Dark Web

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Internet Content of the World Wide Web

The dark web consists of internet content within the deep web accessible only with specific software and browsing configurations. To achieve a greater understanding of the dark web, the surface web and deep web should be explained first.

  • The surface web consists of internet content available to the general public typically accessed through mainstream search engines
    • Eg. news articles, youtube videos, wikipedia
  • Below the surface web exists the deep web, comprising of internet content not accessible through search engines or content that has protected access
    • Eg. email, online banking, outdated websites from the beginning of the internet

The dark web forms a small portion of the deep web.


Accessing the Dark Web

Accessing the dark web requires specific software that promotes anonymous browsing. One of the most popular software available for the general public to browse the Dark Web with is TOR.[1] Installing TOR is easy and simple, one can just follow the instructions upon entering the home page.

Having TOR installed is the minimum one needs to access the dark web. However for the most secure browsing experience, it is recommended that one utilizes Virtual Private Network (VPN) technology before entering the dark web through TOR.[2]

VPN Technology

VPN Technology allows users to connect to a private network before accessing the internet.

Main benefits of a VPN include [3] :

  1. Hiding your IP address by providing you a new temporary address
  2. Provides an extra layer of security before entering the dark web
    • Protects against tracking

Benefits of browsing with VPN services


TOR bounces your internet connection around multiple IP addresses making tracking difficult

TOR is software which provides users access to .onion websites inaccessible through regular browsers. Things to note about TOR:

  • It protects users by bouncing internet data through thousands of volunteer computer servers spread across the world, instead of internet data taking a traditional straight path to its destination.
  • The TOR browser prevents a third party from tracking your internet activity.
  • The TOR browser promotes anonymity, which means TOR browser is a valuable tool to protecting your privacy.
  • Some of the concerns one should note is that TOR is not a dedicated end-to-end encryption tool; this is not its designed purpose.
    • Therefore it is recommended that one use a VPN while browsing with TOR.

Steps to Acesss the Dark Web using TOR

Steps to Access the Dark Web using TOR

Summarized: [1]

  1. To access the dark web, you need to have a TOR browser on your system.
  2. Download TOR. Only get it from the official TOR website.
  3. Official TOR website: https://www.torproject.org/download/download.html
  4. After downloading the TOR bundle, you need to install them on your system.
  5. Click to open the downloaded file to start the installation process.
  6. Follow the installation guidance to complete the process.
  7. Once you have installed TOR, open it.
  8. Now, you can securely access the dark web using TOR browser.

How TOR operates

The Tor network runs through thousands of volunteers spread throughout the world. In the image below, Alice want to transfer a message to bob. On a normal internet browser, Alice's message will directly transfer to Bob. On a TOR connection, there are thousands of computers around the world serving as possibilities for Alice’s message to reach bob.

How TOR operates [2]

Uses of the Dark Web

Online Marketplaces

Dark web marketplaces look very similar to surface web online marketplaces

Online marketplaces are one of the most popular applications in the dark web. Like many popular trading platforms available on the surface web (eg. eBay, Craigslist, Amazon), online marketplaces on the dark web allow for the exchange of goods, both legal and illegal for specified currencies, usually in the form of cryptocurrencies (eg. Bitcoin). These marketplaces' hosts match buyers with sellers of goods and products in exchange for a transaction fee.

An example of one such dark web marketplace can be seen on the right. Many of the features and elements familiar to users on surface web marketplaces can be seen replicated on these webpages.

Illegal Products

Illegal products are usually the first items that come to mind when there is a conversation about the dark web. While the dark web has so much more to offer, it is undeniable that illegal products make up a significant portion of dark web transactions.

Illegal products that are commonly traded on the dark web marketplaces include:

  • Illicit drugs (fentanyl, meth, cocaine, heroin, marijuana, acid, etc.)
  • Fake or stolen identification (driver’s licenses, birth certificates, passports, citizenships, etc.)
  • Stolen personal information (bank cards, credit cards, passwords, emails, accounts, social security numbers, etc.)
  • Child Pornography
  • Firearms, and other illegal weapons
  • Other banned/illegal materials, items, animals, etc.

Usually, these transactions are paid for using untraceable forms of currency. In the past, Bitcoin has been a favourite among these users. However, with the rising need for increased anonymity and privacy, other cryptocurrencies such as Monero and Ethereum have been gaining popularity with the dark web community. Alternatively, other virtual assets have been traded in the past for products on the marketplace. Items such as gold from the online MMORPG World of Warcraft (which holds value within the game and in the real world) have been favoured for their difficulty in being traced.

