Dummies’ Guide to Darknet: The Underbelly of the Virtual World
It is one thing to drive cheap thrills out of crime fiction and cyber-crime drama, and it’s another to know that all the gore and darkness we have grown up to find in media and art exist somewhere. And then one fine day, someone, or a group of someones, decides to put it up online and voila! We have the Dark Web for you -the realm of the most primeval instincts -where even the Tim Burtons and H.P. Lovecrafts and Chuck Palahniuks of the world tread lightly.Dark Web refers to the content on Darknet not indexed by any of the commonly used search engines like Google, Bing etc. It’s often referred to as the subconscious of the internet, where only the Id is at play. Darknet, therefore, is the over-lay network of this data. Neither Darknet, nor Dark Web should be confused with Deep Web which also refers to data not available on the online servers of the ‘pedestrian’ or ‘clear’ internet. Too many darkness, deepness related terms floating around perhaps? Let’s break it all down into simpler categories.
Darknet: First up is the background against which all patterns are formed, the sea which inhibits all creatures – Darknet. This refers to that part of the internet which cannot be indexed by Google, Bing, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari or the likes. It is almost an established fact that this is that uncharted territory of the virtual world which is hundred times bigger than our, good old ‘clear’ internet we access through Google, Yahoo etc.
Deep Web: As exciting as the name sounds, hold your horses there for a bit, the mysterious, disturbing parts of the virtual world are yet to arrive. Deep Web simply refers to content on the World Wide Web, like large databases, libraries and members-only websites, general public does not have access to. Since a major chunk of this is made up by academic resources of universities, you probably have already had a few flings with Deep Web when you tried to access a computer catalogue at a public library or a book store. Remember the lingering anti-climactic feeling in the pit of your stomach right now? Remember it next time you confuse Dark Web with Deep Web.
Dark Web: Time for the fun part now, you twisted readers, you! Darknet, as mentioned previously, refers to the content on Dark Web that cannot be indexed by any of the commonly (even not-so-commonly) used browsers. It requires specific virtual pathways for it to be accessed. It’s a realm of absolute anonymity where both the Website publishers as well as the surfers are completely unaware of each other’s identity. While governments and secret services have tried to track down individuals or groups in the past on the Darknet, more often than naught, these efforts have been in vain. Darknet, and therefore by default Dark Web, are part of Deep Web, and refer to the murky, unspoken aspects of it.
Dark web cannot be accessed using any of the regular methods. The user needs to use an ‘onion network’ (one which does not reveal who is communicating with whom) to be able to do it. While using pedestrian internet, the server of the website is directly accessed by the user. But this also leaves a virtual footprint of all your activity on the internet which can very easily be tracked back to you. The task of an ‘onion network’ is to break this direct link between the user and the website. When you use the said network, the commands are sent back and forth in a number of intermediate steps, making sure your online trail is not traceable at all. This is where browsers like Tor become significant.
Tor: Tor, which stands for The Onion Router, was an initiative of the US Navy developed with the aim of gathering intelligence and maintaining adequate secrecy while at it. But the anonymity of the browser ensured that it became a popular hub for darknet users. It’s user-friendly enough to accommodate all darknet-noobs, and a Tor download is simply a matter of two-three clicks. There’s also a version of Tor called Orbot meant for Google Android devices. The New York Times writes on Tor, “when a communication arrives from Tor, you can never know where or whom it’s from.”
Things to be Found There: Nothing sums up this category more aptly than Loucif Kharouni’s statement, “You can find pretty much anything you can think of in the darknet.”
In terms of percentage, this is what a part of darknet had to offer as of January, ’15 :
As is clear from the survey, darknet is infamous for all sorts of nefarious activities, often defined as ‘criminal’ in the traditional sense of the word. Honestly, it was a little surprising to find any sort of books as part of these Hidden Web services. But then again, there’s never a dearth of illegal, banned items on the literature front. Similarly, it was also surprising to see a part of the internet where porn is not the most popular commodity.
On the other hand, darknet also harbours the ideology of ‘freedom of information’. It becomes a platform of expression for revolutionaries, anarchists or just, plain simple distraught citizens of a country with draconian censorship laws and tyrannical oppression. In this aspect, darknet offers its own set of potential revolutionaries and reformers.
There are ways to hire assassins for individual or group-paid murders on darknet. However such services are nothing more than money-making scams, from what the reports tell us. Similarly, there are also urban legends that talk of ‘Snuff Films’ or live telecasts of stone-cold murders. This sounds more like fiction in the same league as the Canadian TV series called Darknet. At the same time, since it’s the unexplored territory of darknet, who knows where the line between fact and fiction blurs?
People to be Found There: As mentioned above, Tor, one of the most popular servers of darknet, was developed as a service to be used by the US military and navy. Military operations require secrecy and anonymity as a mandatory, and the most important prerequisite. Darknet, thus, became the perfect site for such exchanges. However the flip-side to this is that it has the potential of being used by ‘terrorists’ or other anti-social elements in the same manner.
Darknet becomes a platform for a lot of controversial views and opinions being exchanged. Politicians, reformers and anarchists from all over the world use it to voice concerns they would otherwise not be allowed to express without the threat of persecution.
In a poll which was carried out with 27,181 people, when the participants were asked if they’ve visited the darknet, it was a puny 22% who replied affirmatively. It was a no for the majority of 78%. Darknet like the subconscious of the human mind, continues to exist and exercise its desires in a world far, far away from the world of happy display pictures, bad cinema and mood altering junk food. If your curiosity ever gets the better of you, this is where you find Tor: https://www.torproject.org/. If you decide to take this plunge, keep in mind you have absolutely no idea where you are headed, and even less of an idea of where you might end up.