What we see and use on the Internet every day is only a fraction of what it is. In the so-called Darknet, information and data can be published and exchanged with the greatest possible anonymity. But what is important for the freedom of information in countries with strong censorship, of course, attracts many criminals

At the latest the unveiling of the gigantic extent of the NSA monitoring activities has clearly shown: the glassy citizen is no longer a fiction. And the censorship is increasingly attacking. While access to numerous websites is already blocked in other countries, there are also interest groups here in Germany who work to ensure that certain content on the Web is not accessible to everyone.

In return, an area of the web where information exchange is completely anonymous is also heavily used by criminals to evade access by the authorities. The Darknet is exactly this ambivalent area.

At least since the killing spree in Munich at the end of July 2016, in which an 18-year-old shot dead nine people in a shopping center and then himself, the Darknet in this country has moved into the public eye.

Because there the man had worried his murder weapon for the deadly assassination. A few weeks later, police were able to arrest the seller of the gun. The authorities – also via the Darknet – had previously contacted the dealer with the help of a fake gun shop and then arrested him. In January 2018, the man was sentenced to seven years in prison.

Darknet access via TOR

The term darknet, meaning “dark web”, quite aptly fits purpose and purpose. Primarily, the Darknet serves to communicate anonymously and unrecognized on the Internet. Anonymization services prevent your own Internet activities from being spied out. Of course, this only works if the surfer does not enter any personal data during the session, so he does not log in to Facebook or his e-mail inbox, for example.

Very popular is the anonymization network TOR . What many do not know: TOR is not only a magic hat for surfing, it also houses areas of the Darknet. These are hidden web pages on TOR servers, which are not accessible from the normal Internet.

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The functional principle of the TOR network

TOR stands for “The Onion Router”, in English “the onion router”. The curious-looking title explains itself, if you look at the principle of operation: To disguise its origin, the Tor software installed on the user’s PC derives each data packet via various, randomly selected computers (nodes) before it then via an End node (Exit Node) is transferred to the open Internet. So that the data can not be read on any of the participating gate computers, they are encrypted. It is a multiple encryption onion peel principle. Each of the nodes involved in the transport decrypts a layer. This will see the package that arrives at the node, for any eavesdroppers other than that which the node sends on.

Encryption makes another function possible: namely the hiding of websites and web addresses. The hidden data is stored on web servers within the Tor network. The addresses of the servers are so encrypted that only special connection nodes in the Tor network can decode them. The encoded addresses carry the fictitious domain name “.onion” and are made public via relevant portals. On the one hand, these are community-managed directories that can be edited by anyone, such as the Hidden Wiki, but on the other hand, also moderated search tools like Torch.

If someone clicks an encrypted link with the extension .onion, the request will be sent across several participating computers as usual in the Tor network, but will not be sent to an exit node at the end, but to a connection node that provides the real address of the relevant web server knows. The node requests the data from the server and forwards it to the user. This ensures that it can not be determined by conventional means, where the server is actually located. An informant is pretty sure of being unmasked.

The dark side: Illegal digital mischief

Nets in which you can publish data of all kinds anonymously naturally attract criminals as well. And so there are also illegal, repulsive and disgusting content and services. From copyrighted files to right-wing propaganda to drug dealers, gun sellers, and contract killers who want to be paid through the anonymous digital currency Bitcoin.

Now you can not find anything about Torch & Co. that is there (also) for forbidden: After all, it would be too easy for police and investigative authorities to investigate criminal transactions. Access to these onion sites and link lists is often only available by invitation from already accepted participants.

By exactly the same principle, the police also came to the Marburg arms dealer on the track. The investigators used the identity of another, previously flown customers and offered the suspected seller of the Munich murder weapon in a bogus business more rifles and ammunition. You knew and trusted yourself from before – but this time the dealer had to deal with the police.

In addition, there are many hidden pages that want to attract visitors with catchy titles, but instead of the expected content (or in addition) to subjugate malicious software. On the one hand, it exploits the impudence of many users who innocently download and execute arbitrary files. On the other hand, the attackers exploit vulnerabilities in web browsers.

Use gate in the virtual machine

The easiest way to get into Darknet is via the Mozilla Firefox-based Tor Browser for Windows, Download and play the German-language version of the just over 50 MB tool in the virtual machine. It can not hurt to take a snapshot before. Tor will start automatically after installation. In the dialog “Connect to Tor” click on “Connect”. It may take a few minutes for the connection to be established. The two settings that are available to you after clicking on “Configure” are only relevant if you are going to go online via a proxy server or if you want to use Tor in a country that blocks usage, for example in Egypt or Turkey.

The fact that everything worked out is recognized by the fact that the Tor Browser is loaded automatically. To check the anonymity, you should immediately call the website wieistmeineip.de. The Tor Browser will then ask you if in the future always the English-language versions of a website should be loaded to increase your privacy. We advise you to deny this demand. Open wieistmeineip.de in Microsoft Edge, you will see that you are on the Tor browser with a different IP address.

Now you can use the Tor Browser of the website The Hidden Wiki a visit. It is normal for the site to be able to load for so long because the data packets are routed through numerous nodes in order to disguise the origin. Right on the start page are numerous links to search engines like Duckduckgo and portals, including the uncensored version of the Hidden Wiki. A glance at the uncensored Hidden Wiki reveals that anything is allowed in the Darknet. Starting with stolen credit cards and hacked PayPal accounts over soft and hard drugs to pirated copies of any kind and weapons – there is nothing that is not offered in the Darknet. Paying is usually with bitcoins, as the digital currency promises maximum anonymity.

The role of the Darknet: Good or bad?

Neither of them! Tor & Co. offer only one platform, which allows the actors in this a maximum of anonymity. The pure use of the Darknet is therefore not prohibited, of course, all the things that are illegal in the open Internet and in real life, there are there. For freedom fighters or whistleblowers, it is a seemingly ideal place to publish unidentified data. For authorities like the FBI, it is a tangible, albeit difficult to infiltrate, area to contact criminals.

So you can not rate the Darknet morally. Up until now, however, it has always been an important alternative to the Clearnet, ie the normal Internet, where undoubtedly practical and convenient web services are increasingly being paid not with money but with one’s own data.

The long-term consequences of this development of the data economy pose a considerable risk to the privacy and freedom of the individual. Because when private companies or public authorities know more about one thing than the closest environment – and can link this data to new insights and orient the Internet “experience” to it, self-determination is over.