While the Internet can be a phenomenal tool for education and communications, it can also be a dangerous place. Illegal websites are domains that exist to promote or permit illegal activity, or those that go against regional laws or government restrictions. Not all websites have the same status in every region; certain areas may ban websites containing pornography, for instance, which is permissible in other areas.
Pornography websites are frequently the target of illegal website crackdowns. There are several ways in which a pornographic website may be deemed illegal, though many operate on a fully legal basis. First, if pornography or a type of pornography is banned by a country, the website may be illegal in that jurisdiction. Child pornography, for instance, is illegal throughout most of the world and subject to strict punishments for both creating the pornography and viewing or possessing it, such as through downloads. Second, if a website uses copyrighted material without getting the rights, it may deemed illegal and prosecuted for infringement.
Copyright infringement is another major factor in the creation of illegal websites. Books, movies, television shows, and images are all subject to copyright laws, meaning that the creator or his representatives have the sole right to issue copies. File sharing or bit torrent sites, which allow users to upload personal material and download other users' files, are frequent targets of shutdown and prosecution for infringement. These illegal websites may be difficult to discern from legal downloading sites, but generally legal sites rely on owner distribution, rather than peer-to-peer sharing, of files.
Fraudulent websites are also illegal websites that can quickly make victims out of unsuspecting users. These sites may sell fake products or offer fraudulent services, or be set up as a mirror site to a real website. The goal of most of these websites is to get users to enter personal information, such as bank account or credit card numbers, which can then be stolen and used. Phishing scams, which send out emails that appear legitimate asking a user to update his or her information with a company they have an account with, frequently create this type of website to trick the user into believing that his or her information is going to a trusted group instead of scamming thieves.
Website legality may depend entirely on the geographical location of the user. Generally, countries with less emphasis on freedom of information will have more strictures on what websites are permitted within their boundaries. In China, for example, some of the most popular websites in the world, including social networking sites, search engines, and video uploading sites, are banned by the government. This can cause complications for travelers who are surprised to find some of their favorite places deemed illegal websites, and can even lead to prosecution if access is somehow made to a site that is banned. Generally, access is difficult to obtain, as regional Internet providers will block the availability of illegal websites throughout their network.