Nowadays generations are exposed to technologies and software. Some of them have been the victims of schemes and even the Dark Web. Is this dangerous? When you think of the Deep Web, what comes to mind? Illegal activity? Phishing and scams? Bitcoins?
Well, you had been kind of right… and kind of wrong. These are examples of things found in the Dark Web, a collection of websites that have hidden IP addresses and may require specific software to access. The Dark Web is only a small fraction (0.01%) of the Deep Web, which contains Internet content that is not searchable by your standard search engines. In other words, if Google can’t find what you’re looking for, it’s probably still out there in the World Wide Web; it’s just in the harder-to-access Deep Web. (If Google can find it, then it’s on the Surface Web, which makes up about 0.03% of the Internet.)
The Deep Web and the Dark Web have been conflated in public discourse. Most people don’t know that the Deep Web contains mostly benign sites, such as your password-protected email account, certain parts of paid subscription services like Netflix, and sites that can be accessed only through an online form. (Just imagine if someone could access your Gmail inbox by simply googling your name!) Also, the Deep Web is huge: back in 2001, it was estimated to be 400–550 times larger than the Surface Web, and it’s been growing exponentially since then.
By comparison, the Dark Web is small: Dark Web sites number only in the thousands. The websites on the Dark Web are characterized by their use of encryption software that makes their users and their locations anonymous. That’s why an illegal activity is so common on the Dark Web: users can withhold their identity; the owners of illegal websites can hide their location, and data can be transferred anonymously. This means that the Dark Web is full of illegal drug and firearm transactions, pornography, and gambling. A notorious online black market called Silk Road was shut down by the FBI in 2013.
But the Dark Web’s not completely dark. It’s also used by political whistle-blowers, activists, and journalists who may be censored or could risk political retaliation if discovered by their government. Most notably, the website WikiLeaks has its home on the Dark Web.
Is It Illegal To Go On The Dark Web?
Simply put, no it is not illegal to access the dark web. Some uses are perfectly legal and support the value of the “dark web.” On the dark web, users can seek out three clear benefits from its use:
As such, the dark web has attracted many parties who would otherwise be endangered by revealing their identities online. Abuse and persecution victims, whistleblowers, and political dissidents have been frequent users of these hidden sites. But of course, these benefits can be easily extended to those that want to act outside of the constraints of laws in other explicitly illegal ways.
When viewed through this lens, the dark web’s legality is based on how you as a user engage with it. You might fall to the wayside of legal lines for many reasons that are important for the protection of freedom. Others may act in ways that are illegal for the protection and safety of others. Let’s unpack both of these concepts in terms of the “dark web browser” and the websites themselves.
Are sites on the dark web illegal to use and visit?
On the network end, the dark web is a bit more of a grey area. The use of the dark web usually means that you are attempting to engage in activity that you could not otherwise carry out in the public eye.
For government critics and other outspoken advocates, they may fear backlash if their real identities were discovered. Those who have endured harm at the hands of others, they may not want their attackers to discover their conversations about the event. If an activity is deemed illegal by the governing bodies you fall under, then it would be illegal.
That said, anonymity comes with a dark side since criminals and malicious hackers also prefer to operate in the shadows. For example, cyberattacks and trafficking are activities that the participants know will be incriminating. They take these actions to the dark web to hide for this reason.
Ultimately, simply browsing these spaces is not illegal but can be an issue for you. While it is not illegal as a whole, unsavoury activity does live in many parts of the dark web. It can expose you to unnecessary risks if you are not careful or an advanced, computer savvy user aware of its threats. So, what is the dark web used for when it’s used for illegal activity?
Dark Web Dangers And Threats
If you’re considering using the dark web for basic privacy purposes you might still question, “Is dark web dangerous to use?” Unfortunately, it very much can be a dangerous place to be. Below are some common threats you may face during your browsing experiences:
Malicious software — i.e. malware — is fully alive all across the dark web. It is often offered in some portals to give threat actors the tools for cyberattacks. However, it also lingers all across the dark web to infect unsuspecting users just like it does on the rest of the web.
The dark web doesn’t carry as many of the social contracts that website providers follow to protect users on the rest of the web. As such, users can find themselves regularly exposed to some types of malware like:
If you choose to pursue exploring any sites on the dark web, you put yourself at risk of being singled out and targeted for hacks and more. Most malware infections can be caught by your endpoint security programs. The threats of online browsing can extend into the unplugged world if your computer or network connection can be exploited. Anonymity is powerful with Tor and the framework of the dark web, but it is not infallible. Any online activity can carry breadcrumbs to your identity if someone digs far enough.
With many Tor-based sites being overtaken by police authorities across the globe, there is a clear danger of becoming government target for simply visiting a dark website. Illegal drug marketplaces like the Silk Road have been hijacked for police surveillance in the past. By utilizing custom software to infiltrate and analyze activity, this has allowed law officials to discover user identities of patrons and bystanders alike. Even if you never make a purchase, you could be watched and incriminate yourself for other activities later in life.
Infiltrations can put you at risk of monitoring for other types of activity as well. Evading government restrictions to explore new political ideologies can be an imprisonable offence in some countries. China uses what is known as the “Great Firewall” limit access to popular sites for this exact reason. The risk of being a visitor to this content could lead to being placed on a watchlist or immediate targeting for a jail sentence.
Some alleged services like the professional “hitmen” may just be scams designed to profit from willing customers. Reports have suggested the dark web offers many illegal services, from paid assassinations to trafficking for sex and weapons.
Some of these are well-known, established threats that circulate in this nook of the web. However, others may be taking advantage of the dark web’s reputation to trick users out of large sums of money. Also, some users on the dark web may attempt phishing scams to steal your identity or personal information for extortion.