The Darknet

An “evil” platform for criminals or a “good” version of the Internet without control? What is the dark net and how does it work?

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The Internet is an important part of our daily life. We use Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, quite naturally, and in doing so, leave our mark on the net. A lot of our data can be easily traced back to us or even intercepted.
Few people know about the darknet, an alternative form to the Internet that we are all
accustomed to. The anonymous darknet encrypts information and data, making it difficult to track. It can be accessed via the so-called Tor browser.
However, due to the encryption of the data web pages built up very slowly on the darknet.

In addition, pages cannot be easily found using traditional search engines such as Google
or Yahoo! Special darknet search engines such as Decter, Go or Tahj are needed.
To maintain anonymity, websites also use a combination of numbers and letters.

If you want to buy something on the darknet, you will need the currency bitcoins.
Bitcoins are an exclusively digital currency and are subject to extreme fluctuations in value. An I.T. developer once paid 10000 bitcoins for a pizza in 2010.
Today, this corresponds to a value of two point two million euros.

People use the darknet for different purposes.
On the one hand, it is very popular with all kinds of criminals. They used the darknet to deal in drugs, weapons, forged documents and much more and hope to avoid criminal prosecution since the data is encrypted.
On the other hand, however, there are also people who run the risk of being persecuted
politically because of their opinions and statements on the dark side of the Web. They can communicate and exchange information anonymously.

What is the Darknet?
The “dark net” exists in parallel to the “clear net”, the Internet that we all know. Servers and IP addresses are encrypted in the dark net, making it virtually impossible to track data transfer. This allows users to interact anonymously. Experts suggest that the dark net is considerably larger than the clear net and is used by millions of people worldwide every day.

How can I search the Darknet?
In the dark net, web pages cannot be accessed using conventional search engines such as Google or Bing. Instead, searches take place using special dark net search engines such as Duckduckgo.onion or Torch.onion, as well through catalogs of dark net websites. In the dark net, website addresses only consist of a sequence of numbers and letters, such as s35tz4h.onion.

How do you pay for things in the Darknet?
The cryptocurrency bitcoin is used to pay on the dark net. Bitcoin is a digital currency. They are subject to extreme fluctuations in value, since no central institution (like a central bank) is responsible for them. They can be bought from bitcoin dealers and sold again for “real” money. This process is not prohibited and is within the law. Bitcoins are transferred anonymously on the dark net with the help of special peer-to-peer applications. Opinions on the cryptocurrency Bitcoin vary amongst the population just as much as the perception of the dark net itself. On the one hand, Bitcoins are immune to forgery, for example, but they also bear high risks, such as rapid loss of value.

How can I get into the Darknet?
The TOR browser allows you to surf the dark net, similar to Internet Explorer on the clear net. The symbol for the TOR browser is an onion. The many layers of the onion symbolize the layers that data passes through during encryption. As a result, websites a relatively long time to render, up to several minutes. However, this is the only way an anonymous connection can be established.

How can I communicate in the Darknet?
The dark net is predominantly used by two groups of people: 1. People who need to communicate anonymously (such as whistleblowers or victims of political persecution). The dark net enables them to exchange sensitive data, the discovery of which could potentially endanger human lives. 2. People engaged in illegal activities (such as arms dealers or drug traffickers). Anonymity protects them from negative legal consequences.

How safe is the Darknet?
Simply surfing in the dark net is not illegal, but the actions carried out there sometimes are. Illegal activities, such as the purchase of arms or drugs, can have legal consequences because the encrypted data transfer does not offer complete protection. There are also several security vulnerabilities in the dark net that can lead to the disclosure of a user’s identity.

Whistleblowing refers to exposing maladministration or illegal activity in companies, governments, administrations, and so on. These abuses must be of considerable scope and of general interest. A whistleblower is usually a part of the institution being reported on and reports about his or her own experiences. In doing so, whistleblowers not only risk their jobs, but also have to reckon with disciplinary measures.

Journalists use the dark net to obtain and publish information. Today, renowned newspapers such as “The Guardian” also have their own digital mailboxes in the dark net to facilitate the exchange of sensitive data. This enables them to come into contact with whistleblowers, for example.

People from countries where certain websites such as Facebook and Google are censored use the dark net to circumvent these barriers. They can navigate and act freely in the dark net. They can contact other people, disseminate information, and also keep informed of current developments.

The dark net is a place where the anonymity of the politically persecuted is preserved and protected. The reasons for political persecution vary: sexual orientation or criticism of the government can quickly become a threat to people living in autocratic states. These people can make themselves heard in the dark net, communicate, and – if they live in exile – contact their relatives and acquaintances.

Human rights activists work wherever human rights have to be protected. To do this, they use the dark net, for example, during the Arab Spring. Human rights activists can also be members of the political opposition or activists who criticize the state and represent their democratic rights in the sense of freedom of expression.

Neither good nor evil

You would be mistaken to hastily dismiss the dark net as “evil”: And that is exactly what Tobias Plate, spokesman for the Federal Ministry of the Interior and an expert on crime prevention, is trying to get across in his much-quoted interview about the dark net. Because the dark net is “neither good nor evil.”

Spiegel Online / Photo: BMI Bertrand

Final destination: the darknet

Your journey through the dark net ends here. Welcome back to the clear net!