We hear all kinds of spook stories about the dark corners of the Internet. Everything from how sexual predators use chat rooms to stalk children, to serial killers putting up lonely hearts ads in hopes culling victims out from the herd, is fair game for these horror stories. As the Internet has grown, though, and we learn more about it, we’ve dug even deeper for things to be scared of. Which has led us, in time, to the Darknet; a place of such vile corruption and moral bankruptcy that just knowing about it is the first step on a very slippery slope.
But is it? Is it really?
What is The Darknet?
Despite the scary name, the Darknet is a term that refers to websites that aren’t indexed by search engines. As such, any location on the Internet that you can’t get to from a Google search page is technically part of the Darknet. So, your online banking page that’s safe behind a password prompt? That’s part of the Darknet. That online forum whose address you have to know? That’s on the Darknet, too. Even that news blog you love, but which requires you to be a member, is mostly on the Darknet.
So, while the Darknet sounds like something out of a spy thriller or a conspiracy novel, we’re just talking about the parts of the Internet you can’t easily reach. Don’t let the scary name fool you.
So The Darknet is Perfectly Safe?
I never said that.
Picture the Internet as society. Lots of people, like business owners, musicians, authors, and newspaper reporters want to be seen and heard. In fact, they’re trying to make it as easy as possible for anyone who wants to find them to do so. But then there are other people who prefer to keep a low profile. People who don’t put their names in the phone book, and who don’t advertise their presence. Subcultures where, if you want to find them, you need to put in some work to discover who they are, where they meet, and what they stand for.
The Darknet represents those subcultures. It is the back alleys, speakeasies, and unadvertised basement meetings of the Internet. It’s where people who want to keep their privacy go to discuss their business… whatever that business might be.
That isn’t necessarily sinister. There are all kinds of reasons people might want to try to keep their privacy in a world where that’s progressively harder to do. Journalists may use the Darknet as a way to find information, and to avoid the detection of a repressive government regime while they’re investigating. Someone with a public image to maintain, who is constantly being put under a microscope, may want to keep his or her browsing habits as difficult to pin down as possible in order to avoid any sort of black marks on that carefully crafted image. In countries where being gay, or transgender, is illegal, the Darknet offers a place where people can meet and talk without the constant need to look over their shoulders.
However, while there are perfectly mundane and mostly harmless subcultures in the world, there are also dangerous ones. Drug dealers are a subculture, and they are fastidious about their security. After all, the more layers between them and the authorities, the safer they’ll be when it comes time to make sales. The same is true for those who illegally deal in guns, from small-caliber handguns to military-grade hardware. If there is a crime you can conceive of, from human trafficking to murder, it exists on the Darknet the same way it exists in the real world.
Just Because It’s There, Doesn’t Mean You Can Find It
The main reason people find the Darknet so scary is that they fully believe the campfire tales that say you can innocently click a link, and suddenly find yourself in the middle of a human slave auction, or an international gun buy, or any other highly illegal scenario. While it’s true that such things are possible, it’s important to remember that it’s also possible for you to accidentally walk into a back alley where there’s a gangland execution taking place.
Possible doesn’t mean the same thing as likely.
So, while it’s possible for anyone to log onto the Tor Browser (Tor stands for The Onion router, and it’s one of the more common jumping off points for people looking to dive into the Darknet), it is extremely difficult for someone to just randomly stumble into a gigantic, black market website like the Silk Road. If these sites were that easy to find, then international governments wouldn’t have to clock so many man hours trying to locate them, and shut them down.
There Are Layers to The Darknet
Anyone who’s become part of a subculture knows that you don’t just walk in the front door and get full access to everyone and everything. If you’re looking to buy illegal drugs, you have to find other users. If you make friends and earn their trust, those users will direct you to their dealer, and once you get to know the dealer, he might clue you into some other dealers in the area. This process can take years, and it’s a delicate dance of money, trust, and being in the local scene.
The Darknet is really no different in this aspect.
Sure, it’s possible for you to log in to Tor, and to find dozens of websites selling all sorts of contraband. Especially if you’re willing to put in the hours, and if you find some contacts who can help you narrow down your search. However, finding those sites completely by accident isn’t easy. And, if you do stumble into one, you can click away immediately. No harm, no foul.
Don’t Go There If You Don’t Have To
The Darknet is kind of like that bad area of town; people who’ve never actually been there are convinced it’s nothing but drug dens, corner-to-corner prostitutes, and violence filling in the cracks. The people who frequent the area, though, can tell you there’s plenty of perfectly normal stuff happening there. Those dangerous elements still exist, but they’re not so common you can just spot them if you don’t know what you’re looking for.
However, much like that part of town people don’t go to after dark if they don’t have to, the Darknet isn’t a toy. It’s not a place to go for a cheap thrill, and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. There are times that privacy is a necessity, and when users can get the best results by going to the parts of the web where the search engines fear to tread. However, it is not a place that’s friendly to tourists. So, if you’re going to use the Darknet, make sure you read up on the facts, and get an idea of what you can expect. Make sure your virus protection software is up to date, and find yourself a more experienced mentor if you can. You’re swimming in deep waters, and it’s a good idea to have someone with you who can point out where the sharks are.
For more information on the Darknet, simply contact us today!