What is the Darknet?

Recently, Hold Security, an information security firm, revealed that the company managed to convince a Russian hacker to release into its custody stolen login credentials to 917 million email accounts. After analyzing the data, the company determined that only a small fraction of the accounts have the potential to contain valuable information. The company pressed the hacker further and discovered that the individual has a stockpile of 1.17 billion accounts, of which 272 million contains potentially valuable information.

The revelation that hackers managed to gain access to email account login credentials is nothing new. Scoundrels routinely buy and sell such information on the Internet underground, also known as the Darknet. Inside the Darknet, an individual can purchase stolen credit card information, drugs, weapons, and even email login credentials anonymously. Access to this underground network isn’t something that can be found through a routine search engine query. It takes special software to access the Darknet, but it’s free and easy to find. This anonymous accessibility creates an environment that makes it easier for criminals to conduct illegal activities with minimal potential for getting caught.

While the Darknet gives criminals access to a virtual mall of illegal trade goods, the network is also used for more positive purposes.

In countries where the exercise of free speech is heavily penalized by governing authorities, individuals have turned to the Darknet to share their thoughts with others. The network is also accessed by those who want to consume and share content in a way that hides personal identification from companies and governments who routinely collect and store such information. Other uses include communicating political inclinations with others in unstable or oppressive countries, supplying sensitive information confidentially to journalists, and reading certain types of content without repercussion by a government entity. The Darknet is also used by government agencies to transmit and receive information anonymously.

Individuals seeking to access the Internet anonymously can download the Tor browser at torproject.org. Tor is operated as a U.S.-based non-profit company and is comprised of individuals who share the vision of unrestricted communication between people in an anonymous environment. Once an individual arrives at Tor’s website, on-screen instructions explain how to download and use the software.

The browser connects a user to the Tor server. From there, the link between an individual and the content sought will be routed through other servers located world-wide before finally arriving at a destination. The process of rerouting links through multiple servers masks a person’s identity, making it difficult for anyone to track an interaction back to the source.

The demand for an anonymous connection with others is likely to increase in time as both criminal enterprises and private individuals seek alternatives to increasing surveillance of personal activity. Understanding why the Darknet exists is part of a well-rounded knowledge on how to protect yourself from scoundrels and thieves. Knowing the ease with which a criminal can exploit your personal information should provide an added incentive to remain vigilant in securing that data to avoid the possibility of having it posted for sale on the Internet underground.