The Dark Web Demystified: What is the Dark Web and How Do You Access It?

The dark web, an unindexed part of the internet, is a cradle of criminal activities. But it’s not all about illicit trades and scary live streams.

Read on to learn more about the history and creation of the dark web, what you’ll find there, and how to access it.


Dark Web: Creation History

The creation of ARPANET in the 1960s was the initiative that inspired an anonymous online communications network.

ARPANET was an experimental computer network that led to the dark web concept. It was established to accomplish data sharing over considerable distances without requiring phone connections.

During the Cold War, the military found a use for it: In 1983, ARPANET split into MILNET, used by military and defense agencies. A civilian version was also created. 

In 1989, Sir Tim Berners-Lee who was working at CERN at the time, invented the world wide web. A year later, he developed the fundamentals: HTML, URL, and HTTP. He also invented the first browser, the first-page editor and the first web server. 

The internet was officially released to the public in 1991 but it wasn’t until 1993 that it became freely available worldwide. The first encryption-protected transaction took place in 1994 via the NetMarket website.

The dark web and ARPANET were created to fulfill the need for secure correspondence. 

Eventually, in the late 1990s, the US Department of Defense conducted efforts to design an anonymized network that would cover the sensitive communications of US spies. 

The idea behind this was that no ordinary internet user could access the secret network. It later became the dark web we know today.

Using “onion routing” or “Tor” technology, the dark web safeguards users from surveillance and tracking thanks to a randomized path of encrypted servers.

The name “Tor” came from the project “The Onion Router”, which was developed by people who believed that internet users should have private access to the web.

The Onion Router (or Tor) routers a user’s information through thousands of nodes or relay points, covering their tracks and making them impossible to track.

Moving a few years ahead, in 2002, the Tor Alpha version was launched, which is open-source software for allowing anonymous communication. The Tor browser was later released in 2008 and remains a popular way to access the dark web.


The Dark Web vs. The Deep Web

To figure out the essential differences between the dark web and the deep web, let’s first understand what the deep web is.

What is the Deep Web?

The deep web is the part of the internet that is not indexed by standard web search engines; let’s say it exists below the surface web.

Most of the deep web consists of standard websites requiring users to create an account before being accessed. It’s generally more secure, maintained, and ‘cleaner’ than the surface web.

Much of the deep web’s content is legitimate and non-criminal.

Deep web content includes:

  • Email messages
  • Chat messages
  • Private content on social media sites
  • Electronic bank statements
  • Electronic health records (EHR) 
  • Financial data
  • Legal files

That said, the deep web still has cybersecurity risks. Some deep websites allow users to download free media and circumvent geo-blocks in their location. Naturally, these lawless segments of the deep web are punctuated by malware, data breach, and cybersecurity risks.

The Differences Between the Deep Web and the Dark Web

Although the terms are used interchangeably, the deep web and the dark web have a few key differences. 

For starters, the dark web is a subsection of the deep web (the part of the internet not indexed by web crawlers).

Still, there’s no way to measure how vast the dark web is.

Access is another defining aspect. You can’t accidentally access the dark web; its entry is intentionally restricted.

On the other hand, deep web content can be accessed with a standard web browser (even though it doesn’t appear in search results).

The last difference is the security element: The dark web is an epicenter of criminal activities. While the methods of a data breach vary, the end goal is often the same: To sell individual and organizational info on the dark web.

Conversely, the deep web is mainly a secure place; accessing websites is generally safe.

Browsers to Access the Dark Web

Now that you know more about the dark web, are you curious about how to access it? Here are some of the most well-known browsers that allow access to the dark web. 

First on our list is the Tor Browser. The U.S. Navy initially developed the Tor Project to enable anonymous online communication for military organizations.

This open-source web browser lets users stay anonymous online and protects them from being tracked by internet service providers, governments, and hackers. It’s available for Windows, Mac, and Linux as well as Android mobile devices.

Another popular dark web browser is the Invisible Internet Project or I2P.

This network guarantees privacy in sharing vital data without any risk of external surveillance. You can access both the regular and dark web with this browser.

The next dark web browser on our list is the Whonix browser, which uses the same source code as Tor—so you know you’ll get a similar experience in terms of usability and features. Whonix is available on Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Other browser with which you can access the dark web include:

  • Freenet
  • Tails
  • Subgraph OS
  • Waterfox
  • ZeroNet 

Dark Web Websites

In this section, we discuss some of the most famous dark web websites and their uses

The Hidden Wiki: This isn’t an encyclopedia like the regular version of Wikipedia; it’s a guide to sites you can’t find on the World Wide Web but might find helpful. Anyone can create an account and edit anything anonymously on the hidden wiki.

Dig Deeper: Dig Deeper is interesting for curious individuals, it contains security topics like the safest browsers and email providers you should use. You’ll find several articles on different tech-related topics with much supporting proof. 

ProPublica: ProPublica is a non-profit news organization that exposes abuses of power and disloyalties of public trust by business and government. This organization uses the moral force of investigative journalism.

Mail2Tor: Nowadays, one of the least secure communication systems is email.

Mail2Tor provides wholly anonymous and private email communications to anyone who needs it.


What’s for Sale on the Dark Web?

The dark web is famous for its bad reputation. If you dig deep enough, you can find iIllegal and mind-blowing stuff like:

  • Prescription drugs
  • Illegal weapons
  • Human and animal torturing videos and live streams 
  • Illicit/child pornography
  • Hitmen
  • Credit card numbers
  • Fake passport and ID cards
  • Illegal drugs

All of these unlawful things are impossible to find with traditional search engines such as Google.

It partly answers the question of whether the dark web is illegal or not.

But the dark web isn’t only an illicit marketplace—you can access legal or regular websites via the standard network too. Only, you choose to be untraced while doing it.


How to Pay on the Dark Web?

Before the invention of cryptocurrency, illicit transactions were hard to complete on the dark web. Shoppers could be thousands of miles away. 

Therefore, neither the seller nor the shopper wanted to risk using credit cards or payment services like PayPal. Cryptocurrency, a digital currency that enables anonymous transactions, was the solution to these problems.

There have been various forms of cryptocurrency since the 1990s, but none lasted until Bitcoin was released in 2009. After Satoshi Nakamoto created Bitcoin, a revolution in illegal online transactions started.

Another currency that’s rapidly increasing on the dark web is Monero.

This year, four newly-opened marketplaces support Monero’s payment. Monero is also much more complex to track compared to Bitcoin.


Dark Web Dangers for Big Organizations

The major threats to many businesses come from online sources, one of which is the dark web. Business owners can’t ignore dark web threats because they can reach every industry. 

The dark web is hazardous to CEOs, business owners, and other industry leaders. While an organization may never know the causes of a data breach,  the stolen data would likely wind up for sale on the dark web, and the company would be none the wiser.. 

Dark web risks for businesses include:

  • IP theft
  • Brand reputation damage
  • Fraudulent activity
  • Competitive benefit loss
  • Denial-of-service attacks 
  • Malware disruption

The dark web is known for being a haven of criminal acivity. But it’s also a place for those looking to share resources anonymously, surf the web securely, and communicate safely without fear of persecution.


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