What is the Dark Web and How is it Used by Criminals?

Keyboard and computer in the dark

You’ve probably heard about the “Dark Web” before, but what does the term actually mean? Criminals use the dark web for various illegal activities, but what exactly is it? Is your data for sale to the highest bidder on a shady underground website? Do you need to worry about the dark web?

What is the Dark Web?

Dark Web - Tor
Browsers like Tor enable people to access the darknet. | Source: Tor

The first question many people ask is, “what is the dark web?” People often confused it with the deep web, which has a different meaning.

The Deep Web

The deep web refers to a huge number of websites that average users don’t see or are unable to find. There is nothing inherently illegal or immoral about these sites. The reason they’re called the deep web? Simply put, search engines don’t index them like mainstream websites. You won’t be able to find any deep web sites by searching for something on Google.

Admins hide sites intentionally to protect sensitive information or search engines can’t index them properly because they’re too old or obscure.

The Dark Web

The dark web is a term that described websites intentionally hidden from prying eyes. Webmasters create these sites to prevent their users from being tracked for various reasons. Journalists and activists sometimes use these sites to protect their anonymity. However, criminals also use darknet websites and forums for activities ranging from drug purchasing to the selling of sensitive personal information.

Why Do Criminals Use the Dark Web?

Criminals use the dark web to buy and sell various illegal products and services. These products can range from illicit substances to the personal information of victims of data breaches. The primary reason that criminals flock to the darknet is that it offers an increased layer of protection.

The dark web can only be accessed by using a service such as Tor. This special browser bounces the user’s internet connection through many different relays that make it nearly impossible to track them directly.

Deep Web - Marketplaces
This graph shows the resilience of darknet marketplaces to being taken down. | Source: Nature.com

Another part of the reason that criminals thrive in the darknet is its resilience to being shut down. Authorities constantly attack and shut down illicit marketplaces, but more immediately spring up in their place. Despite repeated police intervention, the dark web has been consistently growing in users and the amount of money changing hands since 2012, according to a study published in November 2020.

Should You Be Worried?

For the average individual, the biggest concern is usually the buying and selling of their personal information. Some of the biggest marketplaces on the dark web, such as Empire Market, sell access to databases that contain the personal information of millions of people.

Database for sale - Empire Market
One listing of a leaked database contained nearly 4 million users’ private data. | Source: webhose.io

Some of these databases are for sale for as little as $22 and contain millions of users’ data. If hackers have compromised a website you frequent, your information may be for sale.

You can check if hackers have attacked you before by visiting our guide on how to check if you’ve been hacked.

What You Should Do

have i been pwned
Tools like ‘have i been pwned?’ can tell you if you’re at risk from a darknet marketplace. | Source: have i been pwned?

You should not panic if you’re worried about hackers buying your information on the darknet. Your first step is to use our tools to check if hackers have compromised your personal information.

Any compromised accounts must have their information secured immediately. Visit our guides on securing your accounts for help keeping your data safe.

You should secure or cancel your credit cards and other payment-related information associated with compromised accounts.

If you’re still worried about your information being on the dark web, you can request our dark web scan here.

Featured image by Dmytro Tyshchenko from Shutterstock.com.

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A gaming and technology writer who has been building computers and tinkering with software since he was a teenager. Previously involved with various prestigious websites, including TechRaptor.net and CCN.COM. Now tutorial creator for Hacked.com.

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