What is the Dark Web? Dark Web vs. Deep Web: Ultimate Beginner’s Guide

What is the Dark Web? Dark Web vs. Deep Web: Ultimate Beginner's Guide

The dark web is a mysterious and interesting place where privacy thrives. Those who crave online anonymity utilize the dark web to maintain their privacy. 

This article will go through different aspects of the dark web and its features. We will also compare it to the deep web, allowing you to determine whether it’s something privacy-conscious people can use. 

What is the Dark Web?

onionlinks banner dark web screenshot

The dark web is a collection of sites not publically indexed by search engines like Google or Bing. Given its anonymous nature, it is well known for harboring illegal activity. Almost 60% of websites on this part of the web have some illicit activities. 

You cannot find websites through normal means. Instead, you use online link repositories. Examples of online link repositories include OnionLinks.

Specialized search engines also work for navigating the dark web. These search engines typically find non-onion websites that link to these pages. 

These pages are heavily encrypted and have randomized URLs to prevent tracking. The ” .onion ” at the end is a clear sign that you are on a darknet website. 

What are the Differences Between the Dark Web and Deep Web?

The deep web isn’t known for harboring criminal activity, unlike the darknet. Instead, the deep web includes a large number of unlisted sites. 

These sites are hidden but not given the same level of encryption as darknet sites. Typically, deep websites are for employees or specific servers not necessary for public consumption. 

Deep web sites are also part of the “invisible web.” These sites aren’t encrypted, meaning your ISP will know if you visit them. However, you are not likely to access the URL as a public consumer. 

You also do not risk any questionable site exposure when using the deep web. 

What’s on the Dark Web?

Because of the anonymity of the dark web, there are several hidden services. Many of these are illegal services, as you can see below. 

Drugs

The dark web has numerous illegal sites dedicated to selling illicit substances. Some websites oppose the exorbitant cost of drug prices in different parts of the world. However, many sites sell illicit substances, including cocaine, meth, and any drug you can imagine. 

Pornographic Material

It’s understandable to be invisible online when looking up pornography. However, illegal pornography is a significant issue on these darknet services. Simply put, be careful with what you click when browsing through these hidden services. 

Guns

Gun owners have addressed major personal grievances with registering their guns with local governments. Those who have issues with this process might purchase firearms through the darknet. 

Much like stealing someone’s identity, this is incredibly illegal. Searching and purchasing firearms through the Tor network is a quick way to put yourself on a government watchlist. 

The estimated value of the darknet market for guns is $80 thousand

Bitcoin Services

bitcoincore dark web page

The anonymity of cryptocurrency ownership allows the darknet to thrive. Because of this, there are numerous bitcoin services you can find.

Bitcoin Core is one such example, providing open-source software that acts as a predecessor to the original Bitcoin. Several open-source software programs exist on the darknet.

Hacking Groups

Many of these hacking groups exist on the darknet because of the stigma of hacking from law enforcement agencies. You can hire their services or get a perspective on their worldview. Not all hacking groups are illegal; some of them cherish being unknown. Ethical hackers from data-restrictive countries use the dark web as a place of communication.

Chat Services and Email

Anonymous email services like Protonmail, Secmail, and Bitmail are all methods of gaining anonymous email accounts. You can also use services to chat with other privacy-conscious individuals when online. 

These online chat services will take you back to the late 90s, where services similar to Yahoo Chat still exist. Given that security has taken a high priority over design, you’ll find a lot of that on the dark web. 

Fraud Services

There are numerous dark markets on this web, many selling social security numbers and other illegal content. Using these services is a quick way to get yourself in legal hot water, so avoid any black-market purchases of unlawful material. 

Some private network marketplaces do not sell illegal material. However, most of those are available to the public, as most eCommerce sites utilize user data. 

Dark Web News Organizations

propublica dark web news page

There are two well-known news organizations on the dark web: ProPublica and Darknetlive. ProPublica has a public presence while Darknetlive discusses more “behind-the-scenes” content about dark web activities. 

Darknetlive has several examples of law enforcement officers catching illegal sellers on the dark market. ProPublica is more of a public interest site.

More news sites discuss this content, but you will have to find link directories to find them.  

Passwords for Subscription Services

If you don’t want to pay for services like Hulu and Netflix, the dark web has numerous spoofed credentials. As privacy-conscious individuals, this activity should be concerning. Regardless of the convenience of not paying for things, illegally stealing someone else’s information is a crime.  

