Think of the Web as an iceberg. Most people only see the so-called Surface Web above the water: all the news and gossip and porn that’s just a Google search away. But dive below and you’ll see the vast expanse of the Deep Web: all the data that search engines can’t find, which is much larger than the Surface Web. This includes anything behind a paywall (like Netflix), a password-protected site (like your e-mail) or a Web page that requires you to do your searching there (like when you’re trying to find court records).
The Darknet lurks in the Deep Web, because the sites there can’t be found by search engines either. But here’s the big difference: The Darknet is composed of people and sites that want to remain anonymous and, unless you’re using the Tor browser, are nearly impossible to find. Tor lets you peruse the Surface Web, just as you do with Firefox or Safari, but it also allows you to surf Amazon and Silk Road. Using a regular browser like Firefox, you can be identified by your Internet Protocol (IP) address, the numerical code that can be traced to your unique device. But on the Darknet, your location — and the locations of the people overseeing the sites you search — remain hidden. Most people use Tor for law-abiding privacy purposes. In fact, according to the Tor Project — the government-funded nonprofit that maintains the browser — Darknet surfing accounts for only three percent of Tor usage. (And criminal activities are just a fraction of that.) But because the Darknet is so seemingly shadowy and mysterious, it has become ominous in the popular imagination, a creepy catchall that includes everything scary lurking online: terrorists, pedophiles, dope dealers, hackers-for-hire […]