What is the Darknet and is it really so dark, ominous, dangerous and why does it exist at all?
The darknet is an area of the internet that cannot be accessed via normal browsers such as Firefox, Duckduckgo, Safari, etc. In the mainstream media, it is usually portrayed as a secret transshipment point for drugs and weapons where crime is rampant. However, this is not the truth. There is no more or less crime there than in other places, it is just easier to find.
This virtual shadow realm does not have a good reputation, because everything is permitted there. There is no copyright, no law, no rules and no restrictions due to the millions of laws that governments have invented to keep the peoples of the world poor and to keep feeding the rich or to exert more control over a people.
Edward Snowden: “Wenn man sich anschaut, wie Whistleblower seit 2013 aufgespürt werden, ist das Wichtigste, dass man seine Anonymität dadurch gewährleisten sollte, indem man die Anzahl der Plätze für seine Tätigkeiten im Internet möglichst reduziert, wo man Fehler machen könnte. (Der Browser) Tor und Tails ermöglichen genau das.”
The darknet as a place of refuge
Originally, however, the Darknet was created as a place of refuge, i.e. as soon as governments moved more and more towards dictatorship, censorship, bans, totalitarianism, blackmail and horrendous fines for the smallest acts and took over the well-known Internet, there should be a virtual place to retreat to. And for this purpose, the Darknet was created to give freedom-loving people a space for everything that was forbidden – even though it should be allowed by personal law.
Thus, the Darknet is comparatively a country to which anyone who does not like the reprisals and harassment of a government can retreat. Such a country hardly exists in the physical world, so it should at least exist virtually.
The creators of the darknet therefore had completely different motives than the mainstream press would like to communicate. It is also no wonder why the darknet got a bad reputation from them, because it stands for freedom, such as anonymity, privacy, freedom of speech and for free people who want to escape the machinations of a totalitarian state.
Where is the Darknet?
There are three levels on the Internet: The clear web, the deep web and the darknet.
The clear web is the well-known public level that almost everyone in this world now knows and uses. It can be compared to all the public places in our world.
The deep web makes up the largest part of the internet, these are websites that should not or do not want to be found in search engines. These include websites for companies with private access, those of banks, emails, but also those of intra- and corporate networks, databases of universities and research institutions and internal pages of government agencies. But it also includes websites that are heavily “shadow banned”, i.e. they are pushed far down in the search results by the usual search engines or not listed at all and gradually disappear into the deep web.
The Darknet, on the other hand, can be compared to the secret places in our world, such as private clubs or other secret rooms, for which you need a key, ID, passport or certain information to find such places at all.
The darknet therefore offers a comprehensive range of all kinds of clubs and private spaces that are considered a gray area on the clear web. But it is not just that, because the darknet is first and foremost an absolutely free place that offers anonymity and privacy and where anything goes. There are no restrictions or prohibitions, as anyone can move around anonymously.
Of course, this freedom also attracts crime, as anonymity provides protection for various fraudsters who offer goods and services that do not necessarily have to comply with agreements as soon as they are used. However, the Darknet also provides all the information that has been banned or outlawed on the Clear Web.
Anonymity and freedom require personal responsibility
As this unrestricted freedom also requires a high degree of personal responsibility, it is not necessarily everyone’s cup of tea as soon as you use one of the offers there. If you are scammed, you cannot go to the police and file a complaint. It is extremely difficult to trace a fraudster as you use a disguised IP address on the Darknet.
Everyone who uses the clear web, the normal internet, has a unique address, the so-called IP address, which can be easily traced. It’s like a car’s license plate number. If you are caught by a speed camera, the owner of the vehicle can be identified immediately and made to pay the fine. Such shady actions are not possible on the Darknet.
This IP address is concealed on the Darknet, otherwise the anonymity provided would not be guaranteed.
But this freedom on the Darknet also has its downsides, because, according to estimates, around 3% of users are involved in criminal activities, i.e. people also offer weapons, drugs, child pornography and even contract killers and other such things. The majority of 97% simply want to enjoy privacy and anonymity.
But some politicians also use the darknet to embezzle their money and move it to places that are difficult to find. This is money laundering on a grand scale.
How does the darknet work?
The darknet is a self-contained internet that can only be accessed with certain tools. These are necessary so that you cannot be traced. However, this anonymity has the disadvantage that the internet is much slower and you have to wait longer for a particular website to be accessed.
To access the darknet, you need the following:
1. The “Tor Browser” (must have!)
This is a browser that has been configured so that you can move around anonymously in these virtual anonymous places. The website addresses are also all marked with the word “onion”, which is why the Darknet is often referred to as the “onion network”. Normally you will find websites ending in .de, .com, .net etc. on the clear web, but a website address looks different on the darknet. For example, the website Facebook.com becomes facebookcorewwwi.onion. This is the official .onion link from Facebook. These onion links often consist of a string of many different jumbled letters plus an .onion extension.
2. A VPN (optional)
The Tor browser encrypts the IP address. However, some people do not always rely on this and also install a VPN (Virtual Private Network) in order to have double encryption. Should a (dedicated) hacker want to find out your actual IP address, he would then, after decryption, first end up at the obfuscated additional IP address of the VPN. The VPN is therefore also there to help you move around the Internet even more anonymously. It is a double safeguard. However, if you are on the darknet just to have a look around and not use any of the services on offer, the Tor browser alone is sufficient.