Illegal Media (Books, Movies, TV Shows)

There are numerous sites devoted to offering typically paid media for free. These public libraries are part of a list of dark web tools that believe copyright is an out-of-date concept. Many of them act as the modern replacement of torrenting tools (like Limewire).

As you might expect, these illegal come with some level of risk. So access at your peril. 

Identity Thieves

Identity theft is an industry on the darknet; given many data breaches over the past years, aspects of who you are are likely on this site. Several dark web markets sell identities at an average cost of $1 thousand

These websites are why you should hide your real identity whenever possible. Be careful who you share your information with. 

Credit Cards and Debit Cards  

 The number of cyber-attacks commonly expose debit card information. Despite the PCI DDS creating stringent credit and debit card protection requirements, exposures are commonplace. 

There are numerous eCommerce stores lax in their security measures. The darknet market is full of hackers who are happy to take advantage of this situation.  

Several Benign Sites 

the hidden wiki dark web page

Despite all drugs, illegal activities, and stolen media, there is much safer content on the dark web. The news sites from earlier are two such examples, but here are some surprising sites that exist on the dark web:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Private Social Media sites (Campfire)
  • Bible4u2
  • Link Repositories (like The Hidden Wiki)
  • Dark Web Monitoring Tools (to track your exposure)
  • Privacy Services 
  • Blogs and other personal sites

Both Facebook and Twitter having a hidden page are somewhat ironic. Regardless, you can remain anonymous on those sites by providing no accurate personal details. 

Is the Dark Web illegal?

The dark web is very similar to the internet in the 90s. It is the wild west of regulation, challenging government agencies and internet service providers with encrypted visits. Despite all of this question legality, accessing the dark web is not illegal

However, I cannot say the same if you decide to use some of these hidden services. There are numerous illegal activities you can do on the dark web. Thankfully, it is pretty obvious to spot what is unlawful.

What Happens If You Go On The Dark Web? 

Regardless, law enforcement officials are more likely to track your internet habits if you use a Tor browser. Because the dark web is full of illegal activity, offers are likely to associate your use of the tor browser as suspicious activity. 

Granted, the method we will discuss later encrypts your data. 

Illegal Dark Web Example: Silk Road

The Silk Road was run by Ross Ulbricht, a (now) well-known narcotics dealer and money launderer. In 2013, Mr. Ulbricht was arrested for running the Craigslist of drugs. 

For Mr. Ulbrich, the Silk Road was seen more as a political act. Despite some arguments about whether governments should decriminalize drugs, this is one example of what happens when your non-traceable activities become exposed. 

Most people do not plan on starting a business, but ordering the wrong thing can land you in hot water. I don’t recommend you break the law, but I recommend you be safe and maintain your data. 

Below, I will discuss how you can access the dark web without compromising yourself. 

How To Access the Dark Web Safely (Step-By-Step)

Knowing that what you do to access the dark web is 100% between you and the web, The Tor Project is the only reliable method to access the dark web easily.

What is the Tor Project?

The Tor Project is a group of privacy-conscious individuals who manage the Tor Onion Network. The Onion Network is a series of worldwide servers that hide your location.

Much like a VPN, you connect to these servers and bounce between them to hide your location. Because of its anonymous focus is the ideal place to host services that appeal to privacy-conscious individuals. 

Below, we will go through the steps you need to follow to access the darknet through the Tor Onion Network:

Step One: Acquire the Tor Browser

tor browser download page

To start, you need to acquire a secure method for accessing this encrypted part of the web. To do so, you need to obtain a Tor browser.

A tor browser has access to the Tor network, an integrated series of servers that encrypts and bounces data between themselves. This tool obfuscates (or hides) your location, IP address, and all personal data from your browser.

You can get this alongside our VPN to have a secure experience regardless of your connection type. Hiding your app access through VPNs and browser data through Tor is an excellent combination. 

You can also try out Brave, a feature on our preferred privacy browsers list. It has a Tor system for private browsing. Regardless, tor browsing is automatically set to delete your search history and cookies after each use. 

Step Two: Activate Strict Security Measures

privacy settings for tor browser

After installing your Tor browser, you need to access settings within the tor browser to account for safety. The “safest” selections are recommended when going onto the dark web, as some browser features include cookies and hidden trackers.  

This adjustment will help you during any number of accidental clicks. For example, it is easier than you think to access websites known for drugs or identity theft accidentally. Once you activate this setting, you can finally access the dark web.

