Dark Web Facts vs. Myths: What You Need to Know in 2022

Wrecking ball with the word "Fact" on it slamming through a wall with bricks that say "Myth", accompanied by two Dark Web servers
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Dark Web Facts vs. Myths: Summary

The dark web is shrouded in mystery to many people who don’t have first-hand experience with it. This can make it difficult to differentiate between dark web facts and myths.

There are some pervasive dark web myths. Here are the main things you should keep in mind:

  • The dark web is not (always) illegal.
  • The dark web isn’t as enormous as some people claim.
  • The dark web isn’t the same as the deep web.
  • You don’t have to use the dark web to be anonymous online.
  • You’re not always completely anonymous on the dark web.
  • Banned books are also available on the surface web.
  • Bitcoin and crypto aren’t synonymous with the dark web.
  • Not all online crime takes place on the dark web.

The dark web is more readily accessible than you may realize. All you need is a dark web browser like Tor to get on there. We recommend using a trusted VPN like ExpressVPN and an antivirus like Bitdefender to keep you safe and protect your privacy whenever you access the dark web.

Do you want to learn facts about the dark web and stop subscribing to fictitious ideas? Continue reading the article below.

Is the dark web dangerous? Is the dark web illegal? These are some questions that Google’s autocomplete feature suggests when you type “Is the dark web…?”

There are pervasive misconceptions about the dark web. Many people equate the desire to learn about or access the dark web with criminal intent. It doesn’t help that there are several news stories about illegal activities on the dark web.

While the dark web is not as regulated as the surface web or the indexed section of the internet, it is not only for criminals. People use the dark web for different purposes, many of which are not remotely related to cybercrime.

There are plenty of dark web myths, and it may come as a surprise that many ideas you hold about this hidden part of the internet are false. In this article, we’ll differentiate between dark web facts and spurious claims.

Dark Web Myths and Facts: Overview

The table below juxtaposes some common myths and facts about the dark web.

MythFact
The dark web is illegal.While some people engage in illegal activities on the dark web, it isn’t against the law to access the dark web in most countries.
The dark web is enormous.The dark web is smaller than the surface web and is harder to navigate.
The “dark web” is the same as the deep web.The dark web is a small portion of the deep web.
You must use the dark web to be anonymous.There are many ways to be anonymous online — on and off the dark web.
You’re completely anonymous when you use Tor to access the dark web.Tor is an excellent anonymity tool, but it has some vulnerabilities.
Banned books are only available on the dark web.Banned books are also available on the surface web.
Cryptocurrencies are synonymous with crime on the dark web.While criminals favor cryptocurrencies for anonymity, these digital currencies have myriad uses.
All online crime takes place on the dark web.There is a lot of criminal activity on the surface web too.
The dark web is only for tech-savvy people and criminals.The dark web has many legitimate uses, and anyone can access it.

Myth: The Dark Web Is Illegal

Many people believe the dark web is illegal, and so is accessing it. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.

In most countries, accessing the dark web is not illegal. In the US, the UK, and most parts of Europe, accessing and browsing the dark web is completely legal.

However, accessing the dark web may be illegal in countries with internet restrictions, like China, Russia, and Iran. Presumably, these governments disapprove of the dark web and Tor because it allows their citizens to stay anonymous and circumvent the censorship restrictions imposed on them.

Fact: Some people engage in illegal activities on the dark web

Silk Road LogoWhile the dark web is legal in most countries,  there are a lot of unlawful activities on there. The dark web is essentially just a platform. Anything deemed illegal in the “real world” or on the surface web is also unlawful on the dark web.

Some illegal activities on the dark web, like trading hard drugs and firearms, are punishable by law.

Silk Road, a popular dark web marketplace, was shut down by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in October 2013. While it was active, criminals traded an estimated $1.2 billion worth of drugs through the site. Users could also buy weapons and other illegal items.

Other versions of Silk Road have since sprung, and other new dark web markets pop up ever so often.

Myth: The Dark Web Is Enormous

A common dark web myth is that it is a mysterious, massive place with unlimited secrets. Some people view the surface web as a solar system and the dark web as the rest of the universe. This is completely untrue.

The dark web is a tiny part of the deep web. The surface web is bigger than the dark web. While the surface web contains over five billion indexed websites, there are just under 100,000 dark web sites, according to some estimates.

Fact: The dark web is relatively smaller but harder to navigate

Although the dark web is significantly smaller than the surface web, it’s comparatively harder to navigate. Dark web links don’t contain the name of a website like normal links. Instead, they appear to be a combination of random characters.

