What is Darknet?

Darknet (or Dark Net) is an overlay network that can only be accessed with specific software, configurations, or authorization, often using non-standard communications protocols and ports. Two typical darknet types are friend-to-friend networks (usually used for file sharing with a peer-to-peer connection) and privacy networks such as Tor.

The reciprocal term for an encrypted darknet is clearnet or surface web when referring to search engine indexable content.

As of 2015, “The Darknet” is often used interchangeably with the dark web due to the quantity of hidden services on Tor‘s darknet. The term is often inaccurately used interchangeably with the deep web due to Tor’s history as a platform that could not be search indexed. Mixing uses of both these terms has been described as inaccurate, with some commentators recommending the terms be used in distinct fashions. 

“Darknet” was coined in the 1970s to designate networks that were isolated from ARPANET, which evolved into the Internet, for security purposes. Darknets were able to receive data from ARPANET but had addresses that did not appear in the network lists and would not answer pings or other inquiries.

The term gained public acceptance following publication of “The Darknet and the Future of Content Distribution”, a 2002 paper by Peter Biddle, Paul England, Marcus Peinado, and Bryan Willman, four employees of Microsoft who argued that the presence of the darknet was the primary hindrance to the development of workable digital rights management (DRM) technologies and inevitability of copyright infringement. 

Journalist J. D. Lasica in his 2005 book Darknet; Hollywood’s War Against the Digital Generation describes the darknet’s reach encompassing file sharing networks. Consequently, in 2014, journalist Jamie Bartlett in his book The Dark Net would use it as a term to describe a range of underground and emergent sub cultures, including Camgirls, Cryptoanarchists, Darknet drug markets, Self Harm communities, Social media racists and Transhumanists.

Darknets in general may be used for various reasons, such as,

  • Computer crime (hacking, file corruption etc.)
  • Protecting dissidents from political reprisal
  • File sharing (warez, personal files, pornography, confidential files, illegal or counterfeit software etc.)
  • To better protect the privacy rights of citizens from targeted and mass surveillance
  • Sale of restricted goods on darknet markets
  • Whistleblowing and news leaks