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What is the Dark Web and what is it used for? OnlineSim

  • Sep 7, 2023, 5:34 PM
  • 9 minutes

The dark side of the internet, part 1: What is the Dark Web and what is it used for

People use different methods to share information on the internet, read independent news and maintain anonymity. Some popular tools to establish security are VPN, the Tor browser, virtual machines, etc.

Another way to create anonymity is to use the Dark Web. In this article, we will tell you what the Dark Web is, how it works and what it is used for.  

  • The Dark Web, part 1: What is the Dark Web and what is it used for ← you are here

  • The Dark Web, part 2: How do onion sites work

  • The Dark Web, part 3: What is Freenet

  • The Dark Web, part 4: What is I2P and how it works

  • The Dark Web, part 5: How to access darknet via Tor, I2P and Freenet

What is the Dark Web?

This is the shadow side of the internet, also referred to as the darknet. It is so called because it contains a certain group of websites where user identities are hidden from the authorities, trackers and law enforcement. Such sites cannot be accessed through an ordinary browser like Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox, nor can they be found using standard search engines.

The Dark Web is essentially a private virtual space where people act anonymously to achieve their goals.

The Dark Web is used to browse the net anonymously and interact with others without worrying about being watched or tracked. For example, investigative journalists can submit their publications via the Dark Web and have no fear that someone can track them or try to prevent them from publishing revealing information. 

Others use the Dark Web to store their private files or communicate anonymously in instant messengers.

However, anonymity also creates a breeding ground for illegal and immoral actors. The Dark Web works as a black market: anything can be sold and bought there, including weapons, drugs, stolen goods, information, etc.

What other parts of the internet are out there?

The World Wide Web falls into three parts: the Open Web, the Dark Web and the Deep Web. The Open Web is the regular part of the internet that is used by most users.

The Open Web includes publicly available content that is indexed by search robots. The Open Web pages are shown in Google and other search engine results. The Open Web includes, for example, such sites as Facebook, YouTube, BBC, etc. The Open Web accounts for 4% of the entire content on the internet.

The Deep Web includes unindexed content that cannot be found with search engines. It consists of sites that require paid access or login credentials. Some examples include closed profiles in social media, emails and classified documents. The Dark Web makes up some 90% of the entire content on the internet.

Parts of the World Wide Web

For your better understanding, we’ve put together a table of how the three parts of the Web are different.

The Open Web

The Deep Web

The Dark Web


All resources can be accessed freely

Login credentials and the exact URL are required

A special browser and the exact URL are required

Browser compatibility

Compatible with all browsers

Compatible with all browsers

Compatible with Tor only

Search engine compatibility

Works with any search search engine: Google, Yahoo, Bing

Closed from search engines, sites are only available via direct URLs

Closed from search engines; sites are available via URLs and accessed only via Tor 

How the Dark Web works

Users typically use Freenet, I2P or Tor to access the Dark Web. Other options are available too, but they are not as popular and convenient.

Tor is the most popular option, and it is often implied as the access tool when talking about the Dark Web. In the coming articles, we will look into all methods to access the Dark Web.

Freenet, I2P and Tor are anonymous and decentralized peer-to-peer (P2P) networks. They differ from each other in their operating principles and technologies, as well as the goals and tasks that their users pursue.

In a peer-to-peer network, every node can be the source, receiver and/or relay node at the same time. This is opposed to a server-based network in which all data is stored at the same location and has a single owner. A peer-to-peer network is also different from a regular server-based network in that files in it are always available. If a server goes down in a network with a server-based architecture, no one can access the data. If a node fails in a peer-to-peer network, communications continue via other nodes. Besides, users in a peer-to-peer network can exchange files that have not yet been completely downloaded. For example, if a user has downloaded 30% of a file, he/she can share pieces of those 30% with other users.

Freenet is essentially a large data repository where users can upload their data, which then becomes available to all other Freenet users. In I2P, there are no DNS servers, whose role is fulfilled by automatically updated address books. I2P addresses are cryptographic keys which do not reveal the actual computers. Every user in the project has his/her key and cannot be tracked. private and secure online environment is created. Communication goes through several computers, data gets encrypted, IP addresses change, and the user receives a secure channel accessible via a dedicated browser.Darknet differs from the regular internet in that darknet sites have names consisting of numbers and characters and ending in such top-level domains as .onion or .i2p rather than .com or similar. And in freenet, things get even more complicated. A top-level domain is the starting point of a site’s name. Sites with names ending in ‘.onion’ or ‘.i2p’ can be accessed only with Tor or the I2P network, because their names, unlike regular sites’, cannot be resolved on regular DNS servers.

