The dark web is a part of the Internet that can only be accessed via anonymization and encryption software. It is operated in the form of peer-to-peer overlay networks. The services of the dark web cannot be found by normal search engines such as Google.
Technically, the dark web is a different peer-to-peer overlay network operated on the Internet. The services offered are called Hidden Services. They are only accessible to users who know the dark web address or are explicitly invited by the service providers.
This will create closed, exclusive areas on the Internet. Unlike the public Internet, there are no central servers that organize the network. The services and information of the dark network are both legal and illegal. The dark web provides an anonymous platform for freedom of expression, but is also heavily used by criminals or hackers for illegal activities.
Demarcation of the terms Clear Web, Deep Web and dark web
In addition to the Clear Web, there is also the so-called Deep Web, also called Hidden Web, Invisible Web or Deepnet. Characteristic of this part of the Internet is that the contents of the deep web are not found by normal search engines. However, if the addresses or servers on which the content is hosted are known, the user can usually access it using normal browsers. However, identifiers are often required to gain access to the content.
The content and services offered are, for example, websites with delimited technical content, private content, intranets or data collections and databases. Technically, the Deep Web works like the Clear Web. The usual addressing with domain names and IPaddresses is used. The addresses of the servers and users are mutually known.
The dark web is again a small part of the deep web. It works on the basis of peer-to-peer networks and anonymizes both service providers and users. Access is only possible with special software and the usual addressing via domain names does not work. The user needs knowledge of the dark web address of the desired service or content. The traffic in the darknet is encrypted.
How the darknet works and the role of anonymization networks such as Tor
Technically, the dark web is made up of different peer-to-peer networks, which are operated separately and completely autonomously on the infrastructure of the Internet. The way the networks work may differ. What they all have in common, however, is that access to the networks is only possible with certain software and that the traffic is encrypted and anonymized.
One of the most well-known anonymization networks for the darknet is the Tor network. Tor stands for "The Onion Routing", which in German means "The Onion Routing". The image of the onion describes the basic principle of "shell-by-shell" encryption and forwarding of the data. In contrast to the public Internet, users and servers do not have direct contact with each other. Communication is always conducted over multiple intermediate nodes, each of which only knows the next destination. The complete connection path with source, destination and all nodes is hidden from the participants. Important components of the Tor network are:
All communication in the Tor network always runs via entry point, tor node and exit node. Routing across multiple, changing nodes obscures the route and does not trace it.
Access to the darknet via the Tor browser
Access to the Tor browser and the Tor anonymization network is possible. The Tor browser is freely available on the Internet and consists of a customized version of the Mozilla Firefox browser and the actual Torclient. It allows the access of servers of the darknet via their .onion address.
These are addresses that consist of the .onion ending and often long combinations of letters and numbers. Unlike domain names, they are not centrally managed and have no structure or nomenclature to deduce the type of service or location of hosting. If the .onion address of a service is known, it is sufficient to enter it in the address bar of the Tor browser to contact. Since the hidden services of the darknet are not indexed by search engines, there are overview pages on which frequently used services with their .onion addresses are listed. On such overview pages, the .onion addresses can be accessed by clicking.
The different uses of the darknet
The dark web is often equated with criminal use. However, not all of the darknet's services and content are criminal or shady. Due to the anonymity, the dark web is especially interesting for two user groups. These are:
•People who want to obtain or publish information anonymously because they fear consequences such as persecution (journalists, whistleblowers, opponents, dissidents, informants, people in dictatorships)
•Criminals or hackers who evade prosecution and wish to offer or use illegal services on the public Internet (for example, sale of prohibited goods and services such as weapons, drugs or illegal pornographic material, exchange of copyrighted content)
Payment methods commonly used on the dark web for offered goods or services are cryptocurrencies such as bitcoins. They make it possible to pay anonymously without buyers and sellers revealing their identity to each other. Both data traffic and payment transactions cannot therefore be traced.