The “surface web” is the internet we’ve grown accustomed to perusing through standard search engines. The “deep web” is, well, everything else, including a secretive subset of filesharing networks called “darknets”. At a time when the internet is a pale, normalised shadow of the scattershot and anarchic place it once was, interest in darknets is growing. Pockets of counterculture are free to proliferate within the shadows of the deep web: equally, the darker urges of humanity have far greater reign there.
Two things need to be said about darknets. Firstly, they enable freedom of information in countries where ruling regimes attempt to stymie it. Numerous sites dedicated to enabling whistleblowers and leaks exist on darknets. The second is that yes, there is child pornography on them too. Thankfully, members of Anonymous act like a darknet homeostat, periodically purging the paedos from their deep-web dens. Some notable darknet platforms are FreeNet, I2P and Onionland, the network of sites utilising Tor (aka The Onion Network). Tor is a military encryption technology co-opted by cypherpunks to anonymise the flow of information between users. Finding content on the deep web can only be done via word of mouth, for the reasons above.
Host Your Own Darknet
Browsing the deep web is comparable to the internet BG (Before Google). Finding sites is a happenstance activity, and when you do you’ll notice a consistent “dial-up design” aesthetic. Every site on the various deep-web services is hosted – walled-garden publishing services like Facebook are anathema to the darknet ethos. The genuinely novel thing about establishing a niche BBS (bulletin board system) on a darknet is that if you want to make sure no one outside your inner circle sees it, you have the tools available to do so. The cathartic communication that is free to flow is championed as a positive consequence of darknet technologies.
Spend Your Bitcoins on Illicit Goods
Via the (now infamous) Silk Road, and its rival, Black Market Reloaded, darknet users with bitcoins burning a hole in their virtual pockets can buy almost anything, from rhino horns and narcotics to olive oil and user-written poems. Alternatively, you can anonymously launder your cryptocurrency via The Bitcoin Washing Machine.
Observing honour among thieves on the deep web can be a fascinating spectator sport. Case in point is the chatter among “carders”, hackers who purchase skimmed credit-card details. Errata, a user of the HackBB message board, recently attempted to establish the Amazon of credit-card fraud (a $190 billion per annum industry). It subsequently vanished, prompting entertaining squabbling among its criminal customer base. One notable caveat about the dark web is that the anonymising nature of communication cuts both ways: “on the DarkNet no one knows you’re a fed.”
Assassin for Hire
Darknets are thronging with trolls, many of them professing to be contract killers for hire. Less easily dismissed are the occasional assassin adverts left on Underground Market Board 2.0. One service guaranteed to get a decent return on investment is the “swatting” service. For a bargain-basement fee of $20, hackers will arrange to trick a Swat team into converging upon the target of your prank.
The Derp Net
Trolls love making the most out of the hysteria surrounding the darknets. Notable fabrications include the Grifter, Normal Porn for Normal People and the Marianas Web. There are very few myths about darknets that can pass the Occam’s razor test.
NSFL (Not Safe For Life)
Most of the gore videos that are moderately hard to find on the surface web are a couple of clicks away from The Hidden Wiki (the landing portal from which most deep-web journeys begin from). A lot of stories are overhyped in a similar vein to the VHS video nasties of yore. That said, there’s no reason to doubt the existence of genuinely mind-scarring content on the deep web. “Confirmed” NSFL sites include (the now defunct) Violent Desires, a site that admitted membership when photographic proof of child abuse was provided, and a community of mortuary workers who trade documentary evidence of their dalliances with “customers” over their secure darknet.