Dark web

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This article is about darknet websites. For the part of the Internet not accessible by traditional search engines, see deep web.
Web based Hidden Services in January 2015[1]
Category Percentage
(Not yet indexed)

The dark web is the World Wide Web content that exists on darknets, overlay networks which use the public Internet but which require specific software, configurations or authorization to access.[2][3] The dark web forms a small part of the deep web, the part of the Web not indexed by search engines, although sometimes the term "deep web" is confusingly used to refer specifically to the dark web.[4][5][6][7][8]

The darknets which constitute the dark web include small, friend-to-friend peer-to-peer networks, as well as large, popular networks like Freenet, I2P, and Tor, operated by public organizations and individuals. Users of the dark web refer to the regular web as the Clearnet due to its unencrypted nature.[9] The Tor dark web may be referred to as onionland,[10] a reference to the network's top level domain suffix .onion and the traffic anonymization technique of onion routing.


The dark web has often been confused with the deep web, the parts of the web not searched by search engines. This confusion dates to at least 2009.[11] Since then, especially in reporting on Silk Road, the two terms have often been conflated,[12][13][14] despite recommendations that they be distinguished.[6][15][16][17]


Web based Hidden Services in February 2016[18][19]
Category Percentage
Illegitimate pornography
Other illicit

A December 2014 study by Gareth Owen from the University of Portsmouth found that the most commonly requested type of content on Tor was child pornography, followed by black markets, while the individual sites with the highest traffic were dedicated to botnet operations (see attached metric).[20] Many whistleblowing sites maintain a presence[21] as well as political discussion forums.[22] Sites associated with Bitcoin, fraud related services and mail order services are some of the most prolific.[20] To counter the trend of controversial content, the artist collective Cybertwee held a bake sale on an onion site.[23]

A more recent February 2016 study from researchers at King's College London give the following break down of content by an alternative category set, highlighting the illicit use of .onion services:[24][25]


Botnets are often structured with their command and control servers based on a censorship resistant hidden service, creating a large amount of bot related traffic.[20][26]

Bitcoin services

Bitcoin services such as tumblers are often available on Tor, and some offer darknet market integration.[27][28] A research study undertaken by Jean-Loup Richet, a research fellow at ESSEC, and carried out with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, highlighted new trends in the use of Bitcoin tumblers for money laundering purposes. A common approach was to use a digital currency exchanger service which converted Bitcoin into an online game currency (such as gold coins in World of Warcraft) that will later be converted back into money.[29][30]

Darknet markets

Main article: Darknet market

Commercial darknet markets, which mediate transactions for illegal drugs and other goods, attracted significant media coverage starting with the popularity of Silk Road and its subsequent seizure by legal authorities.[31] Other markets sell software exploits[32] and weapons.[33]

Hacking groups and services

Many hackers sell their services there individually or as a part of groups.[34] Such groups include hackforum, Trojanforge, Mazafaka, dark0de and the TheRealDeal darknet market.[35] Some have been known to track and extort apparent pedophiles.[36]

Fraud services

Main article: Carding (fraud)

There are numerous carding forums, as well as fraud and counterfeiting services.[37] Many such sites are scams themselves.[38]

Hoaxes and unverified content

Main article: Hoax

There are reports of crowdfunded assassinations and hitmen for hire,[33][39] however these are believed to be exclusively scams.[40] The creator of Silk Road was arrested by Homeland Security investigations (HSI) for his site and allegedly hiring a hitman to kill six people, although the charges were later dropped.[41][42]

There is an urban legend that one can find live murder on the dark web. The term "Red Room" has been coined based on the Japanese animation and urban legend of the same name. However the evidence points towards all reported instances being hoaxes.[43][44]

On June 25, 2015, a creepy indie game Sad Satan was reviewed by Youtubers Obscure Horror Corner which they claimed to have found via the dark web. Various inconsistencies in the channel's reporting cast doubt on the reported version of events.[45]

Phishing and scams

Phishing via cloned websites and other scam sites are numerous,[46][47] with darknet markets often advertised with fraudulent urls.[48][49]


Puzzles such as Cicada 3301 and successors will sometimes use hidden services in order to more anonymously provide clues, often increasing speculation as to the identity of their creators.[50]

Illegal and ethically disputed pornography

There is regular law enforcement action against sites distributing child pornography[51][52] – often via compromising the site by distributing malware to the users.[53][54] Sites use complex systems of guides, forums and community regulation.[55]

Other content includes sexualised torture and killing of animals[56] and revenge porn.[57]