To give you an example, this is a dark web link:

http://zqktlwiuavvvqqt4ybvgvi7tyo4hjl5xgfuvpdf6otjiycgwqbym2qad.onion/wiki/index.php/Main_Page

The random characters above may seem like gibberish to you. However, this is a link to The Hidden Wiki, a very useful dark web site. This website gathers and categorizes dark web links, making it easier to navigate this hidden section of the web.

It’s important to proceed with caution when exploring The Hidden Wiki. While it contains some valuable resources, it also contains links to pages that are illegal and not for the faint of heart. Avoid clicking on random links without verifying where they’ll lead you—this is an important rule on the dark web.

It’s not just harder to navigate the dark web, it’s also harder to access it. You need a special browser to do so. The Tor Browser is the most popular dark web browser.

Note: If you try to visit a dark web link (or onion link) with your regular browser, you’ll get an error message.

Myth: Dark Web = Deep Web

Image presenting Deep web illustration VS Dark web illustration

Some people confuse the deep and dark web. You may even find some sites using both terms interchangeably. This might explain one of the persistent dark web myths—that it is larger than the surface web.

The deep web is enormous. According to some estimates, it’s about 500 times larger than the surface web. The deep web comprises every single page not indexed by search engines.

This means all online pages that require authentication, like a login procedure, are part of the deep web. It includes pages of banking portals, private social media accounts, spreadsheets shared between colleagues, and many other pages that you can only view with the permission of the owner.

Fact: The dark web is a small portion of the deep web

The dark web is only a tiny part of the deep web. It represents just five percent or less of the deep web, based on some estimates.

The underlying difference between the dark and deep web is that you don’t need any authentication to access the former. All you need is a dark web browser, such as Tor or the Invisible Internet Project (I2P), and the address of the website you want to visit. This is the only way to visit dark web pages, as they don’t appear in search results.

Myth: You Have to Use the Dark Web to be Anonymous

Anonymous man iconSeveral news stories talk about criminals using the dark web to stay anonymous and hide from authorities. As a result, some people wrongly assume that using the dark web is the only way to be anonymous online. Don’t get us wrong, there’s something to be said about how the dark web supports anonymity.

Many dark web browsers, like the Tor Browser, are designed with an emphasis on anonymity. Tor uses The Onion Router technology to protect your identity and safeguard your data.

When you use Tor, your internet traffic is subjected to multiple layers of encryption and routed through randomly selected servers in different parts of the world. This makes it virtually impossible for hackers and other parties to uncover your identity, steal your data, or monitor your online activities.

Generally, people who use the dark web value anonymity — that’s why they opt to use it. As a result, you’ll find that buyers and sellers on the dark web prefer using cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, to make payments. Cryptocurrencies are generally more anonymous compared to conventional payment methods like PayPal and credit cards.

However, using the dark web is not the only way to access the web anonymously.

Fact: There are many ways to be anonymous online

The following are some ways you can protect your privacy—on and off the dark web.

  • Use the Tor Browser to access the surface web, not only the dark web. People stay anonymous on the dark web mainly because of the browser they use to access it. By using the Tor Browser every time you go online, you can stay anonymous online—provided you don’t do anything to compromise your privacy.
  • Use a virtual private network (VPN) to complement the security of the Tor browser. A VPN encrypts your internet data, reroutes your traffic through a server in a location of your choice, and assigns a new IP address to you. This ensures you’re completely anonymous online and can’t be traced.
  • A proxy server is an alternative to using a VPN. Like a VPN, a proxy server reroutes your traffic via a server to obfuscate the source (you). However, we recommend using a VPN instead. VPNs usually have some useful features most proxies don’t, such as highly secure encryption, a vast network of servers, and a kill switch.

Myth: You’re Completely Anonymous on the Dark Web/Using Tor

There is a misconception that using the Tor Browser grants you complete anonymity. This is not true.

Tor Logo SmallTor is quite remarkable. But, it has some vulnerabilities, which we’ll discuss below.

Fact: Tor is a great anonymity tool, but it has some vulnerabilities

One of the most overlooked dark web facts that will scare you is that Tor has a vulnerability that could expose your identity and what you’re doing online. This is because Tor uses exit nodes.

An exit node is the last Tor server between the network and your destination—the website or online service you’re trying to access. Tor nodes are hosted by volunteers or volunteering organizations.

Why is this a potential problem? Tor can’t encrypt the traffic between the exit node and your final destination. Tor can only encrypt traffic within its network.

