Avast Academy Privacy Dark Web Dark Web Facts Revealed: Myths and Stats About the Secret Web

Dark Web Facts Revealed: Myths and Stats About the Secret Web

The aptly-named dark web is shrouded in mystery. What’s true and what’s rumor? Some dark web facts will shock you, others will scare you, and some apparent dark web “facts” are not facts at all. Separate dark web truth from fiction with our comprehensive guide. Then, get a powerful dark web monitoring tool to help protect your personal information against data loss, data leaks, and data breaches — even on the dark web.

Written by Domenic Molinaro
Published on December 1, 2023

Top 10 dark web facts for 2024

It’s difficult to measure dark web statistics, but it’s estimated that there are tens of millions of URLs on the dark web and tens of thousands of active dark web websites, including thousands of forums and marketplaces.

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    Here are the top ten dark web facts you should know for 2024:

    1. ChatGPT clones are appearing on the dark web. Security researchers have found AI chatbots advertised on the dark web that are built on top of large language models (LLMs) like those used by ChatGPT. One example, WormGPT, is adept at AI-driven phishing, especially Business Email Compromise (BEC) attacks. Another, FraudGPT, is an AI-driven Chatbot that deceives people into divulging sensitive information or performing dangerous actions for as little as a couple hundred dollars a month.

    2. COVID-19 created a dark web vaccine market. Cybercriminals have exploited the COVID-19 pandemic to create a vaccine certification market on the dark web. As desperate people flocked to the dark web to get vaccines and certificates, a whole new market opened up to meet the demand. Afterward, the vaccine black market remained active.

    3. Fentanyl is a dark web profit center. In 2021, a dark web distributor was caught hawking half a million fake oxycodone pills laced with fentanyl or other drugs. In 2023, Operation SpecTor resulted in the seizure of 850 kilograms of drugs, including 64 kilograms of fentanyl or fentanyl-laced narcotics, and over $53 million in cash and cryptocurrency.

    4. The dark web has its own criminal empires. Before being seized in April 2022, Russian cybercrime syndicate Hydra accounted for 80% of darknet market-related cryptocurrency transactions, with a net worth of over $5.2 billion. Hydra has since been replaced by aspiring darknet overlords OMG!OMG!, Blacksprut, Mega, Solaris, and Kraken.

    5. The dark web started out light. One of Tor’s original uses was to hide the communications and identities of American operatives and dissidents living within oppressive regimes overseas. Freenet’s original purpose was freedom of speech and combatting censorship. This tradition continues to this day, with dark web services such as SecureDrop to upload sensitive documents, and Ricochet Refresh for secure chat.

    6. Drugs rule the dark day. Illicit drugs are the most sold commodity on the dark web, making up over half of the transactions on the dark web. Cannabis and pharmaceuticals make up roughly half of darknet drugs sold, with MDMA and LSD combining for another 20% or so.

    7. Dark web criminal services range from low-end to high-end. As of July 2022, 90% of advertised exploits on dark marketplaces sell for less than $10, with an average price of just over $2. Zero days (vulnerabilities not yet publicly known) go for upwards of $10,000 on darknet markets. The majority of high-end exploit trade occurs in private channels.

    8. Seller rep is everything. All cybercriminal marketplaces allow buyers and sellers to leave reviews. According to research outlined in the 2022 HP Wolf Security report, 92% of cybercriminal marketplaces have dispute resolution services, and 77% of dark marketplaces require a vendor license, which can cost around $3,000. The majority of vendors have a positive feedback score over 65%.

    9. Crypto is king. Because of how difficult it is to trace, 98% of dark web transactions are done in cryptocurrency like Bitcoin (BTC) or Monero (XMR). All told, cryptocurrency use for illicit transactions was estimated to have surpassed $20 billion in 2022.

    10. Cybercrime itself is a product. It’s safer to teach cybercrime than to do it yourself. Seasoned cybercriminals now offer hacking tutorials, playbooks, and specific cybercrime courses on the dark web.

    Dark web myths

    The dark web is mysterious, and lots of seedy activity spreads in the dark, but it’s not as dangerous as it sounds. While you can hire hitmen on the dark web, it’s almost always a scam.

    Dark Web Myth: Accessing the dark web is illegal.

    Dark Web Truth: Accessing and viewing content on the dark web is legal in the United States, the EU, and most countries around the world. It’s not illegal to visit dark web marketplaces, visit dark web sites, or look at dark web wares. But as soon as illegal content gets into your system, or you pay for illegal goods or services, you’re on the hook.

    Dark Web Myth: There is no regulation on the dark web.

    Dark Web Truth: The dark web regulates itself, and dark marketplaces are treated like a business. To sell on top platforms, vendors must not only have a license, but provide information on the product type, the origin of production, the exact quantity available, the price, and even an image of the product. For material goods, the shipping-available destinations and origin must be provided, as well as shipping methods and pricing.

