What is The Darknet?
“The world you live in is just a sugar-coated topping. There is another world beneath it.” – Blade
While Wesley Snipes was talking about the secret world of vampires and the occult living side-by-side with the normal, mortal world in the film Blade, the same description could just as easily be used to describe the Darknet.
A strange, twilight place that exists between the cracks, it has a lot of different names. The Dark Internet, the Deep Web, and the list goes on. In a real sense, the Darknet is like the back alleys of the Internet; there, but most people avoid it unless they have a specific purpose in going there. And once they’re done, they get out.
So, What is The Darknet?
All right, melodrama aside, let’s back the conversation up slightly. So, the Internet. It’s a massive collection of data stored on a series of computers all throughout the world. It’s one reason the name “world-wide web” stuck so thoroughly. Most of us access the Internet using search engines; sites like Google, Yahoo!, and others which find results based on our search requirements. Whether we’re looking for local movie times, home repair life hacks, or French toast recipes, we just type it into a search engine, and it crawls over the Internet to find the pages that best match our results.
What we see when we do a search like that is the surface web. Think of it like the tip of the ice berg you see poking out of the ocean. You can find magazines and social media pages, blogs and business sites, but you’re only searching the part of the Internet that’s indexed by search engines. The majority of the Internet can’t be found by standard search engines, and unless you know how to get there, you’re probably never going to be able to access it.
That isn’t necessarily sinister. For example, you can find your bank’s homepage via a search, but you can’t find any of the secured information behind that page. All of that account information is online, somewhere, but it’s password protected and inaccessible to most people. The same is true of members-only newsgroups, and forums that require you to be approved by a moderator. These, and other examples, are all part of the Deep Web, and we use them every day without so much as a thought.
How Do You Browse The Darknet?
If you can’t just go to Google and type in your search parameters, then how do you find any of the shady sites people keep talking about? Well, the most common way that people browse what’s thought of as the Darknet is to use something like Tor. Tor, which stands for The Onion Router, is a worldwide network of servers that allows users to browse the Internet anonymously. It also allows websites to be hosted anonymously, keeping their information out of the hands of Internet service providers, and law enforcement personnel alike.
In that case, all you have to do is access Tor, and start browsing anonymously, in order to access all of the sites being hosted on Tor’s anonymous network. There are also websites like The Hidden Wiki, which can point you in the direction of where to find some of the Internet’s darker corners. It’s best to listen to PC Advisor, though, and to avoid stepping off the path unless you need to.
Are The Rumors True?
The Darknet has, unfortunately, been romanticized to the point where separating fact from fiction can get difficult. Creepy pastas in particular (those “true stories” which all read like modern-day campfire tales and urban legends) have muddied the waters when it comes to what the Darknet does and doesn’t possess.
So, what can you find on the Darknet if you go looking? Well, a lot of what you’ll find really will be innocuous stuff. Most of the Internet is made up of nothing but chatter. However, it’s also possible for you to find journalists operating in the shadows of dictatorships which would have them killed if they found out what stories they were digging up. You could also run into whistle blowers who are looking for some way to get the word out about the terrible things they’ve uncovered, but who want to ensure at least some protection for themselves. You’ll also find common-place software pirates looking to share copyrighted material, and garden-variety perverts who want to talk about their sexual kinks from behind the anonymity provided by browsers like Tor.
There are, however, more dangerous things lurking on the Darknet. Sites like the Silk Road, which has been described as “the Ebay of Terrorism” exist there, for example. These sites run guns to criminal organizations and extremist movements all over the world, allowing them to make backroom deals in parts of the Internet that are hard for law enforcement agencies to find. Not only that, but many of these sites also deal in Bitcoins, which exist independently from any national currency. In addition to illegal guns, though, there are individuals and sites on the Darknet which specialize in selling drugs, and even in human trafficking. If there’s a profit to be made doing something illegal, it exists somewhere on the Deep Web.
Not everything on the Darknet is about money, though. There are chat rooms, for example, where people share fantasies and experiences about illegal activities. Everything from murder to child abuse has a spot somewhere on the Deep Web, and if someone is determined enough to seek out a group, then sooner or later they’re likely to find one.
Why You Should Avoid The Dark Side of The Internet
While it’s been said that the surface of the Internet is less than .03 percent of the total content available online, there’s plenty of reason to stay in that relatively safe section. Aside, of course, from the fact that the sharks of criminal activity and deviant desires are constantly circling in the Deep Web, looking for the scent of fresh blood.
For one thing, the browsers that let you get onto these hidden parts of the Internet aren’t guaranteed to keep you invisible. They’re more like the alien camouflage in Predator than they are being the invisible man. Which means that you do leave a trail, however faint, and determined hunters can track your progress. Which can be worrisome, since it’s a real possibility that you might turn the corner, and find yourself on a site selling child brides, or dealing in former Soviet Union military hardware. Things you don’t want to be associated with, and which even passing contact could have long-term, negative associations.
Put another way, the Internet is a lot like dating. Maybe you’ve gotten bored with your usual, so you want to step outside your comfort zone. You hear about someone whose dark, and mysterious, and you’re intrigued. You want to explore with them. But then after your one-night stand you find out your hard drive is infected, and he stole your identity, and racked up a huge amount of debt you’ll never be able to pay.
If you don’t need what’s available on the Deep Web, it really is best to swim where the sharks have trouble reaching you. For more information on how you can keep yourself safe online, simply contact us today!