What is the 'Dark Web'

The dark web refers to encrypted online content that is not indexed on conventional search engines. The dark web is part of deep web, a wider collection of content that doesn't appear through regular internet browsing. A specific browser like Tor is required to access dark web sites. The dark web holds anonymous message boards, online markets for drugs, exchanges for stolen financial and private data, and much more. Transactions in this hidden economy are often made in bitcoins and physical goods are shipped in a way to protect both the buyer and seller from being tracked by law enforcement.

The dark web is also referred to as the darknet.


The dark web has become an online marketplace for illegal goods. Many of the innovations from legitimate online sellers like Amazon and eBay, such as customer reviews and seller ratings, have been adopted to facilitate the sales of drugs, weapons, stolen information and more. The main attraction of the dark web is the ability to maintain anonymity while conducting one’s business. The intentions can be noble, as with journalists conducting interviews with people living in repressive countries where communications are monitored. The flip side of the anonymized web is the drug trade, the weapons trade, and even more disturbing areas such as powerful hacking toolkits and child pornography trade.

Dark Web Versus Deep Web

The dark web and the deep web are often confused with each other. The deep web includes all the pages that don’t pop up when you run a web search. This covers everything that requires a login for a paywall or security, like personal email or online banking. The dark web is kept hidden and anonymous using encryption and tools to maintain anonymity. As any message or comment board that allows anonymous posting will show, anonymity can be abused.

The Size of the Dark Web Economy

In 2016, the Economist reported that the drug side of the dark web grew from a range of $15 and $17 million in 2012 to $150 to $180 million in 2015. As far as estimating the entire economy, including guns, information and other transactions, the very nature of the dark web has foiled every attempt thus far. There is also a growing service economy inside the dark web like hackers for hire, hitmen and other service providers that can’t advertise over traditional channels.

Regulating the Dark Web

Regulators have struggled with enforcement when it comes to the dark web. After Silk Road, a popular drug market in the dark web, was taken down by the FBI in 2013, Silk Road 2 popped up and made it to 2014 before the FBI and Europol shut it down. Silk Road 3 followed of course. In addition to the difficulty in stamping out new marketplaces, the technology itself has evolved to where the OpenBazaar open source code allows for decentralized marketplaces similar to how torrents allow for decentralized file sharing. So the dark web economy may continue to grow despite the best efforts of the law.

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