The Dark Web: Why Do People Use It?


If you've heard the "Dark Web" referenced on the news, movies, or TV shows, you're probably curious as to what it is and how you get there. There is a lot of misinformation floating around regarding what the Dark Web really is, and there are many questions: is it a safe haven for hackers? Does the FBI monitor what you're doing there? Do you need special equipment or tools to visit? In this article, we're going to briefly touch on what the Dark Web is, the process for accessing the Dark Web, and why some people want to visit this somewhat mysterious destination.

What is The Dark Web, and How do You Get There?

Basically, the Dark Web is a small sub-network of the larger Invisible, or Deep Web. For more information on what both of these things are, please read What is the Dark Web? and What is the difference between the Invisible Web and the Dark Web?

Most people are not going to just casually drop by the Dark Web. In other words, it’s not just a matter of following a link or using a search engine, which is what the majority of us are used to doing online. The Dark Web is made up of sites that require a specialized browser and protocols in order to access it. Users can’t just type a Dark Web URL into the average Web browser and reach their intended destination. Access to these sites is not via the regular process of a .com site; and they’re not indexed by search engines, so navigation here is tricky; it does take some level of computer sophistication to reach.

Anonymity on The Dark Web

In order to access the Dark Web, it's necessary to download special browser clients (the most popular of which is Tor). These tools are going to do two things: they connect users to the subset of networks that make up the Dark Web, and they are going to completely anonymize every step by encrypting where you are, where you're coming from, and what you’re doing. You will be anonymous, which is the main draw of the Dark Web. Side note: downloading Tor or other anonymizing browser clients does not imply that the user is out to do anything illegal; on the contrary, many people are finding that as they grow more concerned about privacy that these tools are essential. 

However, this process does not guarantee that you’re completely untraceable, as, if you listen to the news, you’ll be able to ascertain as we hear about people being caught doing some pretty illegal stuff via the Dark Web on a regular basis. Using these tools makes you much more difficult to track, but not impossible. It's also important to recognize that while downloading these encryption tools and clients is definitely not illegal, you can become a “person of interest” so to speak by using them; it seems to be a pattern with people who are breaking the law here that they start on the Dark Web and then end up somewhere else, so it’s just part of tracing that process.

Who Uses The Dark Web, and Why? 

The Dark Web has somewhat of an unsavory reputation; if you’re a House of Cards fan you probably remember the storyline in Season 2 with the reporter looking to dig up dirt on the Vice President and contacting someone on the Dark Web to do it. 

The Dark Web’s offer of anonymity is definitely a huge draw for people who are looking to procure drugs, weapons, and other illicit items, but it’s also gained notoriety as a safe haven of sorts for journalists and people who need to share information but can’t share it safely.

For example, many people visited a storefront called the Silk Road on the Dark Web. The Silk Road was a large marketplace within the Dark Web, infamous for the buying and selling of illegal narcotics, but also offering a wide variety of other goods for sale. Users could only purchase goods here using Bitcoins; virtual currency that is hidden inside the anonymous networks that make up the Dark Web. This marketplace was shut down in 2013 and is currently under investigation; according to several sources, over one billion worth of goods were sold here before it was taken offline.

So while visiting the Dark Web can definitely include illegal activities – for example, buying items on the Silk Road, or digging up illegal images and sharing them – there are also people using the Dark Web who are legitimately in need of anonymity because their life is in danger or the information they are in possession of is too volatile to share publicly. Journalists have been known to use the Dark Web to contact sources anonymously or store sensitive documents.

The bottom line: if you are on the Dark Web, you’re most likely there because you don’t want anyone to know what you’re doing or where you are, and you have taken very specific steps to make that a reality.