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What is the dark web? Your questions answered, in plain English

Watch this new video from our YouTube channel - the dark web explained without jargon or judgment.

You can’t read much about cybercrime these days without hearing mention of “the dark web”.
Often, the term is used with the metaphorical meaning of dark, to describe those parts of the internet that are evil, being dedicated to odious and often very serious criminal offences.
We’re not just talking about stories of websites where illegal drugs can be bought and sold, but also about much more worrying crimes including child abuse, terrorism and murder.
Sometimes, however, the term is used in the literal sense of dark to describe a part of the web where the network traffic going to and from it is effectively invisible or untrackable, so that it is dark in the sense of being unilluminated.
And there you have it: dark as in evil, and dark as in unilluminated.

Of course, the truth about the dark web is somewhere between “all good” and “all evil”.
Sometimes, for example, it’s nice to browse without having to think too hard about whether your traffic is being analysed every which way for marketing purposes, or snooped on and saved in a giant logfile by your ISP on the say-so of your government, or peeked at by your VPN provider, or otherwise being used by someone, somewhere, to draw unfair and unreasonable inferences about you.
Simply put: the ability to be both private and anonymous online, even if it’s only occasionally, seems to be a perfectly reasonable aspiration for any internet user.
It doesn’t make you a criminal, or imply you’ve got an evil streak, just because you use dark web technology such as the Tor browser to go online when you want to avoid being tracked.
On the other hand, the dark web undeniably attracts those who want to be anonymous and untraceable because they are evil, and because they want their web servers to be shielded from identification and takedown.
Note that sites on the dark web aren’t always secret or even particularly secretive – the special “untrackable” website URLs where some of them can be found are often openly publicised and widely known, as is the case with numerous drug-related marketplaces.
What’s kept in the dark is a list of who’s accessed them and when – as well as where the sites are physically located so that their traffic can’t easily be blocked, or their servers taken offline and seized by law enforcement.
This makes the dark web a bit of a double-edged sword – it’s good when it’s used for evading oppressive censorship and the sort of surveillance that many of us consider unacceptable, but it’s bad when it’s used for evading detection for the sort of online crimes that almost all of us consider unacceptable.

So many questions

Here on Naked Security, this uncertainty about the dark web means we regularly receive questions such as:

  • Why doesn’t the dark web just get closed down?
  • Are there really any benefits to society in having a dark web at all?
  • How big is the dark web?
  • Is the dark web the same as the deep web?
  • Is it really as private and as anonymous as some people claim?
  • Will I get into trouble if I simply want to take a look?
  • If I go on the dark web, does that make me a bigger target for hackers?

Sadly, some of the content we’ve seen where these questions are addressed gives you the sort of answers that only really make sense if you already know enough about the dark web to answer them anyway.
So, we decided to make a video to answer these questions in plain English, without being judgmental and without using jargon:

If you enjoyed this video, please visit the Naked Security YouTube channel and subscribe!


Frankly I am not sure why anyone would want to be known on the web In the sense when you are online or not. It is none of anyone’s business for any reason to be traced for anything. Privacy, you heard of that? This idea that is is ok to be tracked for any reason really is wrong. eg: protect yourself via a good firewall, using a good browser – Brave, using good adblocks, using browser extensions that block trackers. Any individual has every right to be invisible while online if that is your thing! Govts are always wanting some form of monitoring of customers and are putting presser on ISP’s to give them access to that which for the sake of privacy is wrong. The dark web may have dangers but if it is a place where Govts are not, it is probably one option to consider. Another would be a VPN subscription.


A VPN isn’t really a “dark web”, though. From the user’s point of view, it’s roughly equivalent to switching ISPs. Your traffic no longer tracks directly back to you but to your VPN provider. If that is a limit of your “anonymity cloak” then you need a *lot* of trust in that VPN provider…


Glad you clarified what you were saying, that invisible or untrackable does not equate to evil or criminal.
Although you are quite correct that “dark” may attract the evil or criminal elements just as a Porsche 911S attracts a different buyer than a Range Rover Defender.


Doesnt a VPN anonomise you.
And if so will this not attract your ISP
To your hidden traffic??


In simple terms, a VPN is like getting a new ISP, perhaps in a different country with different rules. So it makes you harder to track and lets you appear to be where you are not. Remember that your VPN provider “sees” your network traffic in the same way that your regular ISP “sees” your traffic when your VPN is turned off. (And, yes, your regular ISP can probably figure out that you are using a VPN, and perhaps even which one, if that matters. As we say in the video, “anonymity only goes so far”. Those Tor Project documents we mention in the video, about tips and traps for anonymity, are well worth a read.)


I want to take a look but I’d get in serious table and I don’t want to look at murders and drug use


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