Darknet Series: Who Uses the Darknet?

This is the third in a series of blog posts on the basics of the darknet. At the end of this series, you will have a better understanding of the darknet and its history, who uses the darknet and why, why organizations need to care about the darknet, the power of DARKINT and more. If you missed last week's post, you can check it out here.

Lawful Uses of the Darknet

While most of what you've likely heard or read about the darknet and dark web sites involves illegal or nefarious activity, there are many legal uses for the darknet. There's even a Facebook .onion site (links to about page, not darknet site)!

How can the anonymity of the darknet help someone?

  • Many people care about their privacy and would like to keep their legal, online activity private from surveillance and monitoring by third parties, including internet service providers, businesses, and governments. 

  • The FBI and other law enforcement groups may use the darknet for sting operations or to keep governmental IP addresses out of web logs

  • Members of the military intelligence community use the darknet as a source of OSINT, open-source intelligence information - information that is publicly available.

  • Security researchers utilize the darknet as a source of information on computer software and hardware, exploits, tools, etc.

  • People living or working in countries being led by oppressive regimes will often take to the darknet for a myriad of reasons, including access to the internet in areas where the internet is restricted, political activism or revolutionary action and the spread of information and secure communication for non-governmental (NGO) or private sector employees in unstable nations

  • Many journalists leverage the darknet for encrypted communications to protect both themselves and their source(s). Journalists also use the darknet to avoid censorship.

For more information on lawful uses of the darknet, the Tor Project has a nice site, "Who uses Tor?

Criminal Uses of the Darknet

Of course where there are valid uses for anonymity, there are also criminals looking to use the anonymity of the darknet to their advantage. The largest volume of darknet sites involve drugs, darknet markets (darknet sites for the buying and selling of goods and services), and fraud.

How can the anonymity of the darknet aid criminal activity?

  • Credit card numbers and other personally identifiable information (PII) can be purchased on the darknet for theft and fraud activities.

  • Counterfeiters offer document forging and currency imitation services via the darknet.

  • A variety of darknet markets (black markets) allow for the anonymous, illegal buying and selling of drugs and other illegal or controlled substances, such as pharmaceuticals, and weapons.

  • A variety of darknet markets (black markets) allow for the anonymous, illegal buying and selling of weapons.

  • Hackers brag about their exploits, communicate and collaborate with other hackers and share security exploits (vulnerabilities they can leverage to gain access to software, hardware, data, etc.).

  • Gamblers take to the darknet to skirt local gambling laws and engage in illegal gambling activity.

  • Terrorists use the darknet for internet access, recruiting, sharing of information, and organizing.

We won't go into further detail regarding explicit materials and activities found on the darknet.

Our next post will explore reasons why organizations need to be aware of the data and activity occurring on the darknet. Stay tuned!

Here at OWL Cybersecurity, we're more than happy to answer your questions about the darknet, dark web, deep web and surface web.

Our goal, in addition to providing DARKINT and our darknet security solutions, is to educate you.