The difference between DNS and Onion requests

A site can have a name like https://duckduckgfgjdkgjtkjgjkjefi59u49u34fji3fjzad.onion. The user wishing to visit any darknet site needs to know its exact address. 

Shopping on the Dark Web can only be done using a cryptocurrency. No seller will accept regular money as that would greatly compromise his/her anonymity.

What can I do on the Dark Web?

The Dark Web is no different in its features and functionality from your regular internet. For example, it has its own social media, such as the shadow Facebook, and messaging services like Cyph messenger, which is an alternative to Skype.

Apart from social media and messaging services, you can find file sharing, hosting, email, VPN services, online libraries and other useful resources on the Dark Web.

In the next article, we'll tell you more about existing Dark Web projects and provide links to them. 

There are no laws specifically against using the Dark Web. However, your legitimacy on the Dark Web depends on your specific actions there. For instance, it is OK to browse the darknet for information or read Wikipedia articles, and it is not OK to trade in illegal goods.

In some countries, you cannot use the Dark Web as they restrict user access to Tor browser. Here are some of such countries:






🇿🇦South Africa

User hazards on the Dark Web

Malware. On the Dark Web, you should not download files from sources that you don’t trust. Any file may contain a malicious program that could steal important data from your computer or launch a crypto miner that will surreptitiously make money exploiting your computer’s resources.

Government surveillance. Governments are always interested in having the ability to deanonymize users on the darknet.

In 2016, the USA introduced amendments into Rule 41, enabling the FBI to hack into any number of computers located anywhere in the world with just a single search warrant. As a result, the authorities have the right to hack into the network exit node and inspect your confidential information. This happened in 2016, when the FBI hacked over 8,000 computers in 120 countries. Thus, governments can access confidential information if they need to.

Despite the authorization to hack into PCs, there is not always a practical possibility to do so. From the ground up, the Dark Web was designed to complicate any intrusion. For example, I2P is designed based on the assumption that any node may be compromised, so information is difficult to sniff out even when you have access to a node’s traffic.

Also, if you order anything suspicious from the darknet to your real-world address, the government can track the package and find out your address. There have been cases when law enforcement agencies have sent allegedly illegal substances under the guise of drug dealers and then tracked down the recipients and forced a confession out of them.

In 2016, for example, 16 US postal employees were arrested for shipping illegal substances to recipients. The cases when people get tracked through their mail deliveries ordered on the darknet also upset regular users here are some of their thoughts and opinions on Reddit.

Phishing. Fraudsters can use the Dark Web to send out links to phishing websites such as online thrift stores. When a user follows such a link and attempts to make a purchase, the site would read the card details and steal them.

Alternatively, the link can lead to a site with malware that steals information from the user’s PC or mines cryptocurrency.

Therefore, when you are browsing the Dark Web, do not follow any links from unverified sources or published by other users.

Botnets. A botnet is a network of infected devices that are remotely controlled by hackers. User computers become part of such networks if their owner catches a special malicious program. Such programs are often used in the Dark Web to gather a database of computers, spread malware, do phishing or launch DDoS attacks. 

Pirated content. In the Dark Web, there are tons of pirated content — films, books, software, games, etc.

It is unsafe to download any of those. First, piracy may be illegal in your country. Second, you can download malware along with the pirated content.

Illegal content. No one controls what people upload to the darknet. For instance, you can find many ads for drugs or weapons there. Also, there are video hosting sites with psychedelic videos which may affect your mental state.

Shopping scams. When shopping on the darknet, all purchases are paid in cryptocurrency, and it is practically impossible to track down the real person behind any transaction.

Thus, there is always a risk that your seller may simply disappear with your money. Alternatively, you may receive a dummy instead of the product.


  1. The Dark Web is a shadow part of the internet that contains a specific group of websites, files and applications where user identities are concealed from the authorities and other people.

The Dark Web is used to browse the internet anonymously, keep personal files in secure storages or communicate in messengers without revealing identities.

  1. The Dark Web’s downside lies in its dangers to users — malware, possible government surveillance, phishing, botnets and pirated content.

In the next article, we will look into what Freenet is and how it works.