What is the dark web, and how does it work?

According to a March 2022 survey, well over 1 billion active websites can be accessed globally via the world wide web. While that’s a vast number, it still doesn’t account for the lesser-known, more nefarious side of the internet – the dark web. To have a thriving MSP business, you’ll need to protect your clients on both fronts.

Knowing what the dark web is and how it operates is critical to protecting your clients’ networks and essential data. Join us as we take a deeper dive into this corner of digital society and provide tips and tricks on how your business can offer clients improved dark web cybersecurity.

The dark web defined

The dark web is a sector of the internet that requires specialized access. Instead of using the traditional IP address, you would use to access the normal web, dark web users leverage a software called Tor to maintain their anonymity. 

Using the standard IP address method of accessing websites would expose all their data and allow their location to be tracked and indexed. With Tor or other software tools like VPNs, web browsers can visit the dark web without worrying about their identity or personal information being discovered.

Dark web vs. deep web: what’s the difference?

When people discuss what the dark web is, they’ll often use the term interchangeably with “deep web.” There are subtle differences between each, though. Understanding these differences is important for improving the cybersecurity services you can offer your clients.

The dark web, technically, is a subset of the greater deep web. The deep web focuses on privacy. It contains the same information you may find on the traditional web, but fewer individuals access this information – they could be employees of a particular company or members of a specific organization or group. Within that deep web, the dark web focuses on anonymity and can be used for more illicit activities.

The deep web plays a vital role in the overall digital landscape because of the information it can contain – the databases of traditional information that powers our everyday browsing on the open web. Subsequently, visitors of the deep web can still access sensitive information like financials, banking info, medical records, and online shopping data – all of which, if compromised or corrupted, could cause major problems for your clients and their customers.

How is the dark web accessed?

To browse the dark web, users need something to facilitate data transmission back and forth. Traditional web browsing on the “open web” manages this through endpoint and web server IP addresses. But, because the use of an IP address monitors and tracks your web activity, dark web users need to rely on another system entirely.

Enter Tor. Tor is a dedicated anonymous web and VPN software dark web users rely on to act as their IP platform. Over 2 million people per day use Tor to keep their identity and activity a secret while browsing the dark web. 

You may also hear Tor referred to as “The Onion Router” since most Tor URLs use a “.onion” web extension. The name also comes from the fact that Tor works by wrapping users’ messages and data transmissions in multiple layers of encryption – like an onion.

In addition to encryption, Tor also shields users by using misdirection. In a traditional IP, “open web” setup, messages are transmitted directly back and forth between a user’s and website’s IP address. Tor, on the other hand, “bounces” users’ messages through multiple nodes before reaching their destination, making it much harder to trace and identify users than on the open web. 

These nodes are actually other computers operated by Tor users. As a message passes through each node, a layer of encryption is removed or “peeled back.” A particular computer only knows the identity of the node immediately before and immediately after. All other nodes within the chain remain anonymous. This system makes it nearly impossible to track a message’s complete journey from start to finish, making it nearly impossible to identify the sender. 

What are common threats on the dark web?

Since software applications like Tor provide dark web users with more protection as they browse, it’s easy to think that there are fewer cyber-attacks and threats. Unfortunately, threats are still just as prevalent – if not more – on the dark web as they are on the traditional open web. Here are some of the common threats to the business world that MSPs should consider when providing clients with dark web cybersecurity.

Government oversight

Only 6.7% of traffic on Tor is directed toward illegal or malicious dark web destinations. Although that percentage is small, the damage done by users who visit these sites can be significant. As a result, many of the 65,000 “.onion” URLs active on Tor are being monitored and overtaken by government authorities.

Several years ago, one notable example was when government officials successfully infiltrated The Silk Road – a high-profile marketplace for illegal substances and services. Once inside the network, officers and other government agents began watching the activity of all Silk Road users, whether they made a purchase or not. This meant you could be monitored and potentially incriminated for a completely unrelated incident later in life.

Anonymity and encryption themselves aren’t necessarily nefarious, and your clients and their customers may have perfectly good reasons for leveraging these features of the dark web. The important thing is to make sure everyone understands what the dark web is, what sites to visit, and how to avoid infection or corruption from online threats if their system becomes flagged and tracked by government officials.


Because of the nature of the dark web, it’s naturally home to more threatening actors. But the hackers on the dark web play by even fewer rules. As a result, users who frequent dark web sites increase their exposure to dangerous forms of malware such as:

  • Ransomware – attacks that hold sensitive information hostage in exchange for money
  • Keyloggers – tracks every keystroke a user makes to obtain passwords and other sensitive information
  • Phishing malware – email scams to capture personal or financial information
  • Botnet malware – networks of hijacked computers that are used to commit online scams and cyberattacks

Corporate Espionage

Any data harvested on the dark web is immediately up for sale. Typically, hackers get their hands on logon records or sensitive financial and medical information. But, MSPs need to worry about more than just their clients’ customers personally identifiable information (PII). 

