The Dark Net

The Internet of Things - Scott Muniz

“Dark Net!” I think whenever that term is used it should be accompanied by Mozart’s Requiem which, by the way, makes Darth Vader’s Theme seem cheerful by comparison. Can anything good ever come out of a place called the Dark Net? Actually yes, much good in fact, comes from the Dark Net. That may surprise you because clearly the Dark Net has a major PR problem. It sounds like an Internet neighborhood you drive in only after having locked your doors. Therefore, I’m here to set the record straight. On behalf of the Dark Net Chamber of Commerce I’d like to invite you to visit.

What is the Dark Net?

Time to get uber-geeky. What is a dark net? Wikipedia answers: “A darknet (or dark net) is an overlay network that can only be accessed with specific software, configurations, or authorization, often using non-standard communications protocols and ports.” Any questions? So to put it in plain English a dark net is a network designed to provide anonymity to users. The best known dark net is TOR which stands for The Onion Router. As the name implies, like an onion, layers of relays bounce communications around a distributed network. “It prevents somebody watching your Internet connection from learning what sites you visit, and it prevents the sites you visit from learning your physical location.” – TOR is accessed by using the TOR browser. Once you’re on the TOR network you can visit all the sites on the surface Web, the one we commonly use, however you’ll be anonymous. This is because the route you’ll take will be through numerous relays designed to hide your IP address. Once you arrive at your destination the site sees the IP address the last relay gave you. The TOR browser also gives you access to the Dark Web, for example, sites with the “.onion” TLD, like the hidden marketplace. These sites are not accessible using common browsers.

Just as there is the World Wide Web there is also a Dark Web, which is WWW content that exists on dark nets. As the World Wide Web is but a piece of the larger Internet so too the Dark Web is a small part of the Deep Web, the part of the Web not indexed by search engines. In addition to the Dark Web the Deep Web includes other dark nets like small, friend-to-friend peer-to-peer networks, as well as large, popular networks like Freenet and I2P. TOR is one of the dark nets in the Deep Web.

Are You Ready to Visit the Dark Net?

One of the common fallacies of Internet browsing is that the user is anonymous. The truth is your online device has been assigned a public IP address by a network, like an Internet Service Provider, who knows exactly who you are. Everywhere you go online is tracked and logged, yes, even if you’ve enabled “InPrivate browsing.” You can remove all your cookies and delete all your temporary files – it doesn’t matter! In other words, you were more anonymous in the lobby of the hotel you stayed in during your vacation than you were when you visited their Web site. Sure online users’ tracking information may remain private until someone comes looking for it. And that’s the point isn’t it?

Let’s say you’re a journalist behind enemy lines and you need to get out a story you know will land you in prison if you’re caught. Or let’s say there are human rights violations in a part of the world where the Internet is highly monitored by the government. This is where the Dark Net is invaluable. By downloading and installing a free browser the user can achieve anonymity. In that light suddenly the Dark Net seems like a pretty safe neighborhood. Of course it would be naïve to think criminals aren’t exploiting the anonymity of the Dark Net. It is for this reason the Dark Net has had such bad press. To be fair though, the World Wide Web has no shortage of creeps and miscreants. Though undesirable content may be on both Webs it doesn’t mean we have to go there. So, install the TOR browser, use good judgment, and, although you may not decide to move there, you might just find the Dark Net is a nice place to visit from time-to-time. Safe travels!