What is the dark web in 2020?

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If you see the internet as an ocean, the Dark Web is the deepest point. This is the part that cannot be visited with normal browsers such as Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox. You need the special Tor browser for this.

There is a myth that the Dark Web only consists of illegal web shops and pages with shocking content, such as child pornography. This is not true. In 2020 The Dark Web features everything from investigative journalist forums to pages on manga and anime. Yet, unfortunately, there are indeed many dangers lurking, from hackers and malware to scammers and everything in between.

We therefore recommend that you access the Dark Web in a secure manner. Fortunately, the Tor browser already offers some extra anonymity and security. However, we recommend an extra layer of security, a VPN. Just like the Tor browser, a VPN redirects your internet traffic and encryption, providing even more security and privacy.

Using a VPN in combination with Tor has more advantages. Depending on your configuration, you can prevent your ISP from seeing you using Tor, or protect yourself from administrators of Tor exit servers who want to spy on you.

The dark web is a hidden part of the worldwide web that cannot be accessed with normal browsers such as Microsoft Edge, Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome. Also, dark web pages are not indexed by search engines such as Google. Hence the special browser to access the dark web: the Tor browser.

The dark web is known as a place where criminals illegally sell drugs and do other shady things. While this does happen, the dark web is more than just illegal sites. It is also a safe place for journalists and whistle blowers to tell their story, and even a place for normal citizens from countries with strict regimes to communicate without being spied on.

The dark web was originally set up by the United States Government as a means of exchanging secret information around the world. A few years later, it became available to the general public. Today, the dark web is a mix of anti-censorship fighters, scammers, drug traffickers, computer nerds, and ordinary people eager to communicate without the government watching (as is often the case in China or Iran, for example).

In this article we will explain what exactly the dark web is, how it originated, what the risks are and, in short, how you can get to it and surf around relatively safely.

If you come across terms that you do not understand, you can always check our dark web dictionary. If you want to hide from your ISP that you are on the Tor network, you can first connect to a VPN.

What is the dark web?

To understand exactly what the dark web is, we need to pay close attention to the different terms used when talking about the dark web. These are the terms surface web, deep web and dark web. These terms are often confused. A brief explanation can be found below:

  • The internet is a worldwide network.
  • The web is a means of communication that uses the internet network.
  • The web consists of: the surface web, the deep web and the dark web.

Dark web explained.

The surface web.

Most of us only use the surface and the deep web. This is what most people mean when they say “the internet”. The surface web is accessible by all web browsers such as Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer and many more. Here are all the websites available to the public. Shops, hobbies, charities, companies, you name it, you will find everything here. This is also the part of the web that you can easily search with search engines like Google.

When you visit a website you don’t get to see everything. You only see the “surface” of all these sites. If you go to amazon.com you will find numerous products, but you can only view the website as a customer, not as a store employee or administrator. To get a behind the scenes look you need usernames and passwords. If you have this information you can go beyond the surface and continue to the deep web.

The deep web.

The deep web is the part of the web that is not accessible to everyone. You will not get there via a search engine. These are pages and databases that are only accessible to people within a certain organization. For example, it is possible that the database at work is located there. Often you need to know the exact URL to get there and you need authority and a password.

The deep web is also by far the largest part of the internet. Here you will find private data from companies, universities, libraries, hospitals, governments, international organizations and much more. There are no exact figures, but it is estimated that the deep web makes up 90 to 95% of the entire worldwide web.

The dark web.

We call the deepest layer of the web the dark web. You can only get there via special browsers such as Tor. In fact, the dark web is a network of computers around the world, so it is not managed from one central place. No one therefore has the authority or capacity to suddenly take this network off the air. At least this seems impossible at the moment.

The dark web is slightly different than the normal web. The websites do not have the default addresses such as .com, or .org. Instead, there are domain names like .onion. The addresses also look a lot less clear by not revealing the name of the company or person behind it.

These sites can only be visited through a browser like Tor (The Onion Router). This is a special browser developed by US security services as a place to communicate anonymously internationally. Pretty soon, this network was full of other people who started using it for other purposes.

Is the dark web legal?

In one simple word: yes. The dark web is legal. Using the Tor browser is also completely legal. However, if you use the dark web to carry out acts that are against the law, this is of course illegal.

The dark web and the Tor browser are only tools to promote your human rights to privacy. The right to privacy is a human right enacted by the United Nations. It is adopted under the following Articles:

  • United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) 1948, Article 12
  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) 1966, Article 17
  • American Convention on Human Rights, Article 11
  • American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, Article 5
  • European Convention on Human Rights, Article 8

More than 130 countries that are part of the United Nations have constitutional declarations regarding the protection of their citizens’ privacy. This also applies to the US.

Why and how did the dark web originate?

The dark web did not originate because criminals wanted to communicate anonymously, on the contrary even. It was developed by the US government agencies. But how exactly did this go?

American spies.

Agents from the CIA, the United States Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and more army units and units were located around the world. There was a real global network of spies from America collecting information. During the 1990s, this information went digital and no longer had to haul radio or old-fashioned secret codes. Due to the new network and encryption techniques, all messages could suddenly be sent over the internet.

