When we think of the internet, we usually only consider the part that is easily accessible through search engines like Google or Bing. This is known as the “surface web.” However, there is a much larger and more mysterious part of the internet called the “deep web.” Within the deep web, there is an even more secretive and controversial section called the “dark web.”
To understand what this place is, it’s important to first understand the difference between the surface web and the deep web. The surface web is the part of the internet that is readily available to the public and commonly used. The deep web, on the other hand, is not indexed by search engines and is not easily accessible to the public. It’s not necessarily nefarious, but it’s not as well-known as the surface web.
The dark web is a small part of the deep web that is intentionally hidden and can only be accessed through special software like the Tor Browser. It has a reputation for being associated with illegal activities and has been likened to a digital Wild West.
What is the dark web?
The dark web is an invisible part of the internet. It can only be accessed with special software. It’s well-known for its anonymous and illegal activities, such as trading illegal items such as drugs, weapons, or slaves, hacking services and stolen data.
Criminals use encryption and anonymity to hide their online identities and secure their transactions. This has made it a popular spot for illicit markets, like drugs, weapons, false documents and human trafficking.
But not everything in the underground web is illegal. Whistleblowers and journalists use it to communicate secretly and anonymously. This protects them from any retaliation when they reveal corruption or sensitive information.
In the realm of the internet, it’s important to distinguish the dark web from the “darknet.” Unlike the darknet, which encompasses private connections within the internet used for secure communication, the dark web is a decentralized collection of encrypted websites and services accessed through specialized software like the Tor Browser. It’s crucial to understand that the dark web isn’t synonymous with the entire deep web, nor is it a physical entity. While it harbors illegal activities, it also functions as a valuable tool for individuals such as journalists and activists who seek anonymity and privacy.
Be careful if you venture into the underground web. Unless you know how to navigate it safely, it’s best to resist the temptation. Going into criminal activity or falling victim to cybercriminals can be serious.
How is the dark web accessed?
The dark web is no ordinary place, requiring specialized tools and knowledge to access. There are 4 ways to penetrate this hidden realm:
- Tor Browser: Encrypts your traffic, allowing you to browse websites anonymously.
- VPNs: Create a secure private connection between your computer and the internet. I personally recommend Private VPN which uses military grade 2048-bit encryption and has fast connection speeds. (affiliate link)
- Peer-to-Peer Networks: Directly connect with others without going through traditional servers.
- Darknet Markets: Require special credentials or referral links to gain access.
Once you have connected to your VPN and installed software like the Tor browser you can access dark web websites by typing in their specific .onion internet address.
Unlike regular website addresses (URLs) that end with familiar extensions like “.com” or “.org,” dark web addresses, also known as onion URLs, conclude with “.onion.” These unique addresses are not indexed by conventional search engines, making them inaccessible through standard internet searches.
To uncover dark web addresses, there are a few approaches available:
- Dark web directories: Utilize directories like The Hidden Wiki or DarkWebLinks, although exercise caution as not all links may be trustworthy.
- Social media: Some users share onion URLs on platforms such as Twitter or Reddit, but be aware of potential risks and unreliability.
- Referrals: Trusted individuals may share dark web addresses through personal recommendations, offering a safer alternative to unverified directories or social media sources.
Exploring the dark web does come with risks, but it’s important to remember that it only represents 0.03% of the deep web. It’s an Amazon Prime for criminals, minus the free shipping. Prior to delving into the dark web, ensure you have a robust antivirus and anti-malware software installed on your computer, as numerous sites within the dark web harbor potentially dangerous software.
What types of activities occur on the dark web?
The dark web is a mysterious part of the internet with activities hidden from regular users. From illegal marketplaces to hacking forums, it hosts a range of clandestine activities. The dark web’s anonymity enables bad actors to operate undetected, while the lack of transparency makes it challenging to ascertain the identities of those you encounter, increasing the risk of falling prey to scams.
- Illegal marketplaces: These sell drugs, weapons, stolen data, counterfeit currency, and even personal information.
- Hacking services: Forums and platforms offer tutorials, tools for cyber attacks, and discussions on exploiting computer systems.
- Money laundering: Criminals can use the dark web to hide the origins of their ill-gotten gains.
Other illicit practices include human trafficking, identity theft, and cyber espionage. Some use it for legitimate purposes like anonymous communication for whistleblowers or individuals living under oppressive regimes.
Pro Tip: Stay away from accessing or engaging in any illegal activities to avoid legal consequences and protect your online security. Curiosity about the dark web is understandable, but don’t let it lead to criminal behavior.
The truth about illegal activities on the dark web.
The dark web has a shady past; we must learn the truth about it. Illegal marketplaces, cyber attacks; it’s a hub for illegal activities.
The most valuable commodity sold on the dark web is, by far private, data. In December 2022, an estimated 7.5 million credit cards were made available on the Dark Web. Stolen personal data includes:
- Credit Card Data
- Payment processing services logins
- Crypto Accounts
- Social Media login info (including hacked Gmail, Facebook and Instagram accounts)
- Hacked Services (like AirBNB, Uber, Bet365 and even Netflix accounts)
- Forged Documents – Scans (Alberta CA driver’s License, USA selfie holding ID, passport templates)
- Forged Documents – Physical (Passports, driver’s licences, ID cards)
- Email database dumps
Drugs are also very prominent. Buyers and sellers can remain anonymous on online marketplaces. It’s difficult for law enforcement to trace them.
Human trafficking is a major concern on the dark web. Criminal organizations use the anonymity it offers to exploit vulnerable individuals. Deals, info exchange, all right under our noses.
