So what exactly is the darknet? It sounds so scary that it must be illegal, right?
Well, not exactly … let’s explore this further.
The darknet is an encrypted network built over the existing internet. In fact, it’s a general term for any encrypted network that requires an anonymizing browser. Search engines don’t index the content on the darknet because they can’t see it, which is why the darknet isn’t visible through search portals like Google and Bing … hence the term, darknet.
We discuss the purpose of the darknet momentarily, but before we do, let’s add a darknet vs. “dark web” distinction.
The dark web is typically thought of as the websites that run on top of the darknet. The darknet is then the underlying technology (e.g., Tor) facilitating access. Although they’re often used interchangeably, one is more accurate than the other.
The conventional internet is sometimes referred to as the surface web or even the clearnet. The surface web is what you’re on when you browse websites like Facebook, the New York Times, and even Privacy Angel.
And finally, you may also hear the term, “deep web,” which may lend some confusion to the meaning of darknet. The “deep web” is any internet-accessible content that isn’t indexable by search engines, which of course includes the darknet.
In other words, it’s content that requires login credentials (e.g., a username and password) or an anonymizing browser. This information isn’t indexable by search engines but is accessible using the internet by authorized users.
By some accounts, the “deep web” accounts for upwards of 90% of all online content.
What Is the Deep Web?
The Origin of the Darknet
What I think you’ll find really interesting about the darknet is its origin.
Most folks don’t realize this, but it was actually created by the U.S. government in the mid-1990s to allow spies to exchange information anonymously.
U.S. military researchers called the underlying technology they created Tor, an acronym standing for The Onion Router. It was named so because Tor operates through layers of encryption, a process that to the creators resembled layers of an onion.
And because of this, websites that run on the Tor network use “.onion” in place of top-level domains like “.com.” This means you’ll need the Tor Browser to access “.onion” sites.
The Darknet Isn’t Only Tor
These platforms allow savvy users of the technology censorship-resistance, privacy, and anonymity.
Unfortunately, because the news media concentrates on the illegal activities found on darknet-“marketplaces,” like drugs, stolen credit cards, and zero-day exploits, people are led to believe it’s only used by criminals. But this is far from the case as the darknet is also used by honest folks who just want a safe place to exchange ideas.