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Meet Darknet, the hidden, anonymous underbelly of the searchable Web

Brad Chacos | Aug. 13, 2013
Learn what lurks beneath the Internet you use every day—a place where free speech, and illicit activity, can flourish.

Even the major directories aren't completely reliable. Like a swamp, Onionland is constantly shifting, with Hidden Services appearing and vanishing on a daily basis. (Again, more on Hidden Services later.) A lot of sites listed on Onionland directories are simply gone now. Heck, even the directories themselves sometimes shift URLs, and you have to track down their new location, either within Onionland itself or on the .onion subreddit.

That said, three common Onionland starting points are The Hidden Wiki, TorDir, and TorLinks. All the directories in Onionland always point to Torch as a search engine of onions, but it never works properly. You can get to Torch's front page just fine, but individual searches time out. Every. Single. Time.

Once you're on a directory, one thing becomes overwhelmingly obvious: A lot of dirty, downright illegal stuff happens in Onionland. You'll quickly find links to credit-card scammers, forged documents and currency, weapons dealers, gambling sites, marketplaces for every vice imaginable, hacker havens, the types of illegal and disgusting porn that get chased off the Surface Web, and even the notorious Silk Road trading post.

But wait! Don't close your browser in disgust quite yet. Do be smart about your browsing--we have more security tips on the next page--and above all else, remember Onionland's anarchistic nature.

Tip #1: You don't have to click anything you don't want to. You aren't likely to stumble across questionable stuff unless you specifically seek it out.

Tip #2: Remember that thanks to the underlying Tor technology, this Darknet is truly anonymous. If something for sale on the Darknet catches your eye, ask yourself: Are the services listed in this major Onionland wiki legit, or are they fronts for people looking to separate fools from their Bitcoins? Many of the scarier listings in directories are flat-out scams.

The bright side of the Darknet

But the same anonymity that makes Onionland a haven for weapons dealers and perverts also makes it a bastion of a more noble cause: free speech.

Many countries lack the equivalent of the United States' First Amendment. Darknets grant everyone the power to speak freely without fear of censorship or persecution. According to the Tor Project, anonymizing Hidden Services have been a refuge for dissidents in Lebanon, Mauritania, and Arab Spring nations; hosted blogs in countries where the exchange of ideas is frowned upon; and served as mirrors for websites that attract governmental or corporate angst, such as GlobalLeaks, Indymedia, and Wikileaks.

The New Yorker's Strongbox, which allows whistleblowers to securely and anonymously communicate with the magazine, is a Tor Hidden Service. The Tor Project says that authorities offer similarly secure tip lines, and that some militaries even use Hidden Services to create online secure command and control centers.

 

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