The intellectual property of your clients’ businesses may also be bartered on the dark web. Trade secrets, proprietary procedures, and more can easily be bought and sold. This information falling into the wrong hands can undermine your client’s business and severely damage their competitive edge within the marketplace.

Unfortunately, the three threats mentioned above only begin to scratch the surface of how your clients could be infiltrated on the dark web. Here’s a brief list of other hacker targets to keep in mind when designing your clients’ cybersecurity plan:

  • Financial data
  • Customer data
  • Tutorials or support services
  • Logon credentials and passwords
  • Data surrounding company SOPs

The anonymity of the dark web isn’t foolproof. As a result, MSPs need to be on the lookout for any signs of these types of threats.

If a hacker wants to dig deep enough, they can use elements of your dark web presence to find out more information about web users. Your clients and their customers could leave a trail of breadcrumbs that could allow cyber-attacks to evolve into larger problems in the physical world. 

This risk of increased danger means MSPs need to know all they can about the dark web and dark web protection. Watch our free dark web webinar to learn the various threats MSPs need to protect themselves and clients from on the dark web. 

What MSPs need to know about the dark web

As an MSP, the most important aspect of the dark web is education. Your business depends on you positioning yourself as the expert on all things cybersecurity-related. The dark web is no exception. Once you can properly educate your clients on what the dark web is and how it should be navigated, you’ll be better positioned to advise them on the proper protection plan.

MSPs also need to understand the sheer size of the dark web. According to experts, the dark web is over 500 times the size of the open web and constantly growing. The network of threat actors in this “shadow realm” of the world wide web is ever-growing, and any information they get their hands on is harvested as much as possible. Safeguarding your clients’ networks and files with the proper cybersecurity protection is critical.

How can MSPs protect their clients from dark web threats?

Traditional identity theft protection, antivirus, and antimalware software are a good start. These three tools go a long way in providing your clients with security and peace of mind regarding the dark web.

In addition to the right tools, there are also precautions you can take if your clients absolutely need to access the dark web:

  • Advise your clients’ teams or customers to avoid dark web file downloads. An antivirus platform’s scanning feature can help on this front.
  • Have clients create secondary accounts for daily use. The primary account on most computers is an admin account with full permissions. Malware needs this full access to function, so limiting an account’s access will, in essence, dilute the effect of potential malware attacks.
  • Provide your clients with additional resources to educate their staff on limiting dark web exposure by avoiding suspicious links, file downloads, etc.

What is dark web monitoring?

In addition to the standard cybersecurity measures, MSPs may also want to consider dark web monitoring.

Think of dark web monitoring as a search engine for your client’s activity on the dark web. Dark web monitoring tools can help track down information that’s been leaked, such as passwords, financial information, compromised login credentials, and much more. 

These tools are designed to offer more specific protection against dark web threats than anti malware or antivirus platforms. Antimalware, antivirus, and identity theft platforms are traditionally geared toward individuals rather than businesses. However, dark web monitoring tools blend multiple cybersecurity features to simultaneously protect personal and company networks.

Visit the ConnectWise cybersecurity glossary to better understand how antivirus and antimalware platforms work and where dark web monitoring tools can fill in the gaps. If you’re still unsure how to best defend your clients against threats on the dark web, you may want to run their current system through our dark web risk assessment.

Avoiding the dark side

Knowing what the dark web is and how to defend against it are critical components of providing cybersecurity services to your clients. Understand that the dark web isn’t going away. It will always be there, and the network is getting larger and stronger by the day. 

Once clients or their customers lose a piece of sensitive data to the dark web, you can be almost certain it will be used for the benefit of hackers and other cybercriminals. Don’t be caught unprepared. 

Stay ahead of impending threat trends, dark web or otherwise, by watching our 2022 threat report findings webinar. Arm yourself with education and offer your clients customized cybersecurity protection that’s perfect for them. 

If you need more support, contact us to see what you can do to improve both your internal and client-facing cybersecurity protection. Our expert staff can help guide you to the proper antimalware and antivirus software from our trusted network of partners, and we can even consult you on the use of more advanced tools like dark web monitoring. 


What is the dark web in cybersecurity?

The dark web is an online network that helps users maintain anonymity and secrecy as they browse various websites. A “.onion” URL typically denotes these sites because all data within the dark web is transmitted with multiple layers of encryption – much like the layers of an onion.

While the dark web does have some viable legal applications, it’s most notably used for criminal acts that can take place in both the digital and real world.

What is dark web monitoring?

Dark web monitoring is a suite of cybersecurity tools explicitly designed to protect businesses against the threats of the dark web. Traditional antivirus and antimalware software protect the individual or personal computers. The software involved in dark web monitoring tools enables MSPs to protect both individual endpoint computers and their clients’ businesses as a whole from dangerous cyber threats.

What security do I need for the dark web?

To protect against threats from the dark web, you should be equipping your clients with:

  • Standard antivirus protection
  • Antimalware protection
  • Identity theft protection
  • Dark web monitoring tools

If a client has a legitimate reason for accessing the dark web, they’ll need a strong VPN in addition to the tools mentioned above.