There are at least some real and fraudulent websites claiming to be used by ISIL, including a fake one seized in Operation Onymous.[58] In the wake of the November 2015 Paris attacks an actual such site was hacked by an Anonymous affiliated hacker group GhostSec and replaced with an advert for Prozac.[59]


Although much of the dark web is innocuous, some prosecutors and government agencies, among others, are concerned that it is a haven for criminal activity.[60] In 2014, journalist Jamie Bartlett in his book The Dark Net used the dark net and dark web to describe a range of underground and emergent sub cultures, including social media racists, cam girls, self harm communities, darknet drug markets, cryptoanarchists and transhumanists.[61]

Specialist news sites such as DeepDotWeb[62][63] and All Things Vice[64] provide news coverage and practical information about dark web sites and services. The Hidden Wiki and its mirrors and forks hold some of the largest directories of content at any given time.

Popular sources of dark web .onion links include Pastebin, YouTube, Twitter, Reddit and other Internet forums.[65] Specialist companies with Darksum and Recorded Future track dark web cybercrime goings on for law enforcement purposes.[66]

In 2015 it was announced that Interpol now offers a dedicated dark web training program featuring technical information on Tor, cybersecurity and simulated darknet market take downs.[67]

In October 2013 the UK's National Crime Agency and GCHQ announced the formation of a 'Joint Operations Cell' to focus on cybercrime.[68] In November 2015 this team would be tasked with tackling child exploitation on the dark web as well as other cybercrime.[69]

In popular culture

  • The dark web is a key plot element in Lee Child's novel Make Me (2015).[70]
  • Character Lucas Goodwin uses the dark web to find a hacker in the American television series House of Cards (2013).[71]
  • The dark web is a major plot element in the German techno-thriller film Who Am I (2014).[72] The film also visualizes secret darknet chatrooms with rundown subways in which masked people exchange messages.[73][74]
  • Killer.com (2015) is a novel by Kenneth G. Eade about a cyber bullying mob who hires a killer for hire over the darknet for an anonymous murder.[75][76]
  • CSI: Cyber (2015) follows the work of Mary Aiken inspired Special Agent in Charge Avery Ryan, who leads an FBI division tasked with working on the dark web, investigating everything from online baby auctions ("Kidnapping 2.0"), to the disabling of roller-coaster safeguards ("CMND:\CRASH"), the world of black market weaponry ("Ghost in the Machine"), the death of those using a transport app ("Killer En Route"), and a design flaw in a printer ("Fire Code").
  • Thomas Pynchon's Bleeding Edge dives deep into the dark web to untangle a conspiratorial plot linked to the bombing of the twin towers.