Arguments have been made in the past regarding the benefits of having an online marketplace for these illegal products. For example, addicts are in less risk when purchasing drugs online compared to a face to face transaction with a drug dealer in person. While both activities remain illegal, the buyer is facing no physical risk when purchasing their choice of drugs through the dark web. People, especially drug dealers remain to be unpredictable and at times can become extremely violent, leading to bodily harm. Online marketplaces can therefore provide users with a safe haven in which to purchase their products.

Assassins for sale. Note the heavy reliance on trust on anonymity between both parties. Communication is done through private and highly encrypted online chats and email servers (tormail)

Illegal Services

Another large portion of the online marketplace is the availability of various illegal services for purchase. Common services include:

  • Hacking requests
  • Hitmen for hire (assassinations for sale)

The marketplace does also allow for other more niche fetishes and related services to be bought and sold.

These services are generally rendered after payment or at least after a portion of the required payment has been received due to their level of risk. Depending on the nature of the task, and the person hired to do it, their effectiveness varies greatly. However, the fact that many of these services remain and are available testify to their past performance and effectiveness.

As with anything related to illegal activity, it is up to the buyer to put their faith into the seller to uphold their end of the bargain. There is no legal authority or consumer protection to protect those that have been scammed or cheated out of their money for illegal products and services not rendered.

Crackdown on Dark Web Marketplaces

Due to the availability of the dark web, anyone, including law enforcement, can access these webpages, assuming they have the proper equipment and software installed on their computers. Although the dark web is praised for its anonymity and privacy, there are still methods in which authorities can utilize to track and monitor specific individuals or entire websites/organizations within the dark web.

Popular websites on the dark web are prime targets for the FBI, due to their traffic and many of them have since been seized and taken down. However, this merely delays the inevitable rise of the next copycat marketplace.

List of Websites that have been seized by the FBI since 2012:

  • The Silk Road
    • Founder Ross Ulbricht sentenced to life in prison
    • Ross/Silk Road had a worth of $28.5M USD in Bitcoins
    • Seized in 2013
  • The Farmers Market
    • Seized in 2012
  • Atlantis
    • Stole Bitcoins held in escrow from users
    • Seized in 2013
  • Project Black Flag
    • Stole Bitcoins held in escrow from users
    • Seized in 2013
  • Silk Road 2.0
    • Hacked in 2014, lost $2.7M USD worth of user’s Bitcoins
    • Seized in 2014

Cryptopcurrency In the Dark Web

A cryptocurrency (or crypto currency) is a digital asset in which encryption techniques are used to regulate the generation of units of currency and to verify the transfer of funds.

Usage In the Dark Web

Brief overview of Blockchain technology
  1. Private: Your finances are not visible to the public. A person looking at the coin's blockchain won't be able to see how much money you have.
  2. Untraceable: The coins can't be traced through blockchain analysis or blockchain monitoring.
  3. Secure: All transactions are encrypted and the wallet that holds your funds is encrypted.
  4. Fungible: All coins are equal and have the same value.
  5. Decentralized: All nodes (a node is a running instance of the coin's blockchain) of the network are equal. There is no superclass of nodes, which have more influence or control over transactions or the system than other nodes.

Blockchain Technology

The most simplified explanation of the Blockchain is that it is a decentralized ledger or list of all transactions across a peer-to-peer network. This is the foundational technology of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, and has the potential to disrupt a wide variety of business processes. [1]

Leading Cryptocurriencies In the Dark Web


  • The first decentralized cryptocurrency since 2009;
  • Still the most popular currency on the dark web market
  • Criticism of being pseudonymous
    • Bitcoin is pseudononymous, not anonymous.

All Bitcoin transactions are visible on the blockchain, and there is a Bitcoin Rich List, so Bitcoin is not private. For Bitcoin mixers, you have to trust that they can keep their data safe and are not owned by or cooperating with a government, hackers, or other entities.


