An Introduction to the Deep Web and Dark Web


What is the Dark Web?

The term Dark Web and its synonyms such as Darknet, Onionland, the Other Internet, and others have been getting a lot of press these days. Constant reports of data breaches, identity theft, and state-sponsored hacking fill our daily headlines. Although many people have heard the terms, few actually understand what it means. The purpose of this article is to explain what it is, what types of content you can find there, who uses it, how to access it, and some of its pros and cons.

So, what is it? The Dark Web is actually a subsection of the Deep Web that consists of networks of all sizes, including large networks run by corporations and small peer-to-peer networks run by individuals. People often use these terms incorrectly to mean the same thing. The Deep Web is part of the internet that search engines do not index. Not everything on the Deep Web is “bad” or illegal.

Search engines don’t index content for a variety of reasons, such as:

  • The owner of the content doesn’t want the people to find the site via normal search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo. They want to keep the information “private” and secret and free from monitoring and control by others.
  • Search engines, usually via their algorithms and sometimes via manual action, choose not to index a site due to the illegal nature of the content.

The darknet uses layered encryption and does not use Domain Name Servers (DNS) or IP addresses. This makes it difficult to track the identity and locations of users, as their data routes through a large number of servers. Essentially, a user’s communications bounce around to different servers around the world to help keep them private.

The Tor browser (described below) anonymizes the origin of your traffic, and it encrypts everything inside the Tor network, but it can’t encrypt your traffic between the Tor network and the final destination. If you are communicating sensitive information, be sure to use HTTPS or other end-to-end encryption and authentication.

What Types of Content Can be Found on the Dark Web?

A wide variety of content can be found on the deep web. Some speculate that the deep web is 500 times as large at the “regular” web. Some of the broad categories of content that may be found there include:

  • Blogs – People who want to express their personal views and opinions, but don’t want to be monitored or held to a certain etiquette choose to host their blogs on these networks.
  • Books – Books in the form of ebooks with information on how to make things, how to hack certain things, where to find information, etc.
  • Chat – People who want to ensure total anonymity in discussing their interests, political views, sexual preference, and more.
  • Counterfeit goods and services – Some sites serve as exchanges or marketplaces for the buying and selling of counterfeit products.
  • Currency exchange services – Services for trading and exchanging, and even laundering digital currencies
  • Directories – Directories of websites and other content to help users navigate through the vast amount of information and content available in various places.
  • Discussion forums – The forums are a particularly popular aspect of the communities due to the encryption and anonymous participation they offer. Many of the forums are used to exchange and sell illegal information and services.
  • Drugs – Forums and marketplaces are used to buy and sell the drug for recreational and medical purposes.
  • Fraud – One can find information on how to commit various types of fraud, scams, and schemes. In addition, many of the sites in this space are, in fact, frauds themselves and seek to take advantage of or steal from users.
  • Gambling – Resources for gamblers, sports betting
  • Guns and other weapons
  • Hacking services – Hackers advertise their services on the hidden part of the web to maintain anonymity
  • Hosting services –┬áThe Invisible Internet Project (I2P) allows websites to be hosted anonymously.
  • Marketplaces – These are often used for buying and selling illegal goods and services. Items such as weapons, software exploits, and hacking services can be bought, sold, and traded.
  • Pornography – This is one of the “darker” aspects of such networks, which draw interest from those with questionable interests. Even though porn sites exist on the unindexed portion of the deep web, they still draw the interest of law enforcement who seeks to stop sexual predators and pedophiles.
  • Search tools
  • Social Media – Social networks are beginning to emerge that attempt to address the privacy concerns of the major public social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.
  • Terrorism – Terrorists use private networks to distribute recruiting paraphernalia,
  • Whistleblower content and resources –
  • Wiki – Wikis allow multiple users to collaborate on a website at the same time. Wikis in the deep space are often used by activist organizations that are spread out geographically so they can share and compile information.

How to Access the Dark Web: The TOR Project

To access the deep web and DarkNet sites, users much go through networks such as TOR (an acronym for The Onion Router). Sites that are accessible through this network have the .onion domain. The TOR network is a group of servers operated by volunteers whose goal is to maintain privacy and security on the web.

Who Uses TOR?

A wide variety of people use TOR for a wide variety of reasons. Individuals who simply want to browse the internet anonymously, without having anyone monitor or track their activity, discussions, or behavior.

Media reporters and journalists use it to communicate with anonymous resources for stories they are working on. Sometimes, sources don’t want their identity revealed. Not even to reporters who are “on their side”, so they use the hidden part of the web to communicate.

Law enforcement and government intelligence agencies use it to search for criminals and monitor criminal activity. Also, they use it to search for stolen goods and for conduct sting operations. Due to the nature and design of the networks, conducting surveillance on the deep web is difficult and time-consuming.

How to Download the TOR Browser

To download the TOR web browser, go to the Tor Project website and click on the Download button. The software is open source and can be downloaded for free. Tor Browser lets you use Tor on Microsoft Windows, Apple macOS, or GNU/Linux without needing to install any software. It can run off a USB flash drive. Also, it comes with a pre-configured web browser to protect your anonymity and is self-contained (portable).

Installation instructions and screenshots are available on the website listed above. There is also a list of frequently asked questions and even a help desk to answer questions. You’ll even find a place to sign up for their newsletter and learn how to make a donation.

Also, see my list of OSINT search tools that can be used to uncover hidden information.

How can Private Investigators Leverage Data and Information on the DarkNet?

As a private investigator, both the DeepNet and DarkNet offer an entirely new realm of data and information. This makes it simply too vast to be ignored. The majority of the general public doesn’t even know that it exists. Much less the types of information that is hidden there and how to go about finding it.

People hire private investigators to uncover hidden and difficult-to-find information. So, understanding how to access this vast underground world is quickly becoming of great importance in the investigation industry. In general, a private investigator should:

  • Understand the type of content that is available
  • Understand how to go about browsing, navigating, and searching for information
  • Understand the risks of doing so


If you have any questions, comments, or feedback about the Dark Web, please post a message below.

Michael Kissiah is the owner of Brandy Lane Publishing, LLC, which owns and operates a small portfolio of websites, including Michael created more than 20 years ago after working as a private investigator in the state of Florida. Since that time, he has become an expert at how to find information online and has written over 1000 articles on topics related to the investigation industry. In addition, he is the author of the "Private Investigator Licensing Handbook", available at


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