If you’re reading this, you’re somewhat familiar with the Internet and how it works. There are browsers like Google where you can access information, social media sites, video websites, and more. However, the Internet we see everyday is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a deeper, darker side that is home to all kinds of mysterious activities, from activism to terrorism. It is called “the darknet.”
There are three parts to the Internet: the surface web, deep web, and darknet. We know what the surface web is, it’s what most people use, but the deep web is everything that can’t be found using regular search engines. Most of it is actually pretty boring. It’s databases, members-only websites, and so on. The darknet, however, goes even further beneath the surface. These are the sites that its creators don’t want just anyone to be able to see. They’re intentionally hidden. To access it, you would need certain software that can encrypt everything, so you become completely anonymous. Not even the government is able to find out who is using the darknet, at least not without a ton of tedious work.
How does this work, exactly? Like we said, you would need software. It’s not hard to get. If you wanted to look through darknet websites, you would get a browser like Tor, which grants you anonymous access to websites that are hidden from major search engines. An onion network also gives anonymity; if you use the surface web, your computer directly links to a website’s server, identifying your IP address. However, with an onion network, the link is severed and scrambled, so it’s much more difficult for a server to figure out who you are.
A variety of groups use the darknet. Governments and the military use the darknet a lot because of the sensitive information they deal with. Activists and journalists also like the darknet, especially in countries where censorship is a major problem. Here in the United States, The New Yorker has a Tor Hidden Service where people with story scoops can communicate anonymously with reporters. The darknet users that get the most attention, however, are the criminals. With total anonymity, people buy and sell everything from drugs to weapons to counterfeit documents. One of the largest darknet organizations – the Silk Road – was known as the Ebay of illegal drugs. Users will use bitcoin, which is a cryptocurrency, meaning all the transactions are anonymous.
What’s the future of the darknet look like? It’s certainly not going anywhere, and it will definitely evolve. Right now, nearly all of the websites on the darknet look like they were made ten years ago. Transactions run pretty slow, as well. What is likely to happen is that website creators will begin paying out with digital currencies, like bitcoin, to have people maintain the coin’s system, and speed it up. Darknet users could also begin paying people to polish up their websites and make them more modern. With anonymous digital currencies, who knows what people could be enticed to do?
If you’re tempted to go check out the darknet, we can’t say we recommend it. While it isn’t technically illegal to just look, it’s still risky, and if you’re caught doing anything illegal, it will not turn out well. If you’re curious at all of this, maybe just keep reading and researching, and stick to the surface web for now.