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What is the dark web? Here’s what you need to know

Find out what the dark web actually is and what it means for you.

31 January 2020Helen Tippell 3 min read
Laptop in darkness with broken screen
Image by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Want to protect your identity?

See if your passwords have been leaked on the dark web by activating ClearScore Protect for free now.

Discover ClearScore Protect

The dark web is a collection of various internet sites that can only be accessed if you have a specific web browser. It’s predominantly used to hide illegal activity – because it disguises the user’s identity and location.

The internet is huge. What you use in your everyday life are the visible parts of the web – sites that can be found via search engines like Google. There are essentially 3 layers to the web.

Surface web

For most of us, the internet consists of whatever we can find on Google. This is known as the surface web and it’s only a small percentage of what’s actually out there.

Websites on the surface web are visible and can be tracked and indexed by search engines. They’re easy to find and recognisable – the website URL will end with ".org" or ".com".

Top tip: Look for the padlock icon next to the website URL. It means the connection is secure. And, if you’re searching on your mobile, you can always enable a "fraudulent website warning" in your settings.

Deep web

The deep web contains things like intranets – these are internal networks for businesses, governments, or schools that allow for more private communications. Sites on the deep web aren’t necessarily hidden to hide illegal activity – they can just be unindexed so that search engines don’t show them as a result.

Things like your bank account, blogs you haven’t posted yet, or your emails are on the deep web. They’re hidden for data protection and privacy reasons.

Dark web

The dark web, however, is unindexed and only accessible with a specific type of web browser.

Browsers you’ve probably heard of are Google Chrome, Safari or Firefox. But the dark web needs a browser that jumps between encrypted servers so that the user’s IP (their location information) stays hidden.

If you choose to access the dark web, you’ll open yourself up to malware, scams and more. There are some general things to be aware of to help you stay safe online.

Malicious software

Also known as "malware", this is a risk to anyone using sites that aren’t protected, visible, or indexed properly. Most people will access their bank accounts online, input their personal details when shopping or when setting up new accounts. Malicious software can phish your personal details.

That’s why it’s important to use websites you recognise and to be careful with the information you share. Lots of phones and laptops come with built-in security, but it’s always a good idea to check that you have some kind of anti-virus software.


From text messages about deliveries stuck at the dept to calls about phone contracts, scams are everywhere. And online scams are usually there to phish your personal information.

Try not to click on any links you don’t recognise. Look out for websites with spelling errors or URLs that don’t match the search or page content.

Identity theft

This happens when a fraudster gets hold of lots of personal details – like your name, address, or credit card information. They can use that to take out credit in your name or for other illegal activity.

Never share your personal information or login details – especially when it comes to your financial information. These are personal and private to you.

There are things you can do to protect yourself from the dark web.

Don’t go on the dark web

As obvious as it sounds – avoid trying to access the dark web. There’s no everyday reason the average person should need to use anything other than a standard and recognised web browser, to access the information they need.

Check your anti-virus protection

Making sure you have anti-virus software on your phone, laptop or tablet is a great way to avoid scams and malware.

Check the URL before you click and avoid opening links from e-mails or text messages that you aren’t expecting.

Regularly checking your credit report is a great way to see what’s changed and to fix any errors if you spot them.

But, you can also activate ClearScore Protect. Every 3 months we’ll scan the dark web for stolen passwords associated with your email address and let you know if we find anything. Or, try Protect Plus for round-the-clock identity protection and fraud defence.

Helen Tippell Image

Written by Helen Tippell

Digital Copywriter

Helen's our resident Digital Copywriter. She makes personal finance easier to understand so you can be confident about your credit choices.