What Is the Dark Web and Is It Really Dangerous?

Disclaimer: HP Tech Takes does not condone accessing the dark web or doing so to participate in illegal activities. Please make yourself aware of local laws and restrictions before accessing the dark web.

You watch a YouTube video of a cat sitting on a tiny couch. Then head to Amazon to buy a birthday present for a family member’s birthday. These activities take place on the top levels of the internet. Below lies more layers of the world wide web that doesn’t see the light of the day. 

The legality of some content is questionable, and there are also archives of invaluable data that would get lost on the standard web.

Today in the spotlight, is the unexplored part of the web. We take a closer look at the dark web, the accompanying history, and how to access it using trusted tools.

What is the Dark Web?

The dark web is a part of the world wide web that is not accessible through standard search engines such as Google, Bing, Baidu, etc. The term dark web is often confused with the deep web, a subset of the hidden part of the internet. It exists on the darknet, an overlay network on top of the regular internet, accessible through specific software, configurations, and setups. 

The dark internet is kept under wraps through advanced layers of encryption designed to keep communication private. Anonymity and decentralisation form the key principles, ensuring an equal internet, sans censorship. 

Although it forms a small chunk of the internet, darknet websites are accessible through special networks such as Tor, with sites on it having a .onion domain. The Onion Project was developed by the United States Department of Defense to communicate anonymously over the internet within its security network worldwide in the early 90s. Snowden’s revelation in 2013 specifically talked about using Tor to avoid surveillance

The Onion routing project made its way to the public through the efforts of an MIT graduate. Realising the importance of addressing censorship, the US government started funding the project after the initial interest by EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation).

It paved the way for the Tor browser, moving beyond the Tor proxy. Less technically savvy people could evade censorship through the new browser. The project played a vital role in circumventing government firewalls in highly-censored countries.

Deep web vs Dark Web - What’s the difference?

Both terms are often confused or used interchangeably. Even Google results do not provide clarity with websites offering information on the dark web.

However, there is a stark difference between the two. The deep web is an area of the internet that cannot be accessed publicly and is not indexed by search engines. On the other hand, the dark web is a sub-section of the deep web, which requires special tools and software like Tor to access. 

The deep web exists just below the publicly available web, also known as the surface web. This content can be accessed by creating accounts on websites and portals. For instance, online banking, private forums, networks, medical records and other sensitive information make up the deep web. 

There is no filter between the users and the deep web. Any user on the internet with login credentials can access a site. In contrast, the dark web has access restrictions. Special tools, such as the Tor browser, are required to access this area.

The deep web is relatively user-friendly and secure. Accessing sites here is comparatively safe and does not warrant particular caution. On the contrary, the dark web should be accessed with extreme caution and special measures in place. PGP plus the Tor browser would be a good place to start. 

Is it illegal to access the Dark Web?

The short answer is that it is not illegal to visit the dark web, but it’s quite complicated. The legality of accessing the dark web depends upon each country's laws. It varies from region to region, with a different definition of illegal content. 

Accessing the dark web in India is legal, and the government does not restrict it. In the state’s purview, a user is merely surfing a part of the internet. It becomes a problem if the user accesses or downloads prohibited content according to the prevailing laws. In addition, the distribution and sale of banned goods or services also amount to criminality. 

The easiest way to determine whether something is illegal is by thinking if it's not allowed by the local laws. 

Risks of the Dark Web

Visiting the dark web is like walking on eggshells; you must be careful accessing certain sections. Some risks include:

  • Automatic download of unsolicited files when visiting certain websites. These unwanted files can cause harm as they may contain spyware and malware. Some come injected with ransomware, which takes control of computers and asks for ransom in exchange for handing back commands. 

  • User identity, such as location and computer configuration, can be revealed when using unsecured tools to access the dark web. Always use Tor with PGP or a multi-hop VPN to be sure of hiding any information related to the user. 

  • Users can be exposed to prohibited material banned in the residing country. They can land in hot waters with the authorities for mere accidental exposure. 

  • Hackers and other nefarious actors can misuse the entered email for illegal online activities such as financial fraud, identity theft, and social media ad campaigns.

How dangerous is the Dark Web?

The dark web is thought to have expanded by over 300% since 2017, and the risks it poses have only increased.

It’s therefore crucial that you keep yourself protected from the dangers. Here are some concerning statistics to help you understand the scope of cybercrime that goes on in the depths of the dark web:

  • Nearly 90% of all cyberattacks can be traced back to human error or recklessness. Cybercriminals frequently target businesses, and not just because of security flaws in their networks. User behaviour becomes a concern in addition to the usage of weak passwords and usernames. Not everyone in the company is there because they believe in the mission, and some of them are just too naive.

What’s selling on the Dark Web?

People sell a variety of products and services on the dark web. Some are legal, while others are not. With the prevalence of cryptocurrency, many sellers prefer digital currency for anonymity and convenience. This report from Privacy Affairs prepared a price list of the items on dark web: 


Price (USD)

Hacked Facebook account


Credit Card details


10 million USA email addresses


Russian passport scan


DDOS attacks on a website for a month


Finding your own account or personal details for sale on the dark web can be a daunting experience. The first step to take is to contact the authorities. Buying back your personal details from the marketplace will not put an end to the problem. 

Most common Dark Web tools

1. Web browser

Having the right web browser is crucial for accessing the dark web. While there is a Tor browser, users can also look at other options. Whonix is a sandbox environment with a browser, borrowing the source code from Tor. Users can rely on the regular Firefox by heading to about:config > network.dns.blockDotOnion through the address bar and toggle it to FALSE

2. Dark Web search engines

Google and Bing do not entertain or index dark web pages and websites. DuckDuckGo is a growing search engine focused primarily on privacy without user tracking. It indexes pages from the dark web, and users can search for them through the Tor browser. 

3. Virtual Private Networks (VPN)

VPNs provide a layer of anonymity and encryption to help users stay relatively safe when accessing the dark web. It encrypts traffic, helps circumvent ISP-level censorship, and anonymity from the websites mining user data. Keep in mind that VPN companies adhere to the prevailing laws of the countries they’re based in, and can share data under special circumstances. 


The dark web is an unregulated place with different elements that one may encounter. The thing to remember is to always be cautious visiting unverified sites and avoid downloading suspicious files. While it is not illegal to visit the dark in most parts of the world, accessing locally prohibited content can land the user in trouble.