Blake Dowling: Going dark on the ‘dark web’

While it is not illegal to visit the dark web there is illegal activity all over it.

What is the dark web? Are people still using it? Why? When did it begin?

These types of questions come up when a conversation on the dark web begins at a cocktail party.

According to Tulane University, the origin of the dark web goes like this:

“The dark web is known to have begun in 2000 with the release of Freenet, the thesis project of University of Edinburgh student Ian Clarke, who set out to create a “Distributed Decentralized Information Storage and Retrieval System.”

Clarke wanted to create a new way to anonymously communicate and share files online. This was the basis for the “Tor Project” and the release of their dark web browser that came online in 2008 allowing this dark space to be navigated. This space was always rumored to be ripe with illegal content — and it still is today.

Child pornography, drugs, malware for purchase, fake IDs and weapons are some of the most searchable items to be found on the dark web. The dark web is also full of con artists.

There are well over a billion websites on the normal internet that we all go on 1,000 times a day. On the dark web, that number is about just over 50,000 live sites. While it is not illegal to visit the dark web, there is illegal activity all over it.

Also, for any whistleblowers out there, yes, the dark web also provides an anonymous place to post and share info you might be scared to share through traditional means. Although the U.S. Mail works, too).

Tor browsers used to access the dark web are not traceable (like traditional IP addresses), nor can online activity be tracked like with traditional browsing history. This is why people keep coming back; especially those who do not want their activities tracked or detected.

People like DeAnna Marie Stinson of Tampa, who went on the dark web searching for a hitman earlier this year.

Stinson browsed a site that claimed to offer “Death by Shooting” services for a minimum of $5,000. She prepared her bitcoin payment and sent the required info (address, picture) to the ‘hitman.” This hitman was just a con artist, and they turned Stinson over to the FBI, which launched a sting. During the operation, authorities posed as the hitman, reaching a murder-for-hire deal — and the FBI made an arrest shortly after that.

I wonder if the con artist kept their money and got a reward for the tip to the FBI?

Have you heard of the word “tumbler” relating to the dark web and cryptocurrency activity?

A cryptocurrency mixing service (“tumbler”) combines potentially identifiable or “tainted” cryptocurrency funds with others to obscure the trail back to the fund’s original source. Think of it as digital money laundering.

The Department of Justice this year captured $34 million in cryptocurrency from a Florida man using this type of service to hide what he was doing on the dark web. His scheme involved selling stolen account information for services like Uber, HBO and Netflix.

They have yet to reveal the person’s name, but this bust is one of the largest in the dark web and crypto seizure space.

T-Mobile users may have already heard their information was probably for sale on the dark web, as Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody shared this spring.

The breach was huge, with not just account numbers and addresses taken, but Social Security numbers, driver’s license info, and date of birth. Someone with bad intentions could buy your info on the dark web and, with that knowledge, easily apply for a credit card in your name and start charging, or worse.

My advice: Stay off the dark web. If you are concerned your information might be for sale, I have a free tool to share with people to run a quick search.

Here are some other best practices for you: Don’t reuse old passwords (that may be for sale online); keep them fresh, complex, and unique for each site you have; use a password manager if it gets too much to deal with. That’s what they’re there for (Last Pass and Password Boss are good ones).

Be safe out there, and you’ll be ready the next time the “dark web” pops up at a cocktail party.


Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies. He hosts the Biz & Tech podcast, and his book “Professionally Distanced” turns one this summer. Happy birthday! You can reach him at [email protected].

Blake Dowling

Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies. His technology columns are published by several organizations. Contact him at [email protected] or at

One comment

  • Kathy Moody

    July 11, 2022 at 8:24 pm

    Thank you for all your research and sharing your expertise.

Comments are closed.


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