When people think of the “dark web,” usually what comes to mind, if anything, is Tor. After all, it’s the one that’s been in the news most often, and the terms are inextricably linked.
If you’re new here, I should mention that in a couple of my previous posts, such as How to Access the Dark Web with I2P! and Exploring the Dark Web on Freenet (Part 3!), I elaborated on I2P and Freenet a little bit. These two are other popular anonymity networks that, like Tor, attempt to preserve users’ privacy. For the curious, I will sum up the three of them.
Tor, as I’ve mentioned on some earlier posts, is both a network and a browser. The browser is available at Tor Project. (Speaking of which, they just released a new version of the browser, which you should download if you want to use it!)
The network attempts to keep you anonymous while browsing online by directing your web traffic through a worldwide system of relays and nodes (a.k.a. the Tor network).
Here’s one of the confusing parts: the sites that people often refer to as the “deep web” or “dark web” are technically called “Tor hidden services” (.onion sites). One of the other features of Tor is that you can host websites on it anonymously – thus why it’s so popular. I’ve listed quite a few onion sites on previous posts, but if it’s your first time here, these are a few examples:
Ahmia Search Engine
Contrary to popular belief, not all onion sites have illegal or disturbing material on them. In fact, some are very bare bones and, dare I say, boring. That’s probably because the point wasn’t for them to be scary. A good majority of onion sites are more technically oriented, although there are a plethora of scams too.
I2P, like Tor, is an anonymous overlay network. However, there are a number of differences between the two:
- I2P is message-based. Communications are end-to-end encrypted, and each client application is referred to as a “router,” so to speak. The client has their router build several inbound and outbound tunnels, i.e. a pathway to another machine on the network. Each user on the network chooses the “length” of these tunnels, and finds a happy medium between anonymity and speed, depending on what he values. This is referred to as “garlic routing” (as opposed to onion routing).
- I2P has its own interactive services, like web browsing (using any traditional browser like Firefox or Chrome), plus email, chat, file-sharing, messaging, blogging, and a distributed datastore (like that of Freenet). See more about this at I2P Services.
- Unlike Tor, I2P can be used for torrenting, using applications like I2P Snark or the Bittorrent network: Bittorrent over I2P. While you technically can torrent over Tor, there’s a great chance that it will break your anonymity.
This is only a very basic summary – if you want to know more, click the links there and you can read some of the technical documentation.
Freenet is a peer-to-peer (P2P) network which allows you to anonymously share files, send messages, and publish websites that are, in theory, resistant to censorship. It also uses what’s called a “distributed datastore” for the purpose of filesharing. In other words, users “donate” a portion of their hard drive so that other users can share files (the datastore is encrypted, however).
When you first join the network, you are given a cryptographic identifier (key), which, in essence, becomes your “name.” (Think of it like James Bond’s 007 name.) The key looks something like this: http://localhost:8888/freenet:USK@ZVtoHFm~Lm5FctbjloVYwQ0b5KaAae6TeQGk8fswJs4,kRR5rHBQuNpaiFqZE-v3Rtv0e~LWFFbxbh9tAt44UEM,AQACAAE/ffffff/12/ And you thought onion links were hard to remember!
One major difference between Tor and Freenet is that all of the Freenet sites are listed in directories that you can find inside the network (which isn’t always the case with Tor). For example, there is one directory called “Nerdageddon,” which lists many (but not all) of the Freenet sites. However, it excludes pornographic sites and other such material:
When you click on a site, your computer “downloads” the page from Freenet, and you must wait for it to load before being able to browse it:
Although it’s for different reasons, Freenet, like Tor, tends to be slow. Again, it’s a trade-off between anonymity and speed, so it depends on which you value most. As opposed to Tor, if you want to join social networks or forums on Freenet, you need to download various plugins, such as Sone (a Facebook-like social network) or WebofTrust.
The upside of this is that you aren’t downloading programs from some random onion site that you happened across, which may or may not have malicious intent. Plus, Freenet has the option of operating in either “opennet” or “darknet” modes. In opennet mode, you connect to anyone on the network, whereas in darknet mode, you connect only to friends.
Summing it Up
In any case, I find all of these networks to be interesting, and if you’re curious, I say explore them. Just know what you’re getting into, and if you don’t understand something, read the documentation or ask.
That’s not a crime, is it?