What’s the Big Deal about the Dark Web

For the average internet user, the “dark web” represents a murky unknown world of criminals and cyber threats. News media often reports health records, credit card numbers, passwords, and other important personal information being sold on this platform, but arming yourself with factual information is the first step in combatting these threats.

What exactly is the Dark Web?

The dark web offers a platform, accessed separately from the familiar internet, wherein a user might buy drugs, weapons, stolen bank account credentials, Netflix passwords, and even killers for hire. Would-be hackers find Ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) offerings, an option to rent ransomware software without a large purchase commitment with the promise of a future payday on the backs of unsuspecting businesses. Child pornography sites and terrorist chat rooms offering violent content flourish. While most of the dark web tends to be nefarious, there are legitimate chess clubs, cryptocurrency exchanges, news sites, CIA tip chat rooms, etc. that may be used by people who wish to remain anonymous for a variety of reasons.

How does the Dark Web Differ from the Deep Web?

The term “deep web” refers, in a much broader way, to a vast majority of the internet which requires a paywall or certain credentials. For example, a news site that charges $5 per month or your physician’s patient portal that requires a username and password are both instances of deep web content. The dark web is a subset of this deep web, requiring a special browser, Tor, in order to gain entry.

To provide context, the ”surface web,” the portion of the internet indexed by Google that most people use daily, constitutes roughly 4% of the internet. In contrast, the dark web makes up about 48%.

Accessing the Dark Web

As mentioned, Tor is a special, downloadable browser used to access the dark web. This browser, and others, allows anonymous web browsing by routing requests through a series of proxy servers. Once connected, however, users will find a wild frontier that is often slow, unreliable, and chaotic. Without standardization and because of shifting and erratic websites, search engines function poorly. Once a user finds a site, he will typically discover that anonymity results in widespread cheating and scamming as well. For example, a commerce site that may be reliable for months may suddenly disappear, taking customer money with it, only to pop up again under another name.

What is For Sale on the Dark Web?

Because of its anonymous nature, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency has enabled rapid growth of the dark web, and almost all goods and services are purchased with Bitcoin. Completing a transaction, however, often proves difficult. The funds are typically held in escrow for a certain period, but they may be released before items pass through customs, where they may be seized. From the standpoint of personal information value, the following are popular commodities:

  • Hacked social media account - $1-$60
  • Hacked Gmail account - $80
  • Stolen credit card details with up to $5000 credit limit - $240
  • Hacked Coinbase account - $610
  • Hacked eBay account - $1000

The Final Word

While malevolent sites and criminal activity abound throughout the dark web, we do want to emphasize that there are legitimate reasons for using it as well. Tor initially developed as a communications channel for people in countries where heavy censorship prohibits regular internet usage. Today, people with privacy concerns can create anonymous email accounts, whistleblowers report criminal activity anonymously, and law enforcement often monitors stolen information in the hopes of finding the perpetrators. If you’re interested in checking out this dark web realm, do so cautiously. And don’t buy anything.