As if the dark net wasn't already dangerous enough, one browser operator discovered that the most popular sites are being targeted by hackers. Getty Images/Rafe Swan

The Dark Net is more dangerous than you realize. Along with drugs, illegal guns and contract hackers it's now clear that many of the sites operating within the hidden section of the Internet aren't actually sites at all. They're ripoff pages meant to trick visitors into unwittingly giving up their personal information.

Juha Nurmi, a security researcher and the founder of Ahmia, a Deep Web search engine, began his investigation upon discovering that someone had replicated his and other popular sites and asked them to input their log-in credentials (a popular form of hacking known as phishing). Nurmi told Vice Motherboard he eventually counted 255 fake Dark Net sites, and many of them were modeled after popular sites like the privacy service Lelantos as well as drug markets like Agora and Abraxas.

“I noticed a while ago that there is a clone onion site for Ahmia,” Nurmi said, as quoted by Motherboard. “Now I realized that someone is actually generating similar onion domains to all popular onion sites and is re-writing some of the content.”

The Dark Net is a subsection of the Deep Web, broadly defined as every website on the Internet that's not listed on traditional search engines like Google and can't be accessed via the usual browser bar. It's only accessible with the Tor (which stands for “The Onion Router”) anonymity software. Rather than ending in the usual .com or .org, every site on the deep Web, and not all are for criminals, has a domain name ending in .onion.

This kind of fraudulent activity would enable fraudsters to conduct so-called man-in-the-middle attacks, which occur when hackers secretly intercept and monitor or redirect a user's connection without their knowledge. It's the same method the Chinese government is believed to use to find out which mainland Internet users are trying to access an uncensored verison of the Internet.

Deep Web users can rest easy, though, by simply bookmarking the sites they visit most often.