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A dark net or darknet is an overlay network within the Internet that can only be accessed with specific software, configurations, or authorization,[1] and often uses a unique customized communication protocol. Two typical darknet types are social networks[2] (usually used for file hosting with a peer-to-peer connection),[3] and anonymity proxy networks such as Tor via an anonymized series of connections.[4]

The term "darknet" was popularized by major news outlets and was associated with Tor Onion services when the infamous drug bazaar Silk Road used it,[5] despite the terminology being unofficial. Technology such as Tor, I2P, and Freenet are intended to defend digital rights by providing security, anonymity, or censorship resistance and are used for both illegal and legitimate reasons. Anonymous communication between whistle-blowers, activists, journalists and news organisations is also facilitated by darknets through use of applications such as SecureDrop.[6]


The term originally described computers on ARPANET that were hidden, programmed to receive messages but not respond to or acknowledge anything, thus remaining invisible and in the dark.[7]

Since ARPANET, the usage of dark net has expanded to include friend-to-friend networks (usually used for file sharing with a peer-to-peer connection) and privacy networks such as Tor.[8][9] The reciprocal term for a darknet is a clearnet or the surface web when referring to content indexable by search engines.[10]

The term "darknet" is often used interchangeably with "dark web" because of the quantity of hidden services on Tor's darknet. Additionally, the term is often inaccurately used interchangeably with the deep web because of Tor's history as a platform that could not be search-indexed. Mixing uses of both these terms has been described as inaccurate, with some commentators recommending the terms be used in distinct fashions.[11][12][13]


"Darknet" was coined in the 1970s to designate networks isolated from ARPANET (the government-founded military/academical network which evolved into the Internet), for security purposes.[7] Darknet addresses could receive data from ARPANET but did not appear in the network lists and would not answer pings or other inquiries.

The term gained public acceptance following publication of "The Darknet and the Future of Content Distribution", a 2002 paper by Peter Biddle, Paul England, Marcus Peinado, and Bryan Willman, four employees of Microsoft who argued the presence of the darknet was the primary hindrance to the development of workable digital rights management (DRM) technologies and made copyright infringement inevitable.[14] This paper described "darknet" more generally as any type of parallel network that is encrypted or requires a specific protocol to allow a user to connect to it.[1]


Journalist J. D. Lasica, in his 2005 book Darknet: Hollywood's War Against the Digital Generation, described the darknet's reach encompassing file sharing networks.[15] Subsequently, in 2014, journalist Jamie Bartlett in his book The Dark Net used the term to describe a range of underground and emergent subcultures, including camgirls, cryptoanarchists, darknet drug markets, self harm communities, social media racists, and transhumanists.[16]


Darknets in general may be used for various reasons, such as:


All darknets require specific software installed or network configurations made to access them, such as Tor, which can be accessed via a customized browser from Vidalia (aka the Tor browser bundle), or alternatively via a proxy configured to perform the same function.


Tor is the most popular instance of a darknet,[19] and it is often mistakenly thought to be the only online tool that facilitates access to darknets.

A cartogram illustrating the average number of Tor users per day between August 2012 and July 2013

Alphabetical list:

  • anoNet is a decentralized friend-to-friend network built using VPN and software BGP routers.
  • Decentralized network 42 (not for anonymity but research purposes).
  • Freenet is a popular DHT file hosting darknet platform. It supports friend-to-friend and opennet modes.
  • GNUnet can be utilized as a darknet[20] if the "F2F (network) topology" option is enabled.[21]
  • I2P (Invisible Internet Project) is an overlay proxy network that features hidden services called "Eepsites".
  • IPFS has a browser extension that may backup popular webpages.
  • RetroShare is a