Don’t be fooled. The Darknet contains some disturbing and illegal things. But is it really as bad as the media would have you believe? And should you be on it?
A few weeks ago I wrote an article on securing your email. In it, I asked if anyone would like to know more about Internet security and the Darknet. The response was a resounding “Yes”. So I put this article together to give everyone the knowledge of where to start and some warnings before getting involved.
What is the Darknet?
Before we can move onto the bigger questions, it’s important to have a good understanding of what the Darknet really is. So let’s start from the top by familiarizing you with some critical terms.
- Surface Web
- Deep Web
- Dark Web (aka Darknet)
The Surface Web
The surface web is what you probably spend about 85% of your time on. This will depend on your specific habits, but it’s a good estimate. The surface web is defined as anything that can be indexed by a search engine. This website is considered surface web because you can find us on a search engine like Google or Bing.
YouTube, Google, the New York Times, etc. are all surface web sites (for the most part). You can find them and browse them by simply following the links in their navigation.
The Deep Web
This term is often confused with the Darknet. They are simply not the same thing.
The Deep Web is any part of the web that is accessed through your normal browsing but not indexable by search engines. Do you have to log in to access your bank account details? Are your friends the only ones that can see your posts on Facebook? Do you watch videos via Netflix?
These are all examples of the Deep Web. You can access them through your normal browser, but only if you are logged in.
Clearnet is a term used to describe either the Surface Web or the Deep Web. Essentially, it is any site that you can access through a normal browsing experience. This term may not be familiar to you. But once you move into the darkest bowels of the Internet, you will see it.
This is a part of the Internet that is intentionally hidden. This can include anything from direct communications to a company’s private network to the TOR (The Onion Router) hidden services. If people are trying to hide it, it’s in this category.
So what really goes on?
If your only knowledge of the Darknet comes from the mainstream media, you may have heard about drugs, guns, assassins and more. While the media certainly hypes this category, it’s not entirely untrue. Drugs are easy to find and acquire. Guns are available, but mostly in countries where guns are illegal. No American would spend the money I’ve ever seen guns listed for on a hidden market. It’s often about 10 times what you would pay for the same gun at Walmart. As for the assassins, you can find people offering the service. However, history has demonstrated that anyone listing themselves as an assassin is really just a scam artist.
About a year ago, a developer friend of mine started asking some questions about the Dark Net. I knew she was a very religious lady. Needless to say, I thought this was odd. It turned out that, through her church group, she had made some connections with a church in the Middle East. She wanted to help them develop a hidden church site where they could communicate without risking Muslim attacks.
Yes, this is a common use for hidden websites.
Ultimately, you’re going to find reasons to love and hate the underbelly of the web. There are both good and bad things floating around down there and you need to be prepared for that if you dive in. But mostly, it’s just forums and websites where people feel like they can speak their inner thoughts without someone watching over them.
What’s the worst that can happen?
Well, let me tell you.
There are two things you need to be extremely careful about!
- First is child pornography. Not even the shady drug dealers on the black markets like it, so you’re not likely to come across it. The community of hackers and hiders in the hidden web will stop at no end to get rid of the person who shares it. However, it does exist and it is the number one reason you don’t just go clicking things on the Darknet. You need to know exactly what the link you are following is and that your browser is set up properly.
- Second is a virus. These are generally the same viruses you would get on the regular Internet, only company’s like Google and Facebook aren’t there to protect you. You are completely responsible for your own security down there.
Now that you are aware of the risks, here’s how it works
The best way to access the Darknet is through the TOR browser, which you can download here. The TOR browser was originally developed by the U.S. Navy to communicate securely within the military. It has since been released to the population as an open source project. It has a lot of features to protect you, but there are two primary features.
First, the TOR browser passes you through three “nodes” before your Internet connection reaches the server it wants to connect with. These nodes can be anywhere in the world. Maybe you are trying to reach a website based in California from your home in Florida. Your signal may pass through Romania to Ecuador to Thailand before landing in California. This is all random.
The TOR browser gets its name, The Onion Router (TOR), because it peals off a layer of encryption at each node. It is encrypted at least three times (potentially more, but that is beyond this introduction) and each node will take off one layer. Only when your message has passed through the final node is it finally decrypted.
Where to start
As I’ve already mentioned, there are additional risks when accessing the Darknet. However, it really is a great place for information gathering and learning about digital security. Just keep in mind that you might not like what you see. If you are offended by profanity, offensive topics, crime, or pretty much anything, you should probably stay away. A lot of it is just teenagers being rude, but they can really push the limits.
I’m going to share only one site with you. Here you can test out the browser and ask for more information. It is friendly to new users in that people will give responses, but do not go in here thinking it will be PG-13. I also want to make one final warning that you do not click any external links until you are comfortable and ready to accept responsibility for your actions on the Darknet.
Note: This will not open unless you are using the TOR browser.
Remember, there is a level of security in the Clear Net. My bio is at the bottom of this page and you can figure out who I am. There’s no such thing as accountability on the hidden web. Even if you see a post by someone with my name, you can’t trust it. I promise you, it won’t be me.