Around 1995, the US Naval Research Laboratory had started a program on the project that would eventually grow into Tor. Tor made sure the spies could communicate with the home front via a secure route.

Anonymity for everyone.

In 1997, the project was further developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). They eventually passed the project on to several civil rights groups – making it possible for millions of people to use this network. Now the question is, of course, why would the government hand it over? There are those who believe that Tor is still a project of the United States Government.

Another explanation is that the anonymous network had to be open because every agent around the world should be able to use it at any time. So it was very prone to infiltration. In addition, it was also that literally everything that was communicated through this network was the work of Americans. Every hacker who came on the Tor network could listen in. Therefore, it was wiser to open up the network to others and in this way muffle the whispers of US agents with the noise of everyone else. Everyone remained anonymous, but suddenly you did not know which signal to listen to.

Why doesn’t the dark web just shut down?

So although the network was set up by the U.S. government, it doesn’t mean they can easily pull the plug on the project now. The dark web has grown so much that there is no Government that has control over it.

At the same time, the US government still benefits from the existence of such a network. It is still used as a channel through which information can be forwarded. In addition, it is a very strong platform for the promotion of democracy: through the Tor network, political activists, whistle blowers, journalists and even ordinary citizens can uncover scandals and criticize regimes internationally.

The dark web is therefore both dangerous and helpful, which is why people don’t want to shut it down entirely. And even if the United States chooses to shut it down completely, it can’t because the network is spread across dozens of countries where the U.S. has no control. What national authorities can do is cooperate, give each other permission, and jointly close specific sites or “dark markets”. Often when a website is closed you also see several nationalities and organizations that were involved in closing the site. In other words, it is quite difficult to get one website out of the network. Let alone the entire network itself.

What can you find on the dark web?

Because websites on the dark web are difficult to reach by most people, it is impossible to map exactly what is happening. In addition, new sites are created, changed and removed all the time. What we can say is that the vast majority of the dark web is full of things that would be removed on the surface web.

It is often thought that everything that happens on the dark web is scary and illegal. But the dark web is also a safe place for journalists, whistle blowers and normal citizens living in a country with fewer freedoms. Think, for example, of countries such as Iran or China. Many Chinese use the dark web as a place to communicate without the Communist party looking over their shoulder. Things that are clearly illegal, such as drug trafficking, often take place in a different way than is generally thought. Below we discuss some things that take place on the dark web and in what way.

Drug trafficking on the dark web.

The dark web is used, among other things, by drug dealers for their criminal activities. On the dark web, they can anonymously advertise their illegal products around the world. On the dark web you will find many web shops that offer drugs.

The most famous web shop of the dark web was “the Silk Road”. The website talked very openly about producing and selling drugs, including photos and user experiences. There was even a doctor who was a member of the site to advise members on safe drug use. After a while the website was nicknamed “the eBay of Vice”. After several years of investigation, US authorities tracked down Ross Ulbricht, the founder of Silk Road. In October 2013 he was arrested and the site closed.

After Ulbricht was sentenced to life imprisonment, imitation websites soon emerged. There are now many more similar websites on the dark web. Silk Road was in fact the first of its kind.

However, drugs and dark markets are not the only things you will encounter on the dark web.

Whistle blower websites.

One of the original goals of the dark web was to give whistle blowers and activists from autocratic regimes a way to channel negative or disguising information to other countries and journalists. For example, the dark web could be used by Chinese journalists who want to write something negative about the Chinese Communist party. There are all kinds of news organizations such as Propublica, New York Times, Forbes that have a “Secure drop”. This tool allows people to securely and anonymously forward information to news organizations.

Apart from people who use Secure drop, some big whistle blowers have also used the dark web to guarantee their communication and security. You can think of Edward Snowden.

Tech websites.

There are also many websites of organizations that have a reputation for being very good with computers and the internet. An example of this is Tweakers. They clearly state this in their official website title: “Tweakers – We put technology to the test”.

Dangerous websites on the dark web.

Because the dark web is not regulated by anyone, you will also come across many dangerous fake websites. If you visit the dark web, it is wise to be careful what you click on. Before you know it you may have caught a virus. You can also just end up on a site with extremely nasty things such as child pornography and animal cruelty. Partly because of these dangers, it is better not to enter the dark web if it is not absolutely necessary.

There are also a lot of hacker forums on the dark web. Some entirely in Russian, others in English. Here, hackers come together to discuss their experiences.


A botnet is a network of infected devices that can be controlled by a hacker. The owners of the devices that are part of such a network need not be aware of it at all. The botnet driver can use the network to spread computer viruses, collect personal information or carry out a DDoS attack. By operating on the dark web, a botnet is less likely to be discovered. There are also places on the dark web where DDoS attacks and botnets are sold.

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

On the dark web, almost only cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, are used to pay. This payment blockchain method is ideal for anonymous transactions. If someone on the dark web proposes to handle a transaction without a cryptocurrency, it is most likely a scam.


The dark web is unregulated. Users who come across something they are concerned about, or people who have been scammed via the dark web, have the option to report it to the FBI. We hope you enjoyed reading but, if you would like to know more, we recommend this excellent article written by Darren Guccione. Good luck!

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