See also


  1. Owen, Gareth. "Dr Gareth Owen: Tor: Hidden Services and Deanonymisation". Retrieved 20 June 2015. 
  2. Greenberg, Andy (19 November 2014). "Hacker Lexicon: What Is the dark web?". Wired. Retrieved 27 August 2015. 
  3. Egan, Matt (12 January 2015). "What is the dark web? How to access the dark web - How to turn out the lights and access the dark web (and why you might want to)". Retrieved 18 June 2015. 
  4. Solomon, Jane (6 May 2015). "The Deep Web vs. The dark web". Retrieved 26 May 2015. 
  5. Greenberg, Andy (19 November 2014). "Hacker Lexicon: What Is the dark web?". Wired. Retrieved 6 June 2015. "Clearing Up Confusion – Deep Web vs. dark web". BrightPlanet. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 NPR Staff (25 May 2014). "Going Dark: The Internet Behind The Internet". Retrieved 29 May 2015. 
  7. The dark web Revealed. Popular Science. . pages 20-21
  8. Greenberg, Andy (19 November 2014). "Hacker Lexicon: What Is the dark web?". Wired. Retrieved 6 June 2015. 
  9. "Clearnet vs hidden services – why you should be careful". DeepDotWeb. Retrieved 4 June 2015. 
  10. Chacos, Brad (12 August 2013). "Meet Darknet, the hidden, anonymous underbelly of the searchable Web". Retrieved 16 August 2015. 
  11. Beckett, Andy (26 November 2009). "The dark side of the internet". Retrieved 9 August 2015. 
  12. Deep Web (film)
  13. Daily Mail Reporter (11 October 2013). "The disturbing world of the Deep Web, where contract killers and drug dealers ply their trade on the internet". Retrieved 25 May 2015. 
  14. "NASA is indexing the 'Deep Web' to show mankind what Google won't". Fusion. 
  15. "Clearing Up Confusion – Deep Web vs. Dark Web". BrightPlanet. 
  16. Solomon, Jane (6 May 2015). "The Deep Web vs. The Dark Web". Retrieved 26 May 2015. 
  17. Greenberg, Andy (19 November 2014). "Hacker Lexicon: What Is the Dark Web?". Retrieved 6 June 2015. 
  18. Moore, Daniel. "Cryptopolitik and the Darknet". Survival: Global Politics and Strategy. Retrieved 20 March 2016. 
  19. Cox, Joseph (1 February 2016). "Study Claims Dark Web Sites Are Most Commonly Used for Crime". Retrieved 20 March 2016. 
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 Mark, Ward (30 December 2014). "Tor's most visited hidden sites host child abuse images". BBC News. Retrieved 28 May 2015. 
  21. "Everything You Need to Know on Tor & the Deep Web". whoishostingthis. Retrieved 18 June 2015. 
  22. Cox, Joseph (25 February 2015). "What Firewall? China’s Fledgling Deep Web Community". Retrieved 19 June 2015. 
  23. Paul, Kari (9 December 2015). "I Bought Adorable Cookies on the Deep Web". Retrieved 10 December 2015. 
  24. Moore, Daniel. "Cryptopolitik and the Darknet". Survival: Global Politics and Strategy. Retrieved 20 March 2016. 
  25. Cox, Joseph (1 February 2016). "Study Claims Dark Web Sites Are Most Commonly Used for Crime". Retrieved 20 March 2016. 
  26. Reeve, Tom (30 September 2015). "Extortion on the cards". Retrieved 8 December 2015. 
  27. Allison, Ian (11 February 2015). "Bitcoin tumbler: The business of covering tracks in the world of cryptocurrency laundering". Retrieved 8 December 2015. 
  28. "Helix Updates: Integrated Markets Can Now Helix Your BTC". 5 August 2015. Retrieved 8 December 2015. 
  29. Richet, Jean-Loup (June 2013). "Laundering Money Online: a review of cybercriminals methods". arXiv. Retrieved 20 October 2013. 
  30. Richet, Jean-Loup (2012). "How to Become a Black Hat Hacker? An Exploratory Study of Barriers to Entry Into Cybercrime.". 17th AIM Symposium. 
  31. Burleigh, Nina (19 February 2015). "The Rise and Fall of Silk Road, the dark web's Amazon". Retrieved 25 May 2015. 
  32. Greenberg, Andy (17 April 2015). "New Dark-Web Market Is Selling Zero-Day Exploits to Hackers". Wired. Retrieved 24 May 2015. 
  33. 33.0 33.1 Holden, Alex (10 February 2015). "Ukraine crisis: Combatants scouring dark web for advice on bridge bombing and anti-tank missiles". Retrieved 28 May 2015. 
  34. Holden, Alex (15 January 2015). "A new breed of lone wolf hackers are roaming the deep web - and their prey is getting bigger". Retrieved 19 June 2015. 
  35. "Hacking communities in the Deep Web". 15 May 2015. Retrieved 5 September 2015. 
  36. Cox, Joseph (12 November 2015). "A dark web Hacker Is Hunting Potential Pedophiles to Extort Them for Money". Retrieved 12 November 2015. 
  37. Cox, Joseph (14 January 2016). "Dark Web Vendor Sentenced for Dealing Counterfeit Coupons". Retrieved 24 January 2016. 
  38. DeepDotWeb (28 May 2015). "Secrets to Unmasking Bitcoin Scams – 4 Eye Opening Case Studies". Retrieved 12 November 2015. 
  39. Greenberg, Andy (18 November 2013). "Meet The 'Assassination Market' Creator Who's Crowdfunding Murder With Bitcoins". Forbes. Retrieved 29 August 2015. 