While the dark web is renowned for its heightened anonymity, it’s crucial to acknowledge that illegal activities extend beyond its borders to the surface web and deep web. Nevertheless, the dark web’s enhanced veil of secrecy makes it an alluring choice for individuals seeking to partake in illicit pursuits. That said, law enforcement agencies are actively monitoring the dark web to find and prosecute anyone engaging in criminal activity.
During the 2022-2023 reporting period, significant shifts in Dark Web operations were observed. Unlike in 2020, 2021, and early 2022, in 2023 no market appears to dominate. In 2022 many previously prominent markets such as ToRReZ and the new AlphaBay were shut down (source: Privacy Affairs).
To stop illegal activities, several steps can be taken:
- Governments should monitor and infiltrate dark web marketplaces, identify key players and bring them to justice with international law enforcement collaboration.
- Education is key. Public campaigns to create awareness about the risks of illegal activities on the dark web can help people understand the consequences and stay away.
- Advanced technologies such as AI and ML can help detect suspicious activity on the dark web. Law enforcement will be one step ahead of criminals.
Law enforcement’s crackdown on major darknet markets in 2022 and early 2023 resulted in their seizure, but the supply of illicit goods and services remained unaffected. New websites and forums quickly emerged, filling the void left by the taken-down sites, with no significant decrease in sales volume. During this period, there was a shift towards bulk data transactions, potentially indicating increased profitability in scams and fraudulent activities. Furthermore, prices for tracked items and services significantly decreased, suggesting both a sustained supply of illicit goods and an increasing number of cybercrime victims.
Can the dark web be used for good?
The dark web can be used for good. It offers anonymity which can help whistleblowers and activists share sensitive data without worry. It also enables those in oppressed countries to access and share info without fear of censorship. Even charities are using the dark web to get resources to those in need.
To maximize its potential, secure platforms and encryption technologies must be developed. But remember: stay safe on the dark web. Breaking bad isn’t real life.
Staying safe while browsing the dark web.
Browsing the dark web can be risky. To stay safe, take precautions. Use a VPN to protect identity. Avoid downloads from unknown sources. Be wary of scams and phishing attempts. Update antivirus software. Never share personal or financial information.
The dark web is very different from the surface web. Search engines and websites are not easily accessible. Special software like Tor is needed to access hidden sites. This anonymity can attract criminal activities. Examples are illicit drug trade, hacking services, and illegal pornography. So, tread carefully.
One user shared a scary experience while browsing. They searched for rare collectibles and found a site offering exclusive items. They decided to buy using cryptocurrency. But when the package arrived, it contained fake goods. This highlights the need for caution even with seemingly legitimate transactions.
There is no shortage of methods to get hacked, but there are just as many ways to protect yourself against it. By following the suggestions outlined in my blog post Spams Scams and Shams, you can safeguard your identity.
Prevent Your Identity from Being Stolen and Sold on the Dark Web
To reduce the likelihood of identity theft, take the following steps into consideration:
Stay away from public or insecure Wi-Fi
In situations where you’re uncertain about network safety, it’s crucial to utilize a virtual private network (VPN) to encrypt your communication and protect your account details from potential hackers who could access the unsecured network. If you need assistance in choosing a VPN, I use Private VPN, as investing in this precautionary measure is worthwhile despite any initial inconvenience.
Adopt secure habits when using ATMs
When using an ATM, it’s important to check for skimmers. These are devices that look like card readers but are used by hackers to steal your card data. To check for skimmers:
- Gently press on the sides of the card slot to see if any components are loose. Skimmers are often delicately mounted and will move when lightly pressed.
- Look for any signs of glue or tape on the edges. If you see any adhesive material, don’t use the ATM and inform the bank.
- If you have difficulty inserting your card into the ATM, cancel the transaction and notify the bank.
- Check for fake keypads that may have been placed over the real ones to record your PIN. If the keypad seems off-center or moves slightly, stop using it and inform the bank.
Safeguard your data
Avoid sharing sensitive data over the phone, even for important procedures like Social Security registration or driver’s license applications. Whenever possible, provide the information in person.
Protect your personal computer by installing anti-malware tools such as antivirus software, and ensure that they are set to automatically update for regular malware scanning.
Protect your passwords
Protecting your data repositories from unauthorized access is crucial since cybercriminals target every location where personal information is stored.
Avoid using the same password for multiple accounts to prevent attackers from easily breaching your accounts and cross-referencing leaked account details with other services like email or banking.
Terminate unused accounts to prevent cybercriminals from exploiting outdated information or using it in password resets and similar attacks, especially if you reuse passwords across multiple accounts.
Use a password manager like LastPass or Keeper, which generates strong passwords for all your accounts while requiring you to remember only a master password. Many of these solutions are available for free.
Although these guidelines may seem complex and inconvenient at first, they will become ingrained habits over time, leading to a vital sense of cybersecurity that extends to both your online activities and everyday life. Learn more about how to protect yourself online in my article Spam Scams and Shams.
The Dark Web is a dangerous place employed by hackers, traffickers and grifters. Even though you may be able to access it using specialized software extreme caution is recommended.
In some less frequent cases, the dark web can also be an essential tool for journalists to avoid censorship, activists to circumvent oppressive regimes, and whistleblowers to share important data.
While the dark web market data may not be relevant to most individuals, its underlying message is clear: Cybercriminals highly value your data and find it inexpensive to exploit or steal your identity. With the abundance of purchasable data, dark web customers have developed a bulk sales mentality. Unfortunately, the increasing availability of personal information on the Dark Web has led to lower costs and a higher probability of your accounts being compromised.
To mitigate the rising risk of hacking, it is crucial to adopt simple rules and habits that make it harder for hackers to access your data and keep yourself off their radar. By doing so, not only will you protect your identity, but you will also enhance your overall cybersecurity in the digital age.