activity. It is not illegal to access this hidden part of the web.
If you’re trying to buy drugs or credit card numbers, you run the risk of undercover law enforcement tracking you down. And there are all of the usual risks associated with doing business with criminals: fraud, blackmail, and other forms of exploitation.
Less obvious is the risk of exploitation. There are a lot of bad actors, with sophisticated hacking skills. As such, people could be identified during their visit, tricked into providing information, and subject to malware hidden in downloads.
Best practices for the dark web
While accessing the deep web isn’t the big deal those exploitative late-night commercials make it out to be, there are some safety precautions you wouldn’t usually need to consider while online.
Never use your real name, email address, or photos. You’ll also want to avoid using any passwords you use on the “regular web.” Any snippets of your life can potentially be used against you.
Disconnect your microphone, tape up your webcam, and turn off the sound. Additionally, we should mention that your camera can be accessed even while turned off.
It might sound crazy, but hackers can find their way into your videos and photos, as well as record your voice without your knowledge.
Naturally, if you want to dive into the dark web, you should really spend some time researching the place before you go — you know, just like you might do ahead of a trip to a foreign country.
A good place to start is this guide, posted on, you guessed it, Dark Web News.