Is the dark web illegal?

Related: What can you buy on the dark web?

The dark web is notorious because it is a place where illegal or illicit goods or services can be purchased, such as illegal drugs or hackers for hire. For example, The Silk Road was a dark web site infamous for the range of drugs that were purchasable on the site. The Silk Road was shut down by the FBI in 2013 and the site's founder Ross Ulbricht was arrested and sentenced to life in prison. AlphaBay was another popular dark web marketplace filled with illegal content.  

It is perfectly legal to use Tor and access the dark web - assuming you are not in a country/region with a less-than-friendly regime that restricts internet access. What you do on the dark web, however, is a different matter. A report called "The darkness online", published in 2016 by King's College London, discovered that only half of the sites live on the dark web contained illegal or illicit content. 

If you decide to access and use Tor and the dark web, it's up to you to be careful about what you access and who you interact with. This can prevent you from inadvertently viewing or accessing illegal content and raising the ire of various law enforcement agencies.

Is the dark web safe?

Anonymity comes at a price, and the dark web is a haven for criminals and hackers who like to operate in the shadow of the dark web. Accessing the dark web can expose you to scammers and cybercriminals who will try to infect your device with malware or steal your personal information. Scams are also common on the dark web, and without a review system or any feedback, it is impossible to distinguish between legitimate services and those that scam you.

Trying to buy anything on the dark web, especially illegal goods, is very dangerous. In addition to the risk of going to jail for buying illegal content, dark web commerce is completely lacking in quality control. When both the seller and the buyer are anonymous, it is impossible to know who to trust. It is well known that even sellers with long track records and positive reviews can suddenly disappear with the bitcoins of potential customers.

Why is the dark web dangerous?

Browsing the dark web can be fun and exciting, but it can also be scary and dangerous. The almost complete absence of law enforcement on the dark web means that it is easy to find illegal and illicit content and material. This may even include images of child abuse, which can be very distressing for an unprepared viewer.

Accessing the dark web can also leave you vulnerable to cybercriminals if you don't take the proper precautions. Depending on what you click on the dark web, you could expose yourself to malware that could infect your device and steal your personal information.

Personal data is also very valuable on the Dark Web and can be exploited. For example, the Ashley Madison hack resulted in a large amount of personal data from users of the site, such as real names, phone numbers and addresses sold on the dark web. This leak led to some users being blackmailed. This suggests that even if you don't know much about the dark web, it may already know information about you.

Finally, if you are not careful, accessing the dark web for illegal reasons could expose you to prosecution and jail time. You've been warned.