Shining a Light on the Dark Web

October 9, 2023

The "dark web" is a term that has captured the public's imagination for years. Tracing its origins back to the 1970s and coming into its more modern form in the 2000s, it's a multifaceted part of the internet that allows users to browse and communicate anonymously. Because of this anonymity, users access it for both criminal and legitimate activities. 

The surface web—what most users access regularly through standard search engines and platforms—and deep web—which primarily consists of unindexed content and databases used to support financial, medical, and other sensitive services—account for all but a fraction of a percent of web space. This leaves the dark web to own a tiny but incredibly consequential spot on the internet. 


hands on a dark keyboard


Accessing the Dark Web 

The dark web is not accessible or indexed by traditional search engines like Google. Instead, it operates on overlay networks that use anonymizing technologies to provide users with a high degree of privacy and anonymity. 

One of the most well-known tools for accessing the dark web, Tor, functions by routing internet traffic through a series of volunteer-operated nodes to websites with a “.onion” domain suffix. Each node only knows the previous and next node in the circuit, but not the entire path or the identities of the sender and receiver. Tor also includes its own browser, which is configured to connect to the Tor network. When you use the Tor browser to access a website, your connection is routed through multiple nodes, effectively masking your IP address and making it extremely difficult for anyone to trace your online activity back to you. 


deep web iceberg infographic


The Dark Side of the Web 

Though accessing the dark web isn’t illegal, it rightfully conjures images of illegal and harmful activities—despite these activities being only a small percent of the dark web’s use. It is a major hub for the sale and distribution of illicit drugs, particularly narcotics and prescription drugs, which can be purchased from anonymous vendors. Firearms, explosives, poisons, and other weapons can also be purchased on the dark web, with sellers providing detailed instructions on how to make or use these weapons. 

Counterfeit money, passports, driver's licenses, credit cards, and various other forged documents are common, with criminals using them for identity theft, fraud, and other illegal activities. It’s also a marketplace for hackers to sell their services, including hacking into email accounts, websites, and corporate networks to steal data and initiate ransom attacks. Abhorrently, the dark web hosts materials related to child exploitation, such as images of abuse and information for human traffickers. Due to the illegal nature of these activities, most transactions are facilitated by cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin to maintain anonymity. 

While law enforcement agencies actively work to combat these sites and identify those responsible, the dark web often eludes authorities through a combination of techniques. Its anonymized networks, end-to-end encrypted communications, and decentralized hosting make it difficult for authorities to shut down specific websites or track down their operators. 

Despite these challenges, significant strides have been made in combating illegal activities on the dark web. Agencies employ tactics such as exploiting vulnerabilities in software, infiltrating illegal marketplaces, and conducting sting operations to apprehend criminals. 


Using the Dark Web for Good 

Despite the variety of nefarious use cases, the dark web also serves several legitimate and beneficial purposes. The anonymity it affords provides a refuge for individuals and organizations seeking privacy and protection from government surveillance, censorship, or oppressive regimes. Secure email and messaging services protect sensitive information and confidential communication.  

The dark web hosts platforms that enable whistleblowers to expose wrongdoing while safeguarding their identities, playing a vital role in revealing corruption and unethical practices. Dissidents in repressive countries use the dark web to organize and communicate securely. It provides a safe space for coordinating movements and sharing information, away from prying eyes. 

Researchers and academics often explore the dark web to study cybersecurity, online communities, and emerging technologies. Ethical hackers and security professionals leverage the dark web to test the security of their own websites and systems. By simulating attacks and vulnerabilities in a controlled environment, they can improve digital security. And because of its lack of censorship, the dark web supports artistic expression by hosting libraries of books, articles, media, and art that are uncensored and unrestricted. 


Understanding the Dark Web with a Degree from Capitol Tech 

The dark web is a complex part of the internet. While it is often associated with illegal activities, it also serves as a vital tool for privacy, security, research, and legitimate forms of expression. Navigating the dark web requires caution and a strong ethical compass, as it presents both opportunities and risks. As the digital landscape continues to evolve, understanding the complexities of the dark web becomes increasingly important in fostering responsible and informed online citizenship. 

A cybersecurity degree from Capitol Technology University can help you understand and navigate this complex corner of cyberspace. For more information, contact our Admissions team at