When the dark web is mentioned online, it is usually in tandem with criminal marketplaces and arrests made by law enforcement agencies.
Drugs, weapons, and stolen IP and data are all hot businesses on the dark web, with terabytes of information on offer. Traders cash in on stolen credit card data dumps, initial access points to vulnerable systems, credentials, and intellectual property belonging to companies compromised during cyberattacks.
However, the dark web has far more uses for organizations and individuals than what a small subset of criminals do under its umbrella.
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To access a dark web address, you must use a VPN and a suitable browser (it should be Tor). The aim is to reduce your online footprint as much as possible, anonymize your traffic, and disguise your location.
There are many legitimate uses for dark web services and communication. For example, this can include tools hosted for combating censorship — critical services for individuals in countries with stringent government surveillance and control, as well as privacy-enhancing anonymous email and whistleblower drop boxes.
Some media outlets also maintain an online presence via the dark web when their surface websites are blocked, and other websites do the same when they are banned at the ISP level by countries during periods of unrest.
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Yes, the dark web has an unsavory reputation. However, remaining anonymous can be invaluable to protesters, civil rights groups, journalists, lawyers, and other vulnerable groups. Illegal marketplaces are merely a small fraction of what’s actually there.