  • Created in April 2014, adopted by major darknet market AlphaBay in 2016
  • Monero experienced rapid growth in market capitalization (from US$5M to US$185M) and transaction volume during the year 2016, partly due to adoption by major darknet market AlphaBay at the end of summer 2016
  • The source of funds in every Monero transaction is untraceable, and the transaction amounts are confidential.
    • Always-on privacy means that every Monero user's activity enhances the privacy of all other users.
  • Funds on the Monero blockchain are untraceable, thus they cannot become tainted by association with their previous owners.
    • This means you can accept Monero without risk of the funds you've received being blocked or censored at currency exchanges or merchants.[2]

Monero vs Bitcoin

The transfer of cryptocurrency in a dark web transaction

Monero is not based on Bitcoin. It is based on the CryptoNote protocol. Bitcoin is a completely transparent system, where people can see exactly how much money is being sent from one user to another. Monero hides this information to protect user privacy in all transactions. It also has a dynamic block size and dynamic fees, an ASIC-resistant proof of work, and a tail coin emission, among several other features.[3]

Example Dark Web Transaction Using CryptopCurrency

To send bitcoins, you need two things: a bitcoin address and a private key. A bitcoin address is generated randomly, and is simply a sequence of letters and numbers. The private key is another sequence of letters and numbers, but unlike your bitcoin address, this is kept secret.

On the Silk Road, payment works through an escrow service. Buyers move their bitcoins into the Silk Road’s system and send a message to the seller, containing a shipping address (which is deleted automatically from the system after it is seen—a little like more benign services such as snapchat). The money is frozen and the dealer sends the drugs, typically by post. When the package arrives, the buyer confirms delivery online and the bitcoins are released to the dealer. [4]

Anonymous Forums and Underground Communities

On the surface web, there exists a plethora of forums and communities where online users have the ability to join and engage with each other in various topics. Similar to the surface web, the dark web hosts many forums and communities as well. The dark web should be treated as a mirror of the surface web, the difference being that it is a private mirror where the users will be able to stay anonymous.


Safe Alternatives: Some dark web marketplaces have established trust

Many initial impressions of the dark web are related to negative activities and products. This is a true statement as there exists a large amount of criminal and illegal activity such as drugs and child pornography. However, unnoticed is a large amount of normal or positive activities, such as activities revolving positive encounters where individuals are able to express freedom of speech and an outreach for support for negative topics.

Safe Alternatives

Taboo topics being discussed

With the ability to purchase illegal goods, a proper platform and community dedicated to these illegal goods can provide an opportunity to source better quality. This improvement in quality can range from the product itself or the process. With drugs for example, being able to purchase from a seller that has processed thousands of transactions and has many trusted reviews may provide a cleaner version of the drug without any dangerous additives. The process for the buyer is also much safer, being able to stay anonymous in a safe environment compared to traveling to unknown areas meeting dangerous individuals in person.

Support for Taboo Activities/Topics

On the surface web where particular topics are censored or restricted, individuals who are in need of support for these taboo topics will be unable to seek help without fear of being judged by the general public. With the dark web where nothing is withheld, these individuals can find the proper support on this platform, as individuals can remain anonymous.

One controversial new dark web website is called Sanctioned Suicide.[5] This is a website that provides a community for users to discuss everything related to suicide whether it be simple thoughts or the actual deed if carrying it out. There are many support options available on the surface web, but rarely any of them will delve into the topic of actually killing oneself. For an individual who is open to this help tool, Sanctioned Suicide can provide support. With knowledge and support in this taboo activity, individuals may be able to receive the support they need to get better and also have a grounds to discuss the topic.

Journalism and Whistleblowing

The web is a large platform full of opportunities for the journalism community. With access to many different types of information and users being added on the daily, the resource for journalists to utilize is nearly infinite. However, due to the monitored and censored state of the surface web, particular types of information may not make it to the users. This is where the dark web becomes the platform of opportunity for this type of confidential and controversial information.

Dangers of the surface web

When trying to post or access information on the surface web, a trail is created that can be traced back to the original user. With individuals such as whistleblowers (eg. Edward Snowden) trying to disclose information that is confidential and controversial, charges can be held against them if identified.


There are methods on the surface web available in order to increase the difficulty of tracing the content back to the user such as encryption. With encryption the content or information is encoded so that only authorized users can view the content. However, this only means that unauthorized users can’t access it and can still intercept it. Encryption in a sense, is marking itself as a red-flag that there is an item of importance.

Safe Sharing

There exists a large amount of services and websites available on the dark web that may allow users to submit or view content safely and anonymously.

The ProPublica newsroom


One such example is ProPublica which is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates for public interest. [6] ProPublica has created a version of its website on the TOR network so that users will be able to upload tips and leaks anonymously through their SecureDrop server.

Leaked Documents

A large amount of leaked documents which hold important information that is confidential or controversial exists on dark web servers. As this content is rarely placed on the surface web due to the risk of disclosure, the dark web is the first option users think about.