Today, most websites use the HTTPS protocol, which encrypts traffic between a Tor exit node and the destination website or online service. However, some sites only use HTTP, which doesn’t offer this encryption.

If you navigate to such a site using Tor, the owner of the exit node can see your “naked” or unencrypted traffic. This means they can see anything you’re doing online. While they only see the middle node (or the server before the exit node), they may still be able to identify you based on your online activities.

The National Security Agency’s (NSA) breach of the Tor network, which Edward Snowden leaked in 2013, largely depended on closely monitoring exit nodes and deploying sophisticated technology to snare users and infect their devices.

If you’re primarily concerned about your privacy and online security, Tor is your best bet. However, it’s advisable to use a VPN to ensure your traffic is always encrypted.

We recommend using a top-rated VPN like ExpressVPN to complement the security of the Tor network and reduce the chances of a data breach.

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If you want to go the free route, you can always choose one of our top free VPNs for the dark web, although we do advise you to go for a premium option instead. Premium VPNs tend to be more secure and don’t come with as many limitations as reliable free options.

Myth: Banned Books Are Only Available on the Dark Web

Book with a cross over itSometimes, institutions, such as schools and libraries, and governments may ban certain books. There are many reasons for this, but it’s usually because the book entices hateful behavior or promotes dangerous ideologies.

There are also “challenged books,” which are not outrightly banned, but it can be difficult to get your hands on them.

An example of such a book is Mein Kampf, written by Adolf Hitler. As far as we know, the book is not currently banned by any government. However, in 2020, Amazon prohibited the sale of the book on its platform due to complaints. The company did a 360 and lifted its ban on the book shortly afterward.

Fact: Banned books are also available on the surface web

A lot of people turn to the dark web to find banned books. However, the dark web is not the only place to find banned books. You’ll find many banned books on the surface web too. These are some ways to access banned books on the surface web.

  • People upload banned books to torrent platforms, so users easily download them.
  • Platforms like Usenet are used to spread banned books.
  • People also upload PDF versions of banned books online, and anyone can download them.

Myth: Cryptocurrencies are Synonymous With Crime on the Dark Web

Bitcoin and Ethereum sticking out of a walletIt can be difficult to differentiate between dark web facts and fiction if you depend on hearsay and sensationalist news outlets for information. Case in point, some people believe cryptocurrencies are synonymous with crime on the dark web. To them, there is an unholy trinity of criminals, the dark web, and cryptocurrencies.

Many people on the dark web—including criminals—use cryptocurrencies primarily because it supports anonymity. But, people use cryptocurrencies on the surface web for the same reason. And the idea that all crypto users engage in illegal activities on the dark web is inaccurate.

Fact: Cryptocurrencies have myriad uses

Cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin and Ethereum, have many uses that have nothing to do with the dark web.

  • Some people invest in cryptocurrencies.
  • Some prefer to pay for things online using cryptocurrencies. This can help to safeguard their anonymity. For instance, buying a VPN using crypto ensures the account can’t be traced back to you.
  • Cryptocurrencies can be used for virtually all digital payments and have the advantage of being secure, anonymous, and transparent.

Myth: All Online Crime Takes Place on the Dark Web

Crime is the first thing that comes to mind when some people think of the dark web. And while there are a lot of criminal activities on there—people buying and selling drugs, weapons, prohibited pornographic materials, and other illegal things — the dark web has much more to offer.

The dark web is not inherently a bad place. However, the anonymity that dark web browsers provide, combined with the fact that dark web links can’t be found easily, allows criminals to operate easily and secretively.

It’s important to note that a lot of crime takes place outside of the dark web. Some criminal activities, like phishing and scams, are more easily perpetrated on the surface web than on the dark web. Also, cybercriminals are more likely to operate on the surface web so they can target as many people as possible.

Dark web hoaxes/horror stories

There are some strange (and often exaggerated) stories and ideas about the dark web that may leave you wondering why is the dark web legal, and is the dark web real?

But many of these stories are untrue. They are born out of rumors and the active imagination of people who know very little about the dark web.

One of the most ridiculous dark web myths is that you can easily hire a hitman to kill someone. This idea appears to originate from far-fetched stories on Reddit and other platforms.

It’s highly improbable that you can go to some sketchy website on the dark web, send over a picture and some Bitcoins, and have someone assassinated. You are more likely to get scammed by the people offering this service.

