What is The Darknet?


Tor network stands for "The Onion Router." It is the underlying technology behind the dark web-which can be described as a large pool of search engine un-indexed websites that are inaccessible using a regular browser. The Tor browser, which is off...

Author: Collins Okoth
Category: Hardware
Author: Collins Okoth
Category: Hardware



The US Department of Defense developed an encrypted and anonymized network in the late ‘90s. The intention behind developing this network was to be able to operate a secure and inaccessible network that would offer absolute protection and shielding from US Government spies. However, this project grew over time to become even more prominent. This secret network was designed to be hidden from the public and could only be accessed using special software tools. Due to the robust potential in the application of this service, some researchers identified a different value proposition that led to the introduction of a non-profit organization focused on privacy activists for human rights and anonymity. This was named the Tor Network. 

Tor network stands for "The Onion Router." It is the underlying technology behind the dark web-which can be described as a large pool of search engine un-indexed websites that are inaccessible using a regular browser. The Tor browser, which is offered as a free download, is all that you will need to access the darknet. Other than the Tor browser’s ability to bypass the many layers of encryption that guard the exchange of information in the dark web, it is also useful in providing the necessary privacy that is required when surfing through the dark web.

The dark web has grown over time to be a massive internet space that offers absolute protection and privacy from the strict, hawk-eyed governments and surveillance groups. The anonymity feature has been exploited by whistleblowers and political activists in countries with authoritarian governments to sensitize the public, leak information, and keep the government in check. As much as this is a good thing, bad guys have also taken advantage of this anonymity feature and used it to practice illegal activities over the darknet.

The internet is subdivided into three major sections, namely, the dark web, deep web, and the surface web. Many of us are familiar with the surface and deep web. Whenever people are talking about the dark web, it is common to hear people using the terms "deep web" and "dark web" interchangeably. This practice is, however, incorrect because those two terms are not synonymous. 

What is The Darknet?

The Deep Web Explained

The deep web comprises those web pages that the search engines cannot access upon request by the user. They are hidden from the search engine for privacy reasons, among others. However, these web pages are accessible via common browsers, and they often have password restrictions and several other authorization and validation steps before accessing them. For example, anytime you sign up or log into a specific account, you are accessing the deep web because such web pages do not show up on a regular search engine results. If I were interested in knowing your bank details or what's on your Amazon wishlist, for instance, I could go to google and google your name. Although this information is on the internet, google won't and cannot show them to me. 

The surface web is the topmost layer of the internet, and it consists of the web pages that show up on search engine results. Regular websites with no password restrictions such as Guru-Solutions are all on the surface web. 

How does the dark web work?

It is challenging to explain this in layman's language; therefore, I’m going to emulate Daniel Prince’s (Associate Director Security at Lancaster University) visual explanation in an attempt to make this easy to understand. 

Imagine the entire internet as a vast forest that extends as far as you can see. In this forest, there exist paths that are well worn and show how to get from point A to B. These paths will symbolize the popular search engines such as Google, Bing, or Yahoo Search. These paths allow internet users to access the wood from the trees in this forest if they want to, and remain connected. However, aside from these paths and Google-these trees also mask your vision from seeing further.

Without the help of these paths, it is practically impossible to find anything in the forest. Well, not unless you know exactly what you are looking for and where it is. Say treasure hunt. So, the only practical way to find something in this forest is to be told where to look for it. This is precisely how the dark web works. 

The dark web, just like the forest, is very good at hiding things from us. It masks both identities and actions by preventing other users from telling your location, your name, and what you are doing as well. For this reason, it is quite clear why this section of the internet is a hotbed for illegal activities. 

According to Deep Web Sites Links, these are some of the most popular market places on the darknet

What is The Darknet?

What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of the Tor Project and the Dark Net?

Often in life, we distinguish a good thing from a bad one by weighing how much good it results in as opposed to evil. Arguably, everything has both good and bad effects; we just have to determine which ones do us more good than harm to accept them. For example, let's look at a gun - an excellent comparison to the Tor Browser and the Dark web. Guns can be tools of evil and are scary to a lot of people because of what they can do. However, if we take the time to learn what they are and how to use them safely, we realize their good and start to appreciate them. The darknet and Tor project are no different.

Pros

Simply put, the darknet allows its users to do what they wouldn't do in broad daylight. Surprisingly, some of these things that people hide to do are very legal and appropriate.

  • It enables its users to circumvent censorship
  • Allows whistleblowers and political activists to disseminate their information securely.
  • It allows people to access markets and buy things cheaply, improving their quality of life. Think of it as a black market.

Cons

As mentioned earlier, the darknet and Tor project is a double-edged sword. Its advantages can be exploited to facilitate malicious activities without a trace. 

  • It allows criminals to exchange child pornography.
  • Allows selling of illegal drugs.
  • Allows selling of stolen credentials and identities for criminal activities.
  • It can be used to spread malicious scripts to the surface net (Clearnet).

How can you access the Dark Web?

There are several different procedures used to access the dark web. I will discuss the most common way, that is, using the Tor browser. There are other options available other than Tor, such as  I2P, Matrix.org, Globus Secure Browser, Comodo Ice Dragon, FreeNet, and Orbot, which is Tor for Android.

Before anything, you need to connect to a VPN for security and privacy reasons. This is recommended even if you just want to surf the dark web casually. After that, download and install the Tor browser from here. Using Tor over a VPN is the most popular method of accessing the dark web. When using this method, session logs such as metadata and IP addresses are not stored, your web traffic is also completely encrypted. However, it doesn't offer protection against malicious Tor exit nodes. 

When you have the VPN and Tor browser all set up, fire up the Tor browser. The browser looks just like a regular browser at first sight. Here is an image of the Tor browser default homepage. 

What is The Darknet?

On the Tor browser, you can search for things on the darknet using specific search engines like the Hidden Wiki and Grams. The Hidden Wiki will give you various .onion links to different sites on the dark web. You will get several links; some are dummy links some are true. It is a jungle in there for sure.

Other than the method described above, the dark web can also be accessed in other different ways. The other ways are often less secure, very complicated, and only recommended for experts who know what they are doing. Some of these methods include VPN over Tor or Surfing using Virtual Machine Software(VM).

As you try to visit the links, always remember several illegal activities have been successfully tracked by the police, and arrests made. Stay safe! And don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.

Conclusion

People have mixed feelings regarding the darknet, and it is okay to do so. However, just like any other thing, we have to determine if it's a good or bad thing. Is it alright to use the dark web? I say, yes, it is. The darknet has demonstrated the highest level of respect for personal privacy and protection from domestic government espionage. Tor's mission to offer this level of confidentiality is noble and worth recognizing. Unfortunately, there is a price that we have to pay for this privacy. I think these negative impacts can be handled by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies worldwide who are dedicated to overseeing the operations in the dark web.