The Internet is huge, with almost 2 billion websites on it. However, the part of internet we encounter in our day to day lives is only a tiny fraction of what’s out there. Search engines such as Google and Bing can index only a small part of the internet, and there exists a whole different world beyond the reach of these search engines.
Even in the less-explored part of the internet, there is a secretive and mysterious section popularly known as the dark web or the darknet. It attracts people from all walks of life who don’t want to let the mainstream know about their activities. It is easy to imagine that people indulged in unlawful activities turn to darknet for their online endeavors.
However, the dark web is not just a haven for criminals. It is equally good for whistleblowers and those who don’t get to experience a much open internet otherwise such as people living in China. The dark web is all about staying anonymous on the internet, and people use the idea in many ways.
In this article, we try to make you familiar with this mysterious part of the internet. Some of the facts might make you want to get on darknet while the others might make to loathe it.
The subtle facts
It’s better we begin by getting an idea of what darknet is and how it functions. There are often a lot of gray areas in this subject matter, and we need to get them out of the way.
1. Dark Web and Deep Web are different: People often confuse dark web with the deep web when in reality, the darknet is an entirely different entity. Deep Web refers to the unindexed part of the internet. It includes regular sites with usual password protection and then the ones with multiple layers of encryptions.
Dark Web comprises of almost 90% of the internet while the usual surface web makes up for the rest of it. The dark web is where people users function anonymously using specific browsers.
(Source: Cartwright King)
2. You can’t access the Dark Web using the usual browsers: Regular web browsers such as Chrome and Firefox won’t cut the deal if you want to access the darker parts of the internet. One needs to use specialized web browsers such as Tor and I2P.
Tor is inarguably the most popular dark-web browser. It routes one’s internet connection through other devices using the browser to obfuscate the user’s location and other related information.
3. Tor was developed at the United States Naval Research Library: Given the reputation of the dark web, this might be a surprising fact for a lot of readers. Tor, which is derived from ‘The Onion Router,’ is a technology that US Navy developed to have encrypted and safer communications.
Paul Syverson, Michael G. Reed, and David Goldschlag created it in the 90s. Tor was made available to the public in the 2000s. The browser became increasingly popular among the people who wanted to stay anonymous on the internet and now constitutes for majority of the dark web traffic.
The Tor Project Inc. is now a non-profit organization, and the United States Government is still its biggest source for funding.
The money involved
Some people thought of the dark web as a gateway to unleash those parts of themselves that can never be acceptable in a civil society. While others thought of it as a great business opportunity and turned it into a gold mine or perhaps even a crypto mine for themselves.
The dark web is home to plenty of illegal marketplaces that sell everything ranging from drugs to weapons. It’s tough to find out the value of transactions happening on the dark web, but it won’t be a surprise if the value is in billions.
Here are a few facts to tell you about the different ways people are making money on the darknet and give some idea about how much money might be involved in all this.
4. At least 12 darknet marketplaces are active 2019: Darknet marketplaces are where one can find everything ranging from marijuana to rocket launchers. There would be sellers offering credit card info and email IDs too. Human trafficking is often associated with these marketplaces, as well.
Authorities around the world are trying to shut down these marketplaces and have done so successfully on many occasions. However, new marketplaces are cropping up at a higher pace on the Dark Web, and there is always a cat and mouse chase between the authorities and marketplaces.
5. Silk Road made $213 million trade before going down in dust: The name ‘Silk Road’ crops in almost every discussion related to darknet marketplaces. It is one of the first forums to bring together a large number of buyers and sellers of illegal items together on the Dark Web.
It functioned just like any other e-commerce website today and used cryptocurrency as the only mode of payment. The marketplace was created in 2011 by Ross Ulbricht and brought down by authorities in 2013.
6. The Dark Web made FBI the second-largest owner of Bitcoins: As the authorities cracked down the operations of Silk Road, the subsequently confiscated a lot of bitcoins from various accounts of Ulbricht. They got 144,000 bitcoins from Ulbricht’s rented servers in Iceland.
