7 Unexpected Facts About the Darknet

The darknet and the underlying Tor network are often vilified in the press for harbouring criminal content and activity. Often though that's not the case and these 'hidden services' can be a force for good.

1. The darknet holds much more than just criminal activity

Though notorious for illegal marketplaces, the darknet is also home to some vital legitimate services, including secure-drop portals for organisations that help whistle-blowers and journalism outlets such as Intercept and ProPublica, not to mention secure email services such as ProtonMail.

2. Over 4 million people access the darknet daily

A wide variety of people use the darknet and the Tor network (the underlying technology) on a daily basis. Journalists, law enforcement and the military use Tor to establish secure communications, avoid surveillance, and circumvent censorship. Ordinary people also use Tor to anonymously browse the clearnet (the standard internet we're all used to).

3. Most users are more interested in browsing the surface web anonymously than accessing the darknet

Only 1.5% of all Tor traffic is accessing darknet sites (so-called 'hidden services'). The rest is people browsing the surface web (clearnet) anonymously.

4. The darknet is mostly legal content

A November 2016 study by Terbium Labs looked at a random sample of 400 darknet websites and found that only 45 percent of them appeared to have any kind of illegal content. The organization also found zero examples of extremist content.

“What we’ve found is that the dark web isn’t quite as dark as you may have thought,” said Emily Wilson, director of analysis for Terbium Labs. “The vast majority of dark web research to date has focused on illegal activity while overlooking the existence of legal content. We wanted to take a complete view of the dark web to determine its true nature and to offer readers of this report a holistic view of dark web activity—both good and bad.”

5. The US Navy was partly responsible for the creation of the darknet

The darknet's technology, onion routing, was created by the U.S. Navy in the 1990s to allow secure communication. The U.S. Department of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor is still among Tor’s financial backers.

6. Facebook is accessible on the darknet too

Using your Darknet Box you can browse to facebookcorewwwi.onion to access the darknet version of Facebook. This was launched by Facebook engineers in October 2014 for users in countries such as China and Iran where Facebook is banned. According to Facebook software engineer Alec Muffett over 1 million people visited the social network via the portal monthly. Obviously you shouldn't log in with your Facebook account if you're trying to remain anonymous though.

7. The Tor network is growing fast

Tor use has now surpassed 4 million users per day and looks set to continue growing at a rapid pace. With more and more clearnet sites opening a Tor portal too the darknet will soon be a truly decentralised alternative to today's corporation-centric internet.

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