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The darknet is often cited on news stories and the mainstream media as a mysterious, scary place full of criminals and terrorists however part of that is simply not true. There are actually plenty of criminals on there, in fact illicit substances and pornography seem to form a huge proportion of the anonymised sites.
For anyone who has never ventured onto the darknet perhaps a quick introduction is in order. The Darknet exists completely independently of the mainstream world wide web and crucially none of the sites or information exist on a single identifiable web server. The darknet is accessed via a plugin which can be installed in your browser and enables you to access an Open Network called TOR available from here. TOR also allows you to communicate anonymously on the traditional web without being identified although it’s not completely anonymous.
You can identify a Darknet (or Deep Web) address from it’s extension, instead of the traditional html ending – all hidden web sites end in the extension .onion. You will not be able to access any of these addresses without using the TOR plugin in your browser however. As mentioned none of these web pages exist on a single web server, but are hosted on thousands of computers anonymously on the TOR network – ensuring that people can post and access information without being traced.
This all sounds fantastic for anyone up to no good and you’d expect to find thousands of terrorist sites and information however there are hardly any, a handful at most. So why aren’t ISIS and al-Qaeda hosting all their information sites here, why aren’t there thousands of message boards and downloadable how to make bombs pdfs hosted on the Darknet? Well the answer is not completely certain but it’s likely the reason is simple – it’s incredibly irritating to use.
Browsing the Darknet is not a a super slick experience, in fact it’s like to trying to use the current web on a 15 year old computer. The sinister mystery of the place soon gives way to time-outs, broken links and crashing browsers – you can access a site one minute then face a ten minute delay whilst it reloads. It’s understandable really, after all it’s an open network hosted on thousands of disparate machines on varying quality internet connections, it works but sometimes only just.
Your average terrorist has probably grown up with all the latest technology, he probably has a smart phone that’s much better than mine. In between listening to anti-west sermons he’s probably streaming Breaking Bad on his Netflix account using a VPN. Crucially they are likely to have as much patience with slow web pages as my children who have been brought up in a household that’s always offered – 30 MB download speeds. I get irritated with slow web pages, and I remember downloading a newsgroup on 14.8k modem which would often take several hours.
Terrorists are often super active on social media and on the traditional web, the Darknet simply doesn’t function that way – its’ slow and requires a lot of patience sometimes. The same reason why people often don’t use TOR for privacy, Smart DNS to bypass filters or VPNs for anonymity in their browsing on the normal web. These options do hide your web requests for 99% of the time and some of them are free but again very slow to use. Using something like Identity Cloaker provides privacy and has virtually no impact on your normal internet connection speed.
So this is my conclusion – Terrorists Don’t Use the Darknet because it’s a bit rubbish!