What is the darknet? Well, it is any overlay network that can only be accessed with specific software. This definition is technical and vague, but let’s break it down a little further. Think of the internet as an iceberg. The top, the part you can see is the regular old internet, also known as the clearnet, accessible through Chrome or Safari. However, this isn’t the only part of the internet. Just like an iceberg, most of its mass is underneath the surface; this is the darknet. It is a deeper and harder to access part of the internet. It is estimated that the darknet is hundreds of times larger than the internet we all know and love.
To access the darknet you need specific software installed on your computer, most commonly TOR or an alternative proxy configured to function in the same regard. TOR stands for The Onion Router. Where most websites on the clearnet end in the extension .com, websites on the darknet end in the extension .onion.
While .onion may sound silly, there is a purpose as to why specifically an onion is the darknet “mascot”. Onions are made up of layers, as is the darknet in order to preserve anonymity. If you have ever browsed TOR you will notice the slow speeds. This is because the information leaving your computer bounces through several different volunteer servers around the world in order to protect the original location the information derives from. This is the main reason for the darknet, to remain anonymous. TOR originated from ARPANET, which was developed by the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in order to protect military secrets.
The darknet is not only anonymous, but it is completely uncensored. If you are brave enough to venture deep into the onion patches you are sure to find horrifying material. Illicit and illegal activities thrive on the darknet. In a no rules atmosphere don’t be surprised if you stumble across the deepest and darkest human desires not fit for the clearnet such as child pornography, the trading and selling of weapons or drugs, ads for contract killers, and even an online sanctuary for terrorists to meet other terrorists.
However, there are plenty of legal reasons for using TOR. For example, file sharing. This will ensure the utmost secrecy when sharing personal or confidential files, which is what it was originally intended for. One could also use TOR to ensure the protection of his or her privacy rights by completely avoiding the risk of surveillance through the clearnet. It is also the best place for whistleblowers and news leaks, without fear of censorship or without fear of being named and imprisoned.
The NSA collecting and analyzing millions upon millions of files of metadata on its citizens only deepens the appeal of the darknet and its anonymity. In addition to this, the federal government has previously and continues to censor websites on the clearnet. The possibility of a completely censored internet is upon us. This will control where we get our news from and what information we will have access to and will direct us into a path that results in a world where propaganda is widely utilized by the American government in order to sway public opinion. This alone strengthens the appeal for us as a society to use the darknet as our primary access to the internet, as it could very well be our saving grace from Big Brother over extending its power by attempting to limit our freedom of information/press and our freedom of privacy.