A hidden face of the web allowing anonymity, the “darknet” represents a haven for criminal activity, but the services hosted there are not all illegal.
• Read also: The ‘largest’ global darknet platform dismantled
The darknet designates a whole nebula of sites not referenced by traditional search engines and on which you can browse in complete anonymity, provided you use specific tools.
Several networks coexist including i2p, Freenet and the famous Tor, on which the German police announced on Tuesday the dismantling of Darkmarket, a vast site selling drugs, false papers or even counterfeit money.
“For a lot of people, the darknet represents a place where there would be only illegal sites, but for us it is not entirely correct”, explains an expert of a cybersecurity company, familiar with these networks. .
“The word” dark “means that it is hidden, difficult to see, but does not necessarily mean illegal”, he underlines.
Of course, anonymity has attracted a crowd of criminals big and small to the darknet, where you can order all kinds of illicit goods, from drugs to false papers, the personal data of millions of people, or computer viruses.
Some sites are also real marketplaces copying giants like Amazon and Cdiscount, with cryptocurrency payment tools, user comments and after-sales service.
But the Tor network, accessible by downloading the free TorBrowser browser, is also used for more positive activities for society, such as evading state censorship or allowing whistleblowers to speak out in safety.
“Tor is popular because it is interoperable with existing sites. With Tor you can watch a video on YouTube for example, ”or access Facebook, including from countries where censorship reigns, explains the expert from the cybersecurity company.
Basically, Tor makes it possible to exchange information on the Internet using encryption and a series of relay computers based around the world, called “nodes”, made available voluntarily by people or institutions.
The succession of “nodes” makes it possible to guarantee that the origin of the request is not traceable, each node knowing only the node before and the one after.
Likewise, it is possible to host a service at home (such as a site whose domain name ends in .onion) by hiding its own contact details.
However, the police regularly conduct operations against illicit activity on the darknet.
In 2013, the US police dismantled Silk Road, an online drug sales site that reportedly sold $ 200 million worth of drugs to consumers around the world. Its creator, Californian Ross Ulbricht, was sentenced to life imprisonment in May 2015.
In July 2017, American and European police announced the dismantling of two criminal sites, AlphaBay and Hansa, which allowed weapons, drugs, credit card codes and other illegal goods to be sold to more than 200,000 customers around the world.