Many different types of people utilize the dark web to access leaked documents. Some such examples are whistleblowers, journalists, activists, and notably government employees. For whistleblowers, journalists, and activists, the dark web simply provides them a safe haven when trying to work with this type of content. For government employees, the dark web is a platform where they will be able to work more closely with the content they are in search for. Interestingly enough, government employees can also utilize the dark web to get away from the exact same monitoring they are attempting.

The Dead Man Zero homepage

Dead Man Zero

An interesting dark web service revolving around the controversy of leaked documents is called Dead Man Zero. This service exists in order to protect the whistleblowers against the repercussions of being such. It operates by charging a fee so the user can have their file(s) uploaded and encrypted on Dead Man Zero’s dark web server. By setting their own personalized requirements they can keep the files safe and secure. An example of a requirement could be daily, weekly, or monthly logins to verify safety. If this requirement is not met (whistleblower is murdered) then the trigger is set to release the files to particular users selected. [7] Examples of why users may choose to use Dead Man Zero is protection against the fact that whistleblowers may be targeted for arrest, injury, or even murder.

Future Application and Development


As the internet and surface web develop, more users will be engaging in traceable activities. Privacy and awareness will become a more sensitive and relevant topic to people's daily lives. In an increasingly monitored world there will be more attempts at censorship of particular types of content and anonymity from the government. The dark web can provide internet users a solution by giving freedom of speech, privacy, and access to more content.

High-Traffic Platforms

In light of the increasingly awareness and importance on privacy, many high traffic platforms have started to realize the potential that exists in the dark web, one such example is Facebook. Facebook has created a dark web version of their platform on the TOR network. [8] With recognition of what exists and goes on in the dark web, large opportunity exists with these high-traffic platforms to enable users to do more of what they want without being monitored.

Cryptocurrency Technology

Cryptocurrency is being embraced by mainstream financial service providers such as IBM Blockchain and Accenture Blockchain Solutions. There is a potential to enhance the sharing economy by eliminating the middleman who collects fees for coordinating transactions. AirBnB and Uber are examples of this. The increasing growth of digital currency could attract more dark web users looking to utilize their spare cryptocurrency

New Consumers Targeted

The wide variety of dark web functions attract:

  • Human rights activists
  • Bloggers
  • Journalists
  • Military
  • Law enforcement
  • Average internet users seeking an anonymous browsing experience

Citizens in repressive media-censored countries will be given a voice.

Dark Web websites are also applying for SSL and TLS certificates (precursors to HTTPS) which will enhance web security, attracting more users in the future.

Business Implications Of The Dark Web

Increased security required for business users in corporations to protect from hackers on the dark web

  • People have increasing access to hacking tools sold on the dark web

Increased education through workshops are needed for employees who want to browse on TOR at their office computer to avoid being tracked by their company

  • Risk of contracting malware and ransomware

Cheaper products on the dark web may draw consumers away from traditional markets due to their accessibility and competitive prices

  • Drugs
  • Stolen luxury items for sale (watches, belts, shoes, clothing)
  • Stolen or jailbroken electronics for sale (eg. Iphone)


  1. With the right software (VPN + TOR), one can improve their privacy when browsing the internet
  2. The Dark web offers a variety of products and services legal and illegal
  3. The Dark web offers a safe haven for different communities and promotes freedom of speech
  4. Digital currency is everywhere in the dark web, will continue to grow
  5. There is a huge potential for legitimate use of the dark web for a variety of legal products and activities
    • Proper education to the public will draw more users to the dark web after seeing its benefits


Matthew Wong Azmarie Wang Kenneth Yun Terry Cheng Shirley Sun
Beedie School of Business
Simon Fraser University
Beedie School of Business
Simon Fraser University
Beedie School of Business
Simon Fraser University
Beedie School of Business
Simon Fraser University
Beedie School of Business
Simon Fraser University


  1. http://www.pwc.com/us/en/financial-services/publications/viewpoints/assets/qa-what-is-blockchain.pdf
  2. https://getmonero.org/get-started/what-is-monero/
  3. https://www.reddit.com/r/Monero/comments/5xfy06/why_the_asic_resistant_cryptonight_in_monero_is/
  4. https://www.coindesk.com/information/how-do-bitcoin-transactions-work/
  5. https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/nze5ww/the-deep-web-suicide-site
  6. https://www.theverge.com/2016/1/8/10735518/propublica-dark-web-tor-hidden-service
  7. https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/wnjz7m/a-deep-web-service-will-leak-your-documents-if-the-government-murders-you
  8. https://www.wired.com/2014/10/facebook-tor-dark-site/
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