What Is The Deep Web? What Are Darknet Markets?
There’s a lot of information out there surrounding what the Deep Web is and isn’t.
What it is: the Deep Web is an area of the internet not indexed in search engines.
What it isn’t: a James Bond movie villain’s secret plan or anything similarly nefarious.
Let’s take a closer look at what the Deep Web is, along with its close cousin the Darknet or Dark Web.
Deep Web Explained
When you use the typical search engine, you get what seems like a lot of results. The truth is this information is only a fraction of what exists on the entire internet. You’re only seeing what is called the Surface Web.
Most of what we do on the internet takes place there. But there are much more data and many more websites that exists – more than what you can find on the surface, in fact. Few thousand deep web sites are listed here.
This is called the Deep or Hidden Web, and it contains all matter of things. You’ve probably heard of some of the more controversial stuff already, like online black markets. But the majority of content located in the Deep Web actually isn’t illegal or immoral, contrary to what some may believe.
Academic or library databases, for instance, are stored on the Deep Web. When you’re on one of your favorite websites and use the site’s built-in search function, those results are likely coming from the Deep Web. They’re different than what Google or Yahoo would be able to give you, and therefore don’t count as part of the Surface Web.
The words “surface” and “deep” come from the often used analogy that compares the internet to our oceans. You have the data at or just below the water’s surface, that’s easily reachable by the fisherman/search engines trawling (not to be confused with trolling) for fish/search results. It’s easily reeled in or caught without any special equipment or effort.
Below that is the Deep Web. And even further is the Dark Web or darknet, where light from the surface doesn’t reach and the strangest and scariest creatures of the ocean/internet lurk. You’ll need a certain kind of gear to get there.
Accessing the Dark Web
You can’t get to the Dark Web using your regular web browser. You’ll need a special browser, specifically designed for the task. By far the best and most popular is Tor.
With Tor, you’ll be able to reach not only the Dark Web, but the even smaller subsection known as the Tor Network. This area of the internet is built around anonymity.
As you can probably guess, its anonymous nature makes it a good place for all kinds of things people wouldn’t dare do on the surface. This runs the gamut from political dissidents to drug dealers to pedophiles – and everything in between.
What Are Darknet Markets?
For pretty much as long as the Tor Network has been around, it’s supported all kinds of commerce, from smaller sites that sell just one particular good or service, to massive markets with hundreds of vendors and thousands of transactions.
Want to hire a hitman? There’s a site for that! But we’d encourage you not to, since not only is it immoral and illegal, there’s a good chance it’s a scam. That risk of getting scammed was partially responsible for the birth of the larger markets, otherwise known as darknet markets or DNM.
These operate in a way that’s surprisingly similar to any other e-commerce site you’ve used in the past, from Amazon to eBay. Once you’re there, you’ll have a variety of products to choose from, spread across dozens of categories.
There’s the typical search box to help you find the specific item you’re looking for, pictures to show you what it looks like, and most importantly, feedback. Buyers are able to rate the people they purchase from, from the quality of the product to the level of customer service. They’re also able to leave reviews, whether it’s a sweet message about what a great vendor they are or a nasty one accusing them of scamming.
All transactions are done using bitcoins, a digital currency that’s gained legs in recent years and allows users to buy things online without leaving the paper trail of a credit card. These days, markets also use escrow, which is funded by the buyer and released once they’ve received what they ordered. This helps to stop scamming, at least a little.
On darknet markets, you’ll find drugs, weapons, stolen credit card info, and more. Most people stick to the drugs, which is no surprise giving the amazing selection and quality available. Buyers can pick up anything from a rare strain of cannabis to the strongest psychedelics.
All communication between buyer and seller is encrypted, which helps keep everything safe.
A Brief History of DNMs
From the chaos of the smaller vendors and sites on the darknet emerged the Silk Road, which quickly became the biggest – and to this day, the most infamous – market on the Tor network. The site sprang up in early 2011 and enjoyed a strong run, until the FBI finally cracked the code that is Tor and was able to bring the site down, arresting the supposed founder in the process.
But like some kind of sick, drug dealing hydra, several other sites quickly popped up to take its place. And more. And more.
Not all were honest, however, and a few sites ended up scamming their entire user base and running off with millions of dollars in bitcoins. Other markets just never took off.
Admins and vendors had learned from their mistakes, stepping up security on their sites and the Tor Network in general. This worked for a while, but almost a year to the day since the first Silk Road had been shut down, Silk Road 2.0 and dozens of other sites were hit by a combined raid conducted by a coalition of several governments.
But the two largest sites, Evolution Marketplace and Agora, survived. Experts claim darknet markets are getting stronger and stronger, with raids serving as only minor setbacks and, ironically, free publicity.
The Future of the Dark Web
Several decentralized markets are currently in the works, which promise to be harder for both law enforcement and thieves to target.
The Deep Web and DNMs are becoming household names, with more buyers than ever using their services. The future promises to be very interesting, with a push for a more regulated internet happening on the surface, while the Deep Web below thrives.