What is the darknet

M.Sc. Jan Hörnemann

What is the darknet

The term Darknet is often used in films or other media. But what is Darknet? How do I get into it? And what do you do with it? Exactly such questions we will answer every Friday in the future. With the series “What is …” we treat every week a term that comes from IT security and try to clarify frequent questions. This series starts with the term Darknet, which is often associated with crime.

What is the Darknet?

In order to understand Darknet, we first have to talk about the Internet. The Internet is often divided into three different parts:

  • Deep Web: Contains all non-indexed pages. This means everything that can’t be found by conventional search engines.
  • Clear Web: Contains all indexed pages. The Clear Web is what is colloquially called the Internet. All pages that can be found through search engines.
  • Darknet: The Dark-Net is a small part of the Deep Web. The difference lies in the fact that a special encryption is necessary for pages from the Darknet.

This means that the Darknet cannot be accessed via conventional browsers (e.g. Chrome, Firefox, Safari). To get into the darknet you need another browser, as we already reported in September 2018.

Due to the special encryption that makes Darknet stand out from the Deep Web, users can surf completely anonymously. Complete anonymity is interesting for two different groups of people:

  • People without freedom of expression: This group includes journalists, politically oppressed people and whistleblowers. These people cannot publish their own opinions without fearing consequences. Therefore the anonymity of Darknet helps these people to publish their opinions or other information without fearing consequences. One of the best known examples is Edward Snowden, who himself communicated via such sites.
  • people who abuse anonymity: This group of people is the group that is often associated with Darknet in the media. Among other things, illegal things are sold, such as weapons, poison or drugs. In addition to physical things, viruses or child pornography are also offered. So that the buyers and sellers cannot be found, they use the anonymity of the Darknet.

The relationship between illegal and legal content in Darknet was investigated in 2016 by the British security company Intelliagg. This study states that 52% of all sites are legal and 48% illegal. These figures are already a few years old, but the study shows that Darknet is not as criminal as it is often heard in the media.

Darknet encryption

There are several browsers that allow us to access Darknet. The best known is the TOR-Browser (average about 2 million users daily). But how does TOR (The Onion Router) manage that the user can surf completely anonymously?

The technology used by the browser is called onion routing. One can imagine this principle like an onion. There are many different layers and each layer is connected to a predecessor and a successor. In the browser it looks like our request runs through a lot of nodes, which only know the predecessor and the successor. Because our query runs through many nodes and no node knows the entire history, our query can run anonymously through the darknet.

What criminals do

Criminals offer everything the law forbids. The list is endless, from marijuana to a hit man, everything is offered. In addition to dangerous substances or services, fake IDs or credit card numbers are also on the sales list. Payment is usually made using crypto currencies such as Bitcoin, as this payment process is also anonymous.

Looking at the offers in terms of IT security aspects, it is becoming increasingly interesting. It can be seen that more and more malware is being offered. In addition to malware, cyber attacks are also being offered, such as a DoS attack.

Should I visit the Darknet?

Since every second page shows illegal content, you load very quickly on such a page. Clicking on a wrong link can already lead you to such a page. Therefore, we advise inexperienced users not to visit Darknet.

Clicking on a wrong link can already lead you to such a page. Therefore, we advise inexperienced users not to visit Darknet. One wrong click and you could end up on a website that shows child pornography. First, you don’t want to see these pages and second, you’ll quickly get into trouble if the criminal investigation department manages to get your identity out.

Another argument for inexperienced users to keep their hands off is that there are viruses and other malware on a variety of websites. You can download this malware with a fake click. Such software can, for example, steal your personal data or lock you out of your own PC.

Many police experts also surf Darknet to expose criminals, for example by starting a communication or handing over an illegal substance. So that you do not run into the sights of these experts, you should keep your fingers off the Darknet.

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M.Sc. Jan Hörnemann

Hello dear reader, my name is Jan Hörnemann. I am a TeleTrust Information Security Professional (T.I.S.P.) and have been dealing with information security topics on an almost daily basis since 2016. CeHv10 was my first hands-on certification in the field. With a Master of Science degree in Internet Security, I have learned about many different aspects and try to share them in live hacking shows as well as on our blog. In addition, I am active as an information security officer and have been qualified by TÜV for this activity (ISB according to ISO 27001)