In information technology, a darknet describes a peer-to-peer overlay network whose participants sometimes establish their connections with each other manually and which is shielded from the general Internet by special measures. This concept is in contrast to conventional peer-to-peer networks, in which connections to the clients of strangers are usually initiated automatically and arbitrarily.
The dark web offers a higher level of security, as an attacker is not easily able to access the network – or, ideally, they are unaware of the network’s existence. At the same time, however, it is also a way of concealing criminal activities. The term darknet describes a large number of separate networks (darknets) that are not networked with each other.
Method of Operation
The data is often transmitted and stored in encrypted form. Access is usually not provided via the general Internet, but through personal contacts, for example.
If the network is used for file sharing, darknet refers to a type of friend-to-friend network. However, most file-sharing programs are not darknets because the nodes (peers) can communicate with any other node (public, unverified peers) on the network.
A friend-to-friend network differs from a dark web in that a friend-to-friend network also supports the forwarding of files to the friends’ friends, but the IP addresses of the friends are not visible to the friends. An F2F network must therefore be decentralized (you know your friends’ IP addresses, but their friends don’t), a darknet can also be centrally organized (i.e., a hub with all your friends could also be a darknet; here, however, everyone knows everyone’s IP addresses).
A well-known darknet software is WASTE from Nullsoft. A real F2F network can be set up via the instant messenger Turtle F2F, which also allows file sharing via the giFT client. As a participant – unlike WASTE in broadcasting mode – you don’t know the friends of the friends. In Turtle, a turtle network is founded, in which only connections that come from verified friends can be established. However, Turtle does not seem to be further developed, but similar approaches are also being pursued by RetroShare, HybridShare, OnShare, ExoSee, GigaTribe or Gazzara.
Freenet, a network for anonymous and censorship-free exchange of information, is working from version 0.7 onwards to form a global darknet that can have millions of participants. Such an atypical darknet is supposed to be possible through an application of the small-world phenomenon.
The application ranges from normal data exchange between private individuals to small file-sharing networks and the networking of dissidents. In order to counter the accusation of use, for example, for copyright infringement through music sharing, darknet operators emphasize that freedom of expression, especially in censorship countries such as China, can be strengthened by such networks.
Criminal investigations into drug, weapons, human trafficking and other crimes have intensified since around 2016.
Difference from the Deep Web
The dark web refers to a closed network and includes closed websites that are not indexed in normal search engines and can be found via the Tor browser or other browsers that use Tor as a local proxy.
The deep web, on the other hand, refers to only a closed part of the World Wide Web, which is accessible with all browsers, but only accessible to some users. An example of this is banking networks.