    Dark Web Myth: You can’t be tracked.

    Dark Web Truth: Web tracking is still possible on the dark web. Though the dark web uses encryption to frustrate tracking efforts, the anonymity is leveraged by authorities to conduct online surveillance, set up honeypots, and operate anonymous dark web-info tip lines. Cybercriminals have also been known to squat on Tor exit nodes — the dark web traffic cones that are supposed to be anonymous — and redirect users to unsafe sites where the SSL certificate has been stripped.

    Dark Web Myth: Only criminals use the dark web

    Dark Web Truth: There are many legal dark web uses, and much of the content on the dark web is legal. Many people use the dark web to avoid government surveillance. Edward Snowden famously used the dark web to whistleblow on the NSA, and Arab Spring protesters used Tor to circumvent censorship. More recently, Tor was used to organize protests in Iran. Many reputable companies, like the BBC and Facebook, have set up websites on the dark web to help visitors in repressive countries bypass censorship and access their content.

    Crime on the dark web

    The Farmer’s Market was the first known dark web marketplace, followed by the infamous Silk Road dark web market. Both were meeting places to buy illegal narcotics before morphing into full-blown illicit trade. Many dark marketplaces last less only months, but some, such as Vice City, have stood the test of time. Upstarts such as ASAP Market pop up to replace any markets that get shut down.

    Drug sales are still the most common crime on the dark web. The sale of cannabis is the most common crime on the dark web, followed by the sale of pharmaceuticals. “Multiple category” marketplaces such as the recently resurfaced Alphabay are all-purpose darknet versions of Amazon that make up a large share of dark web content.

    An illustration showing the different types of illicit items and services for sale on the dark web.

    Who is using the deep web and the dark web?

    Almost everyone uses the deep web every day, such as to check their email. The deep web is the part of the internet that isn’t searchable and needs authentication to access, like login credentials. The dark web is composed of specially encrypted parts of the deep web, and it’s used by cybercriminals, as well as everyday people, who want to communicate and trade in secret.

    In 2023, about 550,000 Americans used Tor every day, which accounts for just over 20% of daily Tor users worldwide.

    Daily Tor users:

    • Germany 47%

    • United States 21%

    • India: 1.89%

    • Finland: 1.86%

    • Russia 1.72%

    • Netherlands 1.55%

    • Indonesia 1.48%

    • United Kingdom: 1.39%

    • France 1.38%

    • Iran 0.94%

    According to one study, English is the most popular language in Onion domains (73%), followed by Russian (11%), German (2.33%), French (2.15%), and Spanish (2.14%).

    Deep web statistics:

    • The deep web holds over 7.5 petabytes of information, which is significantly more than the surface web.

    • The deep web is estimated to represent about 95% of the world wide web.

    • It’s believed that around 5% of the deep web is the dark web, but it’s hard to say because so much of the dark web is difficult to find and study.

    • Thousands of deep web sites are hacked daily.

    • You’re likely more vulnerable to hacking on the surface web than the deep web, because deep web data is protected by login credentials.

    • The majority of the dark websites within the deep web have .onion and .i2p extensions.

    Dark web users can be:

    • Whistleblowers

    • Journalists

    • Protesters

    • Grassroots organizers

    • Drug traffickers

    • Doxxers

    • Cyberbullies

    • Cybercriminals

    • Cyberterrorists

    • Hacktivists

    • Insider employees

    • Script kiddies or other types of hackers

    • Sexually deviant users

    • Threat Intelligence

    • Companies

    • State actors

    It is unclear how much of the internet is the dark web. Even the best dark web search engines can’t find dark markets that truly don’t want to be found.

    While the dark web is not entirely sinister, safety is far from assured in a place where criminal activity flourishes. If you’re thinking of braving the dark, learn how to set up a VPN to give yourself another layer of security before you enter.

    The dark web economy

    The dark web economy has grown more sophisticated over the years. Most dark web marketplace sales are now carried out through escrow. When a client purchases a product, the paid amount is transferred to a cryptocurrency wallet owned by the marketplace. The marketplace releases the funds when the customer confirms receipt.

    In addition, reputation metrics have taken over dark marketplaces, with vendor licenses becoming the norm. The most used darknet marketplaces have come to resemble their legitimate surface web counterparts.

    What is for sale on the dark web?

    Anything you can buy legally, you can also buy on the dark web, including apparel, video games, and rare collectibles. Drugs such as cannabis are commonly sold on the dark web. Fraud takes up around 70% of non-drug related illicit trade on the dark web.