  40. Ormsby, Eileen (3 August 2012). "Conversation with a hitman (or not)". Retrieved 29 August 2015. 
  41. Nicole Hong, "Silk Road Founder Ross Ulbricht Sentenced to Life in Prison", Wall Street Journal, May 29, 2015.
  42. Andy Greenberg, "Silk Road Creator Ross Ulbricht Sentenced to Life in Prison", Wired, May 29, 2015.
  43. Ormsby, Eileen (29 August 2015). "Waiting in the Red Room". Retrieved 29 August 2015. 
  44. Howell O'Neill, Patrick (28 August 2015). "Dark Net site promised to livestream torture and execution of 7 ISIS jihadists". Retrieved 29 August 2015. 
  45. Barton, Hannah (25 October 2015). "The spooky, twisted saga of the Deep Web horror game ‘Sad Satan’". Retrieved 22 November 2015. 
  46. Stockley, Mark (1 July 2015). "Hundreds of Dark Web sites cloned and "booby trapped"". Retrieved 8 December 2015. 
  47. Fox-Brewster, Thomas (18 November 2014). "Many Sites That Fell In Epic Onymous Tor Takedown 'Were Scams Or Legit'". Forbes. Retrieved 19 June 2015. 
  48. "Beware of Phishing Scams On Clearnet Sites! (darknetmarkets.org)". DeepDotWeb. 3 July 2015. Retrieved 8 December 2015. 
  49. "Warning: More Onion Cloner Phishing Scams". 22 April 2015. Retrieved 8 December 2015. 
  50. Bell, Chris (25 November 2013). "The internet mystery that has the world baffled". Retrieved 8 December 2015. 
  51. Willacy, Mark (26 August 2015). "Secret 'dark net' operation saves scores of children from abuse; ringleader Shannon McCoole behind bars after police take over child porn site". Retrieved 26 August 2015. 
  52. Conditt, Jessica (8 January 2016). "FBI hacked the Dark Web to bust 1,500 pedophiles". Retrieved 8 January 2016. 
  53. Cox, Joseph (5 January 2016). "The FBI's 'Unprecedented' Hacking Campaign Targeted Over a Thousand Computers". Retrieved 8 January 2016. 
  54. Farivar, Cyrus (16 June 2015). "Feds bust through huge Tor-hidden child porn site using questionable malware". Retrieved 8 August 2015. 
  55. Evans, Robert (16 June 2015). "5 Things I Learned Infiltrating Deep Web Child Molesters". Retrieved 29 August 2015. 
  56. Cox, Joseph (11 November 2014). "As the FBI Cleans the Dark Net, Sites Far More Evil Than Silk Road Live On". Retrieved 3 August 2015. 
  57. Markowitz, Eric (10 July 2014). "The Dark Net: A Safe Haven for Revenge Porn?". Retrieved 3 August 2015. 
  58. Cub, Nik (17 November 2014). "FBI seizes fake Tor hosted Jihad funding website as part of Operation Onymous, leaves up real site.". Retrieved 25 November 2015. 
  59. Cuthbertson, Anthony (25 November 2015). "Hackers replace dark web Isis propaganda site with advert for Prozac". Retrieved 25 November 2015. 
  60. Lev Grossman (11 November 2013). "The Secret Web: Where Drugs, Porn and Murder Live Online". TIME.com. 
  61. Ian, Burrell (28 August 2014). "The Dark Net:Inside the Digital Underworld by Jamie Bartlett, book review". The Independent. London. Retrieved 3 June 2015. 
  62. Swearingen, Jake (2 October 2014). "A Year After Death of Silk Road, Darknet Markets Are Booming". Retrieved 24 May 2015. 
  63. Franceschi-Bicchierai, Lorenzo (13 May 2015). "Hackers Tried To Hold a Darknet Market For a Bitcoin Ransom". Retrieved 19 May 2015. 
  64. Solon, Olivia (3 February 2013). "Police crack down on Silk Road following first drug dealer conviction". Retrieved 27 May 2015. 
  65. Koebler, Jason (23 February 2015). "The Closest Thing to a Map of the Dark Net: Pastebin". Retrieved 14 July 2015. 
  66. Simonite, Tom (18 March 2016). "The Surprising Light Side of the Dark Web". Retrieved 20 March 2016. 
  67. Ricard (2 August 2015). "Interpol dark web Training Course". Retrieved 8 August 2015. 
  68. Rose, David (13 October 2013). "Secrets of the UK's new FBI: Police chief reveals elite force of 5,000 'super' agents will wage a high-tech manhunt for Britain's most wanted criminals". Retrieved 9 November 2015. 
  69. Box, Joseph (8 November 2015). "The UK Will Police the dark web with a New Task Force". Retrieved 9 November 2015. 
  70. "Book Review: Make Me by Lee Child". 
  71. Auerbach, David (20 February 2014). "Not So Deep". Slate. Retrieved 16 January 2016. 
  72. Pilarczyk, Hannah (September 2014). "Hacker-Thriller mit Tom Schilling: Willkommen im Darknet". DER SPIEGEL. Retrieved 27 January 2016. 
  73. Jerzy, Nina (25 September 2014). "Who Am I - Kein System ist sicher - Hacker mit Minderwertigkeitskomplexen". N-TV. Retrieved 28 January 2016. 
  74. "Who am I – kein System ist sicher - Didaktisierungsvorschlag des Goethe-Instituts Frankreich" (PDF). Goethe-Instituts Frankreich. Retrieved 28 January 2016. 
  75. Vinny O'Hare. "Featured Author Kenneth Eade". Book Reader Magazine. Retrieved 2 October 2015. 
  76. "The Devil and the Dark Net". dissidentvoice.org. Retrieved 2 October 2015. 

Further reading