What is the Dark Web (and is it real?)

The Dark Web is one of those things that everyone has heard of and although it does exist, only a small percentage of internet users actually use it. According to statistics, the Dark Web accounts for around 5% of all web space.

There is a lot of misinformation about the Dark Web. One reputable news organisation claimed that the Dark Web took up over 90% of all web space. However this is not strictly true. This confusion has been caused by a misunderstanding of the term Deep Web. This refers to online content which is hidden to online searches but includes mundane functions such as your email messages, medical records, bank statements and web forums where registration is required. Deep Web is not the same as the Dark web but does often get confused because of the name similarity.

So what is the Dark Web and what is it for?

The Dark Web is a collection of websites that use anonymity tools, usually Tor and 12P to hide their IP addresses. Sites on the Dark Web often deal with dark illegal matters such as child pornography, selling illegal drugs, weapons and anything else that is outside the law. One famous dark web site was Silk Road which has now been taken down by the FBI. This site provided a platform for selling and for buying drugs online and the founder Ross Ulbricht has since become the subject of a movie. Silk Road was described as the Amazon store of drug sites.

So how do you access the Dark Web?

To access the Dark Web you need to download the Tor Browser which enables anonymous browsing. This is free but is extremely clunky to use because each search will go through a series of proxy servers across the world in order to make your IP address untraceable. According to users it is maddeningly slow.

Dark web sites look the same as any other website (apart from the content which can often be questionable). The main difference is that whereas most websites end in .com or .co, dark web sites end in .onion. The names of the site are also encrypted too and may just be a series of numbers and letters. However if a site ends in .onion, it is operating on the dark web.

So is the Dark Web used only for illegal purposes?

The Dark Web is mainly used for illegal purposes so a browse through this world throws up plenty of opportunities for criminal activity such as buying credit cards, guns, drugs and more. Often sites will disappear overnight so if you do buy something from a dodgy site you can’t always rely that you will actually receive your items and not lose your money.

But there is more to the Dark Web than crime alone.

The Dark Web provides a platform where you can communicate without being tracked so has been used by whistle blowers who would be rightly worried about attracting surveillance.  And with the vast amount of information held by Google and companies like Facebook on all of us, we can see the attraction of using the Dark Web which does at least assure anonymity for all its users.