FBI has still done nothing of these bitcoins, and their current aggregate value is around $1.2 billion. It will be interesting to know how FBI plans to deal with all those digital assets.
7. One can buy credit card and other personal information: There is almost everything for sale on the darknet. Credit cards and other kinds of stolen information can often be found here. There is a site called Atlantic Carding, which specializes in such affairs.
Depending upon how much you are willing to spend, you can find anything ranging from addresses to social security numbers. Considering the magnitude of damage that can be inflicted on one’s life with such information, the pricing is not steep at all.
(Source: ANA Cyber Forensic)
8. You can find voter records of millions on the Dark Web: One can find all sorts of things for sale on the darknet. A news report suggested someone put up voter records of 40 million people for sale on the web. The showcased records were of people from 9 states, and the seller claimed to have records of people from other states, as well.
(Source: Mother Jones)
9. Information from 620 million accounts was available for sale on the dark web: We often come across the news of hackers getting into website servers and stealing away account information of millions of users. If you ever wondered, what would one do with these millions of accounts, then selling them is one of the answers. And, no points for guessing it right, hackers come to dark web to sell such data.
A report showed that account information stolen from 16 websites, making up for 620 million user accounts, was on sale on the darknet. Not all the compromised websites knew that their servers were breached. All the data was mined over one year, and at least one person bought it.
A hacker can use such data in various ways. If one uses the same password across all his accounts, then such a breach can put all his accounts in danger.
(Source: The Register)
10. Allegedly, there are hitmen for hire on the dark web: There are websites on the dark web that claim to do all kinds of dirty jobs for customers, including taking lives. One can find plenty of hitman services on the darker side of the web. These websites ask for the details of the person and some bitcoins into the digital wallet.
However, all of them turn out to be a scam to rob people of their bitcoins. It makes sense that a vengeful person might go on the darknet looking for an assassin, and there are plenty of people to take benefit of such situations. Once the user transfers the digital currency to the site’s wallet, there are no killings but just some false promises. A lot of people have fallen prey to such a scam, and they can’t report about it because of obvious reasons.
11. Darknet is a human trafficking marketplace: It’s an issue not discussed very often, but that should not undermine its importance. Of all the things that are bought and sold on the dark web, human trafficking is its ugliest form. It is a huge marketplace, and people of all age and sex are a victim of this.
Dark web offers the layer of anonymity to such traffickers, making it easier for them to stay away from the reach of law. There have often been reports of law agencies arresting groups involved in such activities, but those are only small setbacks for such a large market.
12. People pay to live stream violence on the dark web: Adding to the list of disturbing things on the dark web, you might be surprised to know of the possibility of the existence of red rooms on darknet. Red rooms are supposedly meant to live stream violence, torcher, and killings for viewers’ delight.
While there have been no reports of such red rooms that involve live streaming of murders, dark web does play host to content involving violence against others, especially minors. Such videos are often available on child pornography websites and are equally disturbing and disgusting.
13. The job opportunities on the dark web: You never know what you may find on this part of the internet. There was once a job posting that said one could earn $255k on serving for six months. The job description had nothing much to give user an idea of what’s going on.
All it mentioned was that it was a six months job, the person would stay out of communication, and the one applying for the job should have some combat experience. One can only wonder what kind of job it can be.
14. Bitcoin helps this digital black market survive and thrive: You already know that dark web provides all kinds of things and services that one can possible thing of getting. Marketplaces on darknet perform in a way similar to one on surface web. Since identities are often masked, sellers often maintain the same alias.
Buyers leave reviews of stuff they buy on such places, and it is these reviews that help other buyers to know if they can trust a seller. Reviews are of utmost importance on such forums. The one thing which is at the foundation of such a huge business is cryptocurrency.