Step Three: Accessing The Dark Web

Once you’ve activated strict security settings, you can access the darknet through one of two methods:

  • Link websites
  • Darknet search engines

We will provide options for both in the following sections. Regardless, it is effortless to access the dark web through your Tor browser. 

#1: DuckDuckGo

DuckDuckGo dark web search engine

DuckDuckGo is the default search engine for Tor. Tor chooses it because it is the largest privacy-based search engine, but its Tor search services are pretty weak. 

Regardless,  it is a great starting point for privacy-conscious individuals who want to avoid sharing their data. You’ll find the website mostly blank when activating the safest mode. 

#2: Torch

Torch dark web search engine

Torch calls itself the original Tor search engine. Despite having some questionable ads along the bottom, none of those ads are things you need to click. 

The search engine works well in helping you find what you want. However, sorting through to find quality searches can be somewhat painful.  

Also, you’ll find that the website does not censor its results. If you want to

Because the Tor system thrives on anonymity, most search engines are not adept at finding the highest-quality content. Experienced users use link repositories in addition to search engines to see what they need. 

#3: Ahmia

Ahmia darknet search engine

Ahmia is a bit better protected than Torch. Still, there is a chance you will find some unwanted content. It has a service denylist among people it doesn’t trust. 

With this in mind, they are one of the more reliable dark web search tools available. Juha Nurmi developed Ahmia during the 2014 Google Summer of Code. During the event, it received support from the tor project. 

#4: The Hidden Wiki

The Hidden Wiki is not technically a search engine. However, a link repository acts as the best landing page for the dark web. 

The problem is that there are numerous duplicate “wiki sites” that do the same thing. Because this page is so well-known, there are many versions of the hidden wiki.

Regardless, they all contain a list of privacy services and open-source software worth looking up. The Hidden Wiki’s creators also have a service page you can visit. 

OnionLinks is very similar to The Hidden Wiki in its structure. You have a list of links associated with different privacy services, news sites, and blogs. You can even find a worse version of 4Chan.

It is an “enter at your own risk” sort of situation, as you might expect. So if you want to avoid drug sites and other questionably legal activities, don’t click on any links under that category.  

Both OnionLinks and The Hidden Wiki are the most well-known link repositories. There is one more worth mentioning:

Daniel's onion tor links

Daniel’s Onion Link list is somewhat legendary, given its many links. It works as a combo link list and search engine, allowing you to sort based on a simple description. 

The owner (Daniel) takes a hands-off approach to provide its users with the links. He encourages you to use your brain (always good advice) and avoid the high number of scams on the Tor network. 

To access any search engines or link lists on this list, all you need to do is search using DuckDuckGo. DuckDuckGo is the ultimate private gateway to seek what you need. 

Safe Dark Web Websites You Can Visit

If you want to take a safe look at the darknet, here are some websites you should visit:

 #1: The Tor Project

As you might expect, the Tor project has a secure link to its services. At this time, it is under the following URL:

http://2gzyxa5ihm7nsggfxnu52rck2vv4rvmdlkiu3zzui5du4xyclen53wid.onion/about/people/index.html

This URL comes from the latest release of the Tor Onion Service (version three). Previous versions had much shorter URLs. Much like IP addresses, new versions are released to meet popularity demands.

#2: The CIA

Cia darknet site

The Central Intelligence Agency has a unique onion site to target privacy-conscious people. Those who believe in the CIA’s mission might find this website among existing link lists. 

Without Javascript, the site is pretty bare-bones, but it is an exciting aspect of the Onion Network. 

#3: Bible4u2

Bible4u darknet site

The darknet contains an uncensored version of the Bible (available in multiple translations). The site is fantastic for Christians who want to compare various translations at once.

It’s an odd find within the darknet, but it is publically available to all who want it. 

Conclusion – Is Accessing The Darknet Safe?

Much like early iterations of the internet, the darknet is much like the wild west. Given the inability to track things and lack of regulation, anything goes. Regardless, ethical hackers clean up the worst offenders.

Navigating the dark web is done through encrypted connections through the Tor Onion Network. These connections are to available search engines and link lists that provide you with your gateway into this universe. 

The darknet can be a safe and fascinating place for explorers. However, purchasing anything on the darknet comes with a high level of risk. So as Daniel’s Link List reminds us, be smart and use your brain

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