Illegal marketplaces, murder for hire: the darknet has been characterized as a sort of wilder west within the broader wild west that is the Internet. Is it really that bad? Here are seven things about the darknet that might surprise you.
1: The Media Portrays the Darknet in a Confusing Way
The way the media describes the darknet is unnecessarily confusing. The impression that one gets is that it’s a sort of underworld that exists just below the surface of the legit Internet. That’s not actually how the darknet works, as you’ll see below.
2: The Deep Web and Darknet Aren’t Necessarily the Same
Monica Barret has a great piece that explains the difference between the deep, dark and surface web. The way she uses the terms is very useful for understanding how they all relate to one another
The darknet is part of the deep web, but there’s a lot more to the deep web than the darknet. The deep web contains anything that’s set up specifically so that it will not be indexed by search engines, and that includes databases, private servers and much more.
The darknet is part of the deep web as it, too, cannot be indexed by search engines or accessed by typing in a regular URL in a browser or clicking a link. There’s more to it than that, however.
A lot of the recent reporting out there makes it sound like there’s one darknet where a lot of horrible things go on, but there’s more than one darknet, and the darknet is far from universally awful.
3: There Is More than One Type of Darknet Service
To get on the darknet, you have to be running special software or have some type of credentials. There isn’t one portal for getting on the darknet, however.
TOR, another anonymizing option called I2P and other services offer access to different, exclusive, resources that aren’t available over the broader Internet.
What’s available to you will depend upon what kind of darknet software and network you’re using. You can do a search for sites in DeepDotWeb.com for TOR hidden services.
4: The Darknet Is Not Inaccessible to Law Enforcement
Anyone can get on a number of different darknet services quite easily. On many, there are no restrictions to logging on other than having the right software on your computer.
Encryption does keep the information exchanged over the darknet private. Bitcoin anonymizes transactions. Don’t think that means that illegal activities on TOR or any other darknet are completely hidden from the authorities, however. The long arm of the law has reached into the darknet many times.
Operation Onymous is probably the most famous bust, which targeted some of the biggest free market sites on the TOR network.
5: The Darknet Isn’t Evil
Some people do their best to make the darknet live up to the “dark” in its name. The darknet, however, is far from an evil place, though it’s popularly portrayed in a way that highlights its most sensational, and shady, qualities.
It’s possible to access regular websites over the darknet. Some very well-known sites, including Facebook, have TOR network versions of their websites, as well.
Journalists, whistleblowers and dissidents all use TOR and other darknet services to enable communication while maintaining some protection against retaliation.
6: The Darknet Offers Regular People Privacy
TOR is one of the easiest to use and most widely available ways to connect with the darknet. It’s also great if you want to be able to visit websites without having tracking cookies and other marketing nuisances compromise your privacy.
There are plenty of legitimate reasons to use TOR, and many of them center on avoiding the ways marketing companies get information from people that they might not necessarily want to share.
7: You Can, and Should, Learn About it Yourself
You can go on the darknet without being afraid of something horrible happening to you. The rules for safety are essentially the same as they are on the broader Internet. You can go download TOR, open up the browser and start exploring right now.
If you want better privacy, use a VPN along with TOR, which conceals the fact that you’re using TOR at all.
In any case, you don’t have to take the media’s word for what the darknet is. It’s something you can learn about on your own and about which you can draw your own conclusions.