Everything is priced in terms of bitcoins, and they have even come up with ways to make this digital currency more untraceable. They would use a tumbling service that would collect bitcoins from multiple customers, jumble it all up, and then send these jumbled bitcoins to the sellers. Such a process makes it extremely difficult to trace the digital currency back to its owner. If it were not for the bitcoins, such marketplaces would have found it very difficult to survive.
15. Even Fortnite and Netflix accounts are available on the dark web: Gaming and streaming services are among the biggest moneymakers in the entertainment industry. These services have become so popular that you might even be considered a social misfit if you are not using them. Not everyone can afford to subscribe to these services and people on darknet found this as an opportunity to make some money.
One can purchase accounts of several streaming and gaming services at a much lower price on the dark web. These are compromised accounts of other users subscribed to such services. The trade of user accounts used to be mostly for financial frauds, but now the hackers have found one more way to harvest money from compromised user information.
16. Darknet marketplaces are getting creative with custom deals and products for Valentine’s day: The mental image of darknet marketplaces that most people have is that it would be some shady website with dark background and random listings of several illegal products. However, these marketplaces function more like any other e-commerce website you visit and use almost the same marketing techniques.
For instance, the period around Valentine’s day saw the inclusion of custom deals for couples. There were heart-shaped red drug pills, pink dyed drugs, packages containing account information of streaming, cab, and pizza services, and so much more.
It is interesting how the darknet is becoming more and more a replica of the surface web we are used to. The difference is that it deals with everything that can land you in trouble on surface web.
And things keep getting stranger
Well, it’s not all money either. Dark web will throw things at you that will be tough to label. But they are going to be interesting, for sure.
If you start looking on the internet, you can find all kinds of crazy stories of darknet experiences. Some of them might even make you cringe. The deeper (or darker) you go, the stranger things will become.
Here are a few such incidents and facts that might intrigue you.
17. A website asking for donations to facilitate Trump’s assassination: A dark web website was asking for donations to assassinate Donald Trump, the president of the USA, and Mike Pence, the vice-president of the country.
The website is accepting donations in the form of bitcoins, and the logs suggested it receiving at least 115 bitcoins. The website stated that there could be a civil war or another world war if these people stay in power, and it is for the good of the world that they should be terminated.
18. A child pornography website with about 90,000 users got busted: Dark web has always been known for bringing out the darker side of humans. Authorities across the globe have found it difficult to put an end on the regulation of child pornographic content on the internet. Darknet turns out to be a huge roadblock in the endeavor.
The incident throws light on how the dark web is a preferred avenue of pedophiles, and there are a lot of them. The authorities behind the bust reported that the forum had almost 90,000 users from across the globe. These people would not only circulate child pornographic content but would also arrange meetings to harm the children.
19. When thousands of websites on the dark web got hacked and their databases were leaked: Various criminals move to dark web thinking that they will be safe there and can continue indulging in all the wrong activities. However, it’s as far from truth as it can be. Not only the authorities are after such people, several hacktivists also make their life miserable.
In one such incident, a hacker from the Anonymous group compromised more than 10,000 websites hosted on Freedom Hosting ll’s servers. The hosting service has a large number of darknet websites.
The hacker stated that the hosting service had several websites with child pornography on them, and the service did nothing about them. The hacker even published the stolen database on some other dark web site.
The hacker group Anonymous keeps getting in the news for such incidents. It is highly decentralized, thus making it nearly impossible for anyone to interfere with its activities.
(Source: The Hacker News)
20. Terrorist organizations use the dark web to recruit more terrorists: Terrorist groups are getting increasingly active on dark web to stay away from the reach of authorities. It is a difficult task first to find the darknet website operated by such groups, then to find out who is behind the website and identify those are actively participating on the website.
Extremist and terrorist groups rely on the dark web to procure weapons, communicate, and find recruits. Such websites are also used to regulate hateful content. Governments keep cracking down such websites, but the new ones keep popping up every now and then.
(Source: Counter Extremism Project)
21. Pink Meth isn’t about drugs but sharing images and information (without the person’s consent of course): There are plenty of weird websites on the darknet. A lot of them often get very popular because of the kind of content they have. One such website is Pink Meth. It wasn’t made for selling drugs but for sharing nudes and information about people.
There were a lot of reports of people posting the pictures of their ex along with sensitive credentials on the website. This would lead up to a lot of harassment of the victim, and things would often end pretty badly.
(Source: Deep Websites)
22. It can always be a trap on the dark web: Darknet stories often invite the darker side of humans. People often start considering the option of exploring the dark web and possibly getting a taste of this world. But one can never be careful enough.
There is always a possibility of you getting some malware on your device when accessing an onion website. You can end up leaking your identity to some of the dangerous cybercriminals in the world. Even if you don’t run into any trouble with the bad guys, there is a possibility that the good guys may end up thinking of you as a bad guy.
There have been a lot of instances when the authorities would keep the site live even after getting a hold of it. It is only to get more information about other users on the website. They did so in the Silk Road case. Even if you are only checking out some of these controversial websites, there is a possibility that you may land in some trouble.
(Source: Thought Catalog)
23. You may find some train recording enthusiasts: Someone found a forum on the dark web which had people sharing and discussing automated recordings that are usually played in trains. Such recordings are used to inform passengers about the next stations and also to lay out general guidelines about how to behave on the train.
The participants of this forum would discuss the sound quality of these recordings, the way announcers pronounce the name of stations, and so on. This forum seems to be more on the weird side than on the fishy one.
All is not dark afterall
Despite what the reports suggest, not everything is dark on the darknet. There are a few things that make dark web a much better place, against the popular perception.
It can help users in so many different ways. The next few facts will take you through the brighter side of the darknet. These might even make you consider visiting the dark web once.
24. You can find Facebook on the Dark Web: The biggest social networking website, Facebook, is also on the darknet. One can access it using Tor browser and using the .onion extension. Facebook took this step to ensure the website can be accessed by people living in countries with restricted online ecosystem.
Various countries, such as China and Iran, don’t allow citizens to visit social networking websites such as Facebook. Dark Net allows such people to browse websites without revealing their identities. Facebook is the first of Silicon Valley giants to go on the Dark Web. You can even find The New York Times on darknet. One can expect to find some of the other bigger names with a .onion extension.
(Source: Wired, The New York Times)
25. The dark web can tell you how to deal with riots, wars, disasters and much more: While a lot of you might already be thinking that dark web is nothing but an avenue to spread unrest in the world, some parts of it can help you deal with all this chaos.
There is a forum called the Strategic Intelligence Network on the darknet, which helps visitors deal with different kinds of adversaries. It can help you deal with wars and disasters irrespective of your location around the world. The site can help you prepare for any man-made or natural calamity.
26. It helps activists and whistleblowers: Amidst all the chaos and disturbing things on the darknet, there is a silver lining to all this anonymity. Individuals and organizations often find themselves in trouble when they unearth any scandal or wrongdoing. The dark web provides such people with a haven. Whistleblowers can continue fighting injustice without revealing their identities. Darknet also allows for encrypted and untraceable communication means, which helps the cause even more. People living in countries with a lot of online restrictions can take help of the dark web to enjoy a more open and safer internet, as well.
The percentage of users on the dark web for the right reasons is still very slim. But it is enough to showcase the world how one can use darknet to be safer online.
27. Dark web libraries have some of the most important and controversial books: If you are into finding literature that can provide you with new perspectives and an unorthodox take on things, then darknet might be the place for you. A lot of books get censored because of the nature of their content and the language used by the author. But it is not necessary that governments are always right about what’s good for society. The dark web can help you experience the work of some of the banned writers. You can get books which are otherwise impossible to find by any other means.
28. Richard D. James used darknet to announce new music: Electronic musician Richard D. James decided to take it to the dark web to announce his upcoming music. He tweeted an .onion link on his Twitter account to inform fans about the upcoming album.
(Source: The Guardian)