    Illegal things you can buy on the dark web:

    • Recreational drugs such as cannabis

    • Illicit prescription drugs and other pharmaceuticals

    • Hard drugs such as heroin

    • Firearms

    • Toxic chemicals

    • Pornography

    • Counterfeit currency

    Fraud you can buy on the dark web:

    • Credit card numbers

    • Online credentials

    • Stolen bank accounts

    • Gift card numbers

    • Fullz (or full information), complete victim profiles needed for identity theft

    • Hacked databases

    • Fraudulent documents such as driver’s licenses or passports

    • Hacked accounts, such as hacked ChatGPT accounts or hacked Netflix accounts

    Media and software you can buy on the dark web:

    • Hacking tutorials

    • Cracking tutorials

    • Social engineering tutorials

    • Hacked software

    • Pirated software

    • Personally Identifiable Information (PII) and background check guides

    • Carding methods (how to commit various card-based crimes)

    Malware you can buy on the dark web:

    Malware-as-a-Service (MaaS) you can buy on the dark web:

    In addition to malware-as-a-service, private info is big business on the dark web. After a data breach, private data is often sold to the highest bidder on the dark web. See how to report identity theft if you notice something off about your email or financial accounts.

     An example list of items for sale on the dark web.

    History of the dark web: What is it and how did it start?

    The dark web has dual origins. In the mid-1990s, to anonymize internet connections, scientists at the US Naval Research Lab created the first covert internet communications channel by routing and encrypting traffic through multiple servers. Their work continued in the early 2000s under MIT graduate Roger Dingledine, eventually coalescing into The Tor Project and Tor browser, a web browser that accesses Tor’s anonymized network and thus can serve as a portal to the dark web.

    Meanwhile, in 2000, Ian Clarke and a group of internet volunteers developed Clarke’s graduate thesis about “A Distributed, Decentralised Information Storage and Retrieval System” into “Freenet,” the world’s first decentralized peer-to-peer network. Freenet, now known as Hyphanet, has grown into a private file-sharing, chatting, and website network, but it has no external network access or traditional web service.

    Tor, Hyphanet, and offshoots like the Invisible Internet Project (I2P) make up the underground network of decentralized peer-to-peer services known today as the dark web.

    No one owns the dark web — it’s run and maintained by its users. It’s hard to know exactly how many people use the dark web, since anonymous browsing is what it does best, but Tor’s internal metrics reveal that around 4-5 million people use the dark web every day.

    While there are many legitimate reasons people access the dark web, its rapid user growth in the wake of COVID-19 has led to growing cybercrime markets and increased security concerns.

    Projections and future trends

    Cybercrime is becoming a service-driven economy, and the dark web is where cybercriminals do their business. Cybercriminals can now rent attack software and pay a commission to the owner. Reputation is also becoming the foundation of the dark web network, as businesses begin to operate like corporations.

    Darknet crime is growing in Southeast Asia and other parts of the world, as desperate youth pay more experienced dark web criminals for guidance. And increased censorship around the world is driving more and more people into the dark web, where some information can be easier to find.

    With cybercrime expertise at a premium, and cybercrime tools like generative AI chatbots becoming more sophisticated every day, we could see an explosion of automated cybercrime over the coming years.

    Protect your devices online with Avast BreachGuard

    Avast BreachGuard helps to monitor the dark web for you, and it helps to remove any leaked data it finds. It helps you defend against cyber attacks, keep your passwords secure, and alert you to any new threats to your privacy.

    Cybercriminals work together, and so should the good guys. Help fight the internet’s dark forces with Avast BreachGuard.


    What is dark web monitoring?

    Dark web monitoring is a service that scrapes database leaks, indexes them, and then sells access to people who want to scan for their information. Database leaks can be purchased and scanned individually, but dark web monitoring gathers everything in one place. Dark web monitoring is often a value-added commodity attached to cyberthreat assessments such as vulnerability scans.

    Is my data on the dark web?

    Data breaches are common, and if you are a long-time internet user or frequent the most-used sites, your data has probably been on the dark web at some point. If you’re worried, do a dark web scan to see if your data is out there. You can also pay a dark web monitoring service to collate all the data leaks currently known and scan for your info.

    Is the dark web bigger than the deep web?

    No, the deep web is estimated to make up about 95% of the entire web, while the dark web is a small percentage of that. The exact percentage is unclear, but the dark web is estimated to be about 3 to 5% of the entire world wide web.

    Who created the dark web?

    No one person created the dark web. The dark web rose organically from multiple sources, such as US Naval researchers David Goldschlag, Mike Reed, and Paul Syverson, University of Edinburgh student Ian Clarke, and MIT graduate Roger Dingledine. As enthusiasm for an anonymous, decentralized internet spread, volunteers leveraged the work of these early pioneers to create the dark web.

    Are the dark web and the deep web the same thing?

    No, the dark web is not the same as the deep web. The deep web is the unindexed, largely unsearchable part of the internet that lies behind login credentials or other access protocols. The dark web is a subset of the deep web, and it’s encrypted and you need special tools or equipment to access it.

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    Dark Web
    Domenic Molinaro