In 2020, after assessing 24 sites that claim to offer hitmen for hire, researchers from the University of Michigan concluded that it’s a scam.

There are also plenty of stories about so-called “red rooms” on the dark web. Supposedly, people with access to these rooms can watch a live stream of someone getting tortured and murdered. There is no conclusive evidence that there are such live streams on the dark web.

While there have been cases of criminals streaming sexual abuse (like the case of convicted sex offender Peter Scully, for instance), this is not the same as a red room. Instead, these cases fall into the category of child pornography. And, as horrible as it is, this crime is not exclusive to the dark web.

Fact: There is a lot of criminal activity on the surface web too

There is a lot of illegal activity on the “normal” web, including phishing attacks, WhatsApp fraud, QR scams, and countless other nefarious schemes.

You are more likely to be targeted when you’re surfing the surface web using public WiFi than when you’re surfing the dark web with a browser like Tor — at least if you don’t go around clicking random links.

One risk that is very much real on the dark web is malware. The dark web is not nearly as regulated as the surface web. This means malware could easily be injected into a website and go unnoticed.

We recommend using a good antivirus tool when browsing the dark web.

There’s also a risk of stumbling on shocking images when browsing the dark web. However, this risk can be mitigated if you do not click random links and only visit websites if you know what they contain.

Myth: The Dark Web Is Only for Tech-Savvy People and Criminals

HackerYou don’t need to be a computer whizz to access the dark web (safely). Anyone can do so with some basic precautions and steps:

  1. Get a good VPN for additional protection and anonymity.
  2. Download the Tor Browser on your device.
  3. Use a dark web directory, such as The Hidden Wiki or special Reddit groups, to find useful links.

Fact: The dark web has plenty of legitimate uses

The dark web is not just for people who are up to no good. It has plenty of uses:

  • Some journalists cannot safely report about their country because of an oppressive regime. As a result, they may use the dark web to remain safe and anonymous while covering the news.
  • Whistle blowers and other news sources also use the dark web to communicate with journalists and each other safely. A common way to do so is through secure drops, like the BBC’s.
  • Some people use the dark web to access news sites or blogs that report objectively and anonymously, without the threat of retribution from powerful figures. There are plenty of highly rated dark web news sites.

There are many other legitimate reasons people may browse the dark web.

Be Safe if You Visit the Dark Web

Laptop With LockThe dark web facts above show that it is not simply a lair of crime. However, browsing the dark web is not risk-free.

As we mentioned, malware is quite common on the dark web. We recommend getting a solid antivirus solution like Bitdefender or Norton 360.

There’s also the ever-present threat of hackers, your Internet Service Provider (ISP), the government, and other nosy parties taking advantage of vulnerabilities in dark web browsers to keep tabs on your online activities.

We strongly recommend using a VPN with advanced encryption to hide your internet traffic from your ISP and other parties. A VPN allows you to bypass censorship and access the dark web in countries that forbid people from doing so.

Dark Web Facts vs. Myths: Frequently Asked Questions

Do you have a question about the dark web, or the many myths about this often misunderstood part of the web? Check out our FAQ below to see if we’ve already answered your question. If we haven’t, leave a comment below, and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

Yes, technically you can be tracked on the dark web. Dark web browsers like Tor keep you anonymous by hiding your IP address and encrypting your traffic. If you log in to your email or social media, you can be tracked as you’ve revealed your identity. And, although dark web browsers have excellent privacy tools, they may also have some vulnerabilities that can leave you exposed to prying eyes.

In most jurisdictions, it’s completely legal to browse the dark web. There are exceptions to this. Usually, counties that prohibit browsing the dark web have strict censorship rules. While it is not illegal to access the dark web in many countries, you may get in trouble with the law if you engage in any illegal activities on there.

Contrary to dark web myths, the dark web is relatively small compared to the surface and deep web. The dark web, by many estimates, currently contains fewer than 100,000 web pages. On the other hand, the surface web contains over five billion indexed pages, and, according to estimates, the deep web is about 500 times larger than the surface web.

The dark web is not safe. But, if you take the right precautions, you can access the dark web safely. We recommend using a good antivirus solution, a solid VPN, and configuring the safety settings on your preferred dark web browser for maximum safety.

Tech journalist
Nathan is an internationally trained journalist and has a special interest in the prevention of cybercrime, especially where vulnerable groups are concerned. For VPNoverview.com he conducts research in the field of cybersecurity, internet censorship, and online privacy. He also contributed to developing our rigorous VPN testing and reviewing procedures using evidence-based best practices.