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What is the deep web and dark web, and how do we use them?

October 20th, 2017

Often, people use the terms deep web and dark web interchangeably. This has been especially true after a drug dealer, (The Dread Pirate Roberts) made the news recently, and some of the writers got the two mixed up in their report. The drug dealer/free marketeer’s crimes were being the mastermind behind the dark web site Silk Road and paying for the assassination of a rival drug lord who was ripping him off. Silk Road was and probably still is a website like eBay located on the dark web where you can buy hard-to-find items (mostly drugs) using a form of crypto currency called bitcoin. 

Deep web basic:

The deep web can, in some sense, be considered part of the World Wide Web. However, the difference is that the deep web is not indexed by commonly used search engines, such as Google, Bing, or Yahoo. Corporations store tons of information on the deep web using secure servers, including information that you most likely access every single day. If you perform online banking; send and receive emails; access pay-to-search/paid subscription sites, like an ancestry search site, or a dating website; enter a password to access an account that holds private information, such as a bank, Google, or work-related account, you are accessing information from the deep web. 

Very basic dark web description: 

The dark web is made up of illegal sites, and hackers, drug dealers, and human traffickers can advertise and sell their goods and services in a somewhat secure way due to its layered encryption. It is also home to those who just want a place where they can browse, create sites, and share information with each other without sacrificing their anonymity. People usually search the dark web by using the Tor browser, and the most popular way to launch your own website is with I2P. A site/page cannot always be found by Tor or any other browser. These sites/pages are only accessible by encrypted invitation or someone who has enough information and knowledge to hack the site. 

How does an investigator use these sources of information? 

Deep web:

Investigators often search the deep web by

accessing database information from paid subscription companies, such as Tracers Info Specialists, Skip Smasher, Transunion TLOxp, and PallTech, to name a few. These data brokers have information on a person’s address, date of birth, credit reports, etc. An investigator also has sources for access to outdated information, like old newspapers and school yearbooks, which are also part of the deep web. 

Dark web:

An investigator might use the dark web to find what he/she can’t otherwise see and to do what he/she couldn’t safely do in public due to privacy concerns. Examples include if the investigator is attempting to recover a stolen item, working undercover with the feds to fight against counterfeit currency or illegal drugs, finding a missing person, or just communicating with other investigators. 


Investigators who use the dark web typically specialize in cyber investigations and have their own sophisticated equipment setups. I believe that the dark web can be used for good purposes; however, accessing it safely is much more complicated than simply downloading Tor and getting a VPN. I do not recommend that anyone surf it unless they have training and/or IT knowledge, as there is a real threat that personal information could become compromised. If you decide to access the dark web, though, below are some very basic things to know in order to decrease your risk. 

Use a new computer that does not have your personal information stored on it.

Never use Windows with Tor. 

Download Tor onto a laptop that runs the Linux operating system.

Update Linux regularly. 

Use a proxy server.

Block all outbound internet traffic except Tor by using Tails firewall. 

Update Tails regularly. 

Disable JavaScript, Java, and Flash while using Tor. 

Don’t participate in illegal activities. 

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