Explained: the Dark Web

Explained: the Dark Web

You may have seen the Dark Web referenced in popular TV shows and have gotten the wrong idea, or if you already knew about it, you may have snorted in derision. It’s also sometimes called the Deep Web, when in fact the Dark Web is only a part of the Deep Web.


  • Surface Web is what we would call the regular World Wide Web that is indexed and where websites are easy to find.
  • The Deep Web is the unindexed part of the Web. Actually, anything that a search engine can’t find.
  • The Dark Web is intentionally hidden, anonymous, and widely known for illicit activities.

Maybe it’s a good idea to clear up some of the misconceptions about the Dark Web for those that are not in the know. That should tell you a lot about what it really is.

The Dark Web is a separate part of the World Wide Web

Well, it’s not as much separate, but sites on the Deep Web are harder to find as the Deep Web is an unindexed part of the internet. Actually, the indexed part of the Web, which is the part that can be found by robots, is only a small fraction of the entire web. Estimates say that only 5% of the Web is easily accessible to the general public. Many other sites can only be visited if you have a direct URL.

Only criminals use the Dark Web

Even though most of the traffic on the Dark Web is used up by criminal activities, such as—

  • Drug trafficking
  • Selling weapons to countries where they are forbidden or selling types of weapons that are prohibited
  • Child (and other illegal) porn
  • Malware (as a Service), think of this as programmers selling their malware for a fee or part of the profit
  • Sites where victims can pay the ransom for some ransomware they have been hit with
  • Buying and selling stolen data
  • Fraud related services
  • Fake ID’s

—there are also groups of users that need the Dark Web for reasons that are only considered illegal in a few places, such as:

  • Journalists working in “difficult” countries
  • People resisting a totalistic regime
  • Whistleblowers
  • Places where crimes can be reported anonymously
  • Bitcoin services
  • Forums on various subjects that do not wish to be public

As you can see there are some grey areas, depending on where you stand in a certain situation.

You need a special browser to visit the Dark Web

There are several methods of restricting access to many of the resources on the Dark Web, but you can certainly expect you will have to login when you arrive at the site that you want to access. But in most cases, you will also need to be using some kind of service like a VPN, proxy, or an anonymized network.

For sites with an Onion (hence the symbol) domain, you will need a Tor browser to access them. This browser protects your privacy and anonymity by encrypting your traffic to and from the websites you are visiting, and by using a proxy. But if you are a Firefox user, you may see a big resemblance with the Tor Browser, so the browser is not that special. It’s the way how it connects that is different. You can also use Tor on the surface Web. People often do this for privacy reasons.

Surfing the Dark Web is dangerous

If you take the necessary precautions, surfing the Dark Web will not get you hurt, robbed, and mugged. But, like on the surface Web, you have to be vigilant and be protected. Keep in mind, for example, that torrents often bypass your proxy settings and might, therefore, expose your real location. And, needles to say, when you’re actively dealing with criminals, you can actually expect to get deceived and even robbed. So, stay away from those guys.

But as we recently learned, even the bad guys are not always safe on the Dark Web. People do get careless after a while and in these cases, it got the bad guys busted. Keep that in mind if you make it a habit to visit the darker corners of the Web. Curiosity killed many a cat.


We have tried to shed some light on the Dark Web by discussing some of the most common misconceptions about it.

Additional information


Pieter Arntz

Malware Intelligence Researcher

Was a Microsoft MVP in consumer security for 12 years running. Can speak four languages. Smells of rich mahogany and leather-bound books.