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What Is the Dark Web?

What Is the Dark Web?

August 19, 2020

Part of the looming dangers of the internet seem to stem from the mysterious unknown of the “dark web.” Some call it the “seething underbelly” of the internet, where illegal items like credit card numbers, illicit drugs, cell phones, fake IDs, and a plethora of other forbidden items are for sale. While those things are true, the dark web isn’t just a cybercrime marketplace for hackers.

First, to understand the dark web, it’s important to know that it is not the same as the deep web. It can be easy to confuse the two since they sound as if they’re the same thing. They sort of are, and sort of aren’t. Let’s discuss.


Both the dark web and the deep web are parts of the internet that are not indexed by search engines. This means, if you search for it, you won’t find it in Google, Yahoo, Bing, or any of your other favorite search engines. But that’s where the similarities end. Think of it like the Mid-Continent Public Library catalog; you go to find a particular book but cannot find it. Well, that’s because that book isn’t part of the Library’s collection. So, you might use a special service like Interlibrary Loan (WorldCat) to find it.

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That’s how the dark web works. You use a special browser called Tor (short for The Onion Router) to search the dark web since it has access to a special collection of webpages that Google, Yahoo, and Bing do not. A special browser like Tor, in combination with a secure VPN, is ideal for browsing the dark web safely.

So, now we know that the dark web is not the same as the deep web, but what information could be so deep that search engines couldn’t find it? Think of the deep web as the gatekeeper for private information. Essentially, secure websites keep your information off of the search engine results pages. If you Google your name, you won’t find an email you sent yesterday because your email provider keeps that information behind layers of security.

If you tried searching Google for your medical records, you wouldn’t find them either, as your healthcare provider stores that information in private databases that you’d have to log into to access. The same is true of your banking information, legal documents, scientific and academic databases, etc. The key here is that any content which requires a username and password, or some other type of authentication to access, lives on the deep web.

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Dark web users don’t always match up with the image of who we would assume use the dark web—a power hacker in a poorly lit room buying stolen identities. Some dark web visitors are common internet users who want a secure place to communicate, share information, or stay informed about the world, especially if they live in a country that heavily censors and restricts internet access.

For example, China utilizes a type of internet censorship called the “Great Firewall,” which bans access to news outlets, such as BBC, Bloomberg, The Guardian, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Japan’s Yormiuri newspaper, and many more. They’ve also blocked Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest, Google, Yahoo, WhatsApp, YouTube, Netflix, and so on. In order to access this banned content, some use the dark web.

It may sound contradictory for there to be a good use of the dark web, but the dark web isn’t “dark” because it’s “bad.” There are different levels of internet access, each one unique in regard to privacy, with the dark web affording more privacy than the clear web and deep web.  Of course, the dark web can live up to its reputation, especially when some users use the anonymity to their advantage. However, it can surprise us with its usefulness, acting as a lifeline of communication for some.

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Photo credit: ProtonMail

If you do plan to check out the dark web anytime soon, be sure to use a VPN and do so safely.

Brityni S.
Consumer Technology Specialist


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