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Darknet
Five examples of why the bad reputation is not justified

The Darknet is considered the internet's evil brother, a hub for arms and drugs, a paradise for pedophiles and terrorists. In reality, it's not such a dark place.

By Daniel Wendorf & Benedikt Plass-Fleßenkämper

The term “Darknet” is commonly associated with dark machinations. Mainly because illegal darknet platforms like Silk Road or AlphaBay, on which drugs, weapons or human organs were traded, attracted a lot of media attention. This part of the network quickly became a wicked place - politicians even spoke of an “island of lawlessness”. Above all, this proves that many people do not know what it is actually about.

The Darknet: The Dark Part of the Internet?

The term Darknet stands for communication on the Internet that takes place anonymously and is made possible, for example, via a Tor browser. Darknets use encryption technologies in order to establish connections between two users not arbitrarily, but manually and specifically. A user contacts another person via their computer or mobile device by connecting both IP addresses directly to one another. In this way they can communicate with each other or exchange data without others reading it. The specialty: the personal network can be expanded through further contacts. However, each of these private networks remains decoupled from the classic Internet; the users are among themselves. So there are many small and large darknets on the Internet.

Basically, the possibilities for protected exchange in times of increasing surveillance are essential for many people. Here are a few examples of how closed networks and Tor technology can be used sensibly:

Whistleblowing

Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning are arguably the best-known names when it comes to exposing questionable government machinations. Former CIA employee Snowden revealed the excessive surveillance of the US secret service NSA. The then US soldier Bradley Manning - now known as Chelsea Manning after a gender reassignment operation - forwarded a total of half a million US war documents from Iraq and Afghanistan to the Wikileaks platform for publication. Neither Snowden nor Manning took advantage of the technical possibilities of the darknet, but they inspired whistleblowers around the world to expose grievances. This works best with methods that cover your own tracks. A program like the Tor Browser can help and is used by whistleblowers around the world.

Anonymous mailboxes from editorial offices

News programs and newspapers rely on informants for certain information who do not want to appear in person and to whom they have to offer protective measures. Almost every major editorial team therefore offers the option of sending material confidentially or addressing the editors anonymously. Media such as the British Guardian, the New York Times and the German daily newspaper (taz) have created mailboxes with the Tor extension .onion through which users can upload documents without revealing their IP address. Large NGOs such as Greenpeace also use the technology.

systemli.org/Riseup.net

Many activist groups around the world want to communicate safely. For example, regional groups of the Chaos Computer Club use .onion pages for internal communication. Systemli.org proves to be a "non-commercial provider of data protection-friendly communication". The German initiative offers e-mail, cloud and hosting services for individuals and initiatives via .onion addresses, among other things. According to its own statements, systemli wants to offer protection to political activists. The US counterpart Riseup.net offers similar services.

FireChat

The messenger service provided by Open Garden since 2014 FireChat became a star of the "anonymous scene" in the year he was born. During the “umbrella revolution” in Hong Kong, the Chinese government switched off the cell phone network in large parts of the city in order to block communication between the activists. FireChat comes into play in such scenarios: every smartphone on which it is installed quickly becomes a communication node within a decentralized network. The thousands of demonstrators in Hong Kong were able to keep in touch and coordinate themselves despite the cell phone network being switched off.

Facebookcorewwwi.onion

Is Facebook available worldwide? Not entirely correct, because in some parts of the world the site is either not available at all or is only available in a censored form. In order to bypass censorship and access bans, Facebook has been offering a special Tor page since 2014.
 

The deep web

A term that is often linked to the Darknet and incorrectly used synonymously is the “Deep Web”. It describes that part of the Internet that cannot be covered by regular research by normal search engines, as these are not able to index websites deeply enough for technical reasons. A fringe phenomenon? Not at all, because, according to a study from 2001, the volume of data in the deep web is between 400 and 500 times as large as that which is assigned to the classic part of the network (“surface web”). A large part of the network is simply hidden from the surfing public - even authorities have difficulties in mapping this area at all. What many do not know: We use the deep web regularly in our everyday life. For example, anyone who uses library catalogs online is navigating the deep web. The book holdings cannot be recorded by search engine crawlers, but only by library users when they log in with their data - and thus go into the deep web.

  

HOW TO GET INTO A DARKNET: THE TOR SOFTWARE

Tor - originally an acronym for "The Onion Router" - is the best-known software for anonymizing data on the Internet. Originally, Tor did not serve to protect journalists, whistleblowers or system critics, but was intended to protect US agents and armed forces from eavesdropping. The project, started in 2000 by the University of Cambridge, was initially supported by the US military. At the end of 2006, a non-profit organization took over the technology, which was still quite new at the time. In the meantime, Tor and similar software are used by activists in all countries to rebel or to uncover grievances. But: In countries like China, where Internet access is heavily regulated, government authorities have already developed methods of undermining Tor.