3. Bitcoins (optional)
The currency on the Darknet is bitcoins. Therefore, if you absolutely want to purchase something, you should have a Bitcoin account with a few small amounts. To do this, you have a Bitcoin account on the clear web (e.g. Binance) from which you can then transfer an amount to the anonymous Bitcoin account on the darknet in order to make a payment.
This is all you need to do to access the darknet. But there are a few rules you should follow:
- Don’t trust anyone on the darknet
- Keep your virus scanner up to date
- Disconnect or mask your webcam
- Never disclose personal data or post pictures
- Never download anything
- Never buy anything in the first place
These principles on the Darknet protect you as a beginner from being ripped off in any way. As I said, freedom and anonymity also require personal responsibility, because if something happens, you are responsible for it yourself and cannot find help from the usual authorities. If you lose money or are tricked in any other way, you are on your own with the loss.
Darknet websites for Beginners
Once you have prepared yourself, you can enter the darknet by launching the Tor browser. Now you can call up a Darknet search engine (usually Duckduckgo or the Hidden Wiki). The following links can therefore be used as soon as you are using the Tor Browser (note that these onion addresses may change from time to time. Status: 12/2023):
Duckduckgo is a private search engine that promises not to pass on the search data you enter and to delete the search logs immediately. However, this search engine only searches the clear web.
Over 410,000 websites are already registered and searched by TorSearch. These sites often cannot be found on the clear web.
A list of links across the Darknet that are popular. Attention: You can also find links to websites with every drug in the world.
A clearly arranged, simply listed search engine for the Darknet, where you can get a small overview.
Another small link directory like Hidden Wiki.
ProtonMail is an encrypted e-mail service in Switzerland where you can register without providing any personal data. The end-to-end encryption makes ProtonMail one of the best websites for secure and anonymous emails.
Among cryptocurrency enthusiasts, the Wasabi Wallet is a popular trading tool and one of the safest ways to buy, sell or manage cryptocurrency on the darknet. Wasabi Wallet is not free, but for a small fee you can benefit from reliable and anonymous crypto transactions.
A radio station with many radio programs that do not care about censorship.
Investigative journalists cavort here and also offer space for whistleblowers from all areas.
With lots of information on wiretapping activities of all kinds. Here you can discover eavesdropping attacks that were carried out to uncover political crimes or of other kinds.
Ist es illegal, im Darknet zu surfen?
No, it is not illegal to surf the darknet. But some things that are allowed on the darknet may still be illegal in the real world, e.g. illicit goods, illegal trading, criminal extortion or downloading copyrighted material.
Ist es illegal, Webseiten im Darknet zu betreiben?
You can also open your own website on the Darknet. The advantage is that you are anonymous and can write and offer whatever you want. There is no censorship by law or the possibility of receiving a warning for anything. Whistleblowers also like to use the darknet to remain unrecognized.
Fortunately, the Internet is not subject to the jurisdiction of any particular country. It is therefore not illegal to operate a website on the internet, regardless of whether it is visible or hidden on the darknet. Some websites on the Darknet are undoubtedly used for criminal activities and scams, which should be given a wide berth. Nevertheless, there are also numerous legal websites on the Darknet.
Can you buy something on the Darknet?
Of course you can buy items there, whether they are legal or illegal. However, you should be very careful when purchasing items that are illegal in the real world, such as drugs. The biggest drug marketplace is the Darknet, as the freedom of an individual there also includes the personal responsibility of being able to do what you want with your body. If you want to obtain marijuana, for example, you can get the best on the Darknet, but you should bear in mind that it has to be sent to a real address. The relevant post office could then track down this letter. This is difficult to do with all the tens of millions of letters that are sent every day, but it has already happened.
Either you buy quantities of less than 5 grams or you have an anonymous letterbox. However, I have to advise against such practices at this point, but of course I can’t prevent it.
The Invisible Internet Project (I2P)
Another secret level of the Internet is the I2P. This is an invisible internet project that also provides full anonymity, privacy and security. It is a decentralized Peer-to-Peer-Network, which means you don’t have to worry about any traffic being intercepted or traced.
An observer cannot see the content, source or destination of a message. No one can see where the traffic is coming from, where it is going or what the content is. In addition, I2P transmissions offer just as much resistance to detection and blocking by censors and regulators.
The core software (Java-based) includes a router that establishes and maintains a connection to the network. It also provides applications and configuration options to personalize the experience and workflow.
What can I do in the I2P network?
The network offers an application layer for services, applications and network management of all kinds. The network also has its own DNS, which enables self-hosting and the mirroring of content from the Internet (Clear Web). The I2P network works in the same way as the Internet. The Java software includes a BitTorrent client, e-mail and a static website template. Other applications can easily be added to your own router console.
This I2P network is still quite unknown and in the process of development, but can already be used.
In conclusion, in a time of many bans and restrictions through manipulated legislation, the Darknet is the best refuge for people who want to have freedom of expression, self-determination, privacy and anonymity. Because when a government starts waving through laws that break previous laws, then perhaps it’s time to admit that the government is led by criminals who break laws. Or as the Roman Tacitus once said: “The more corrupt a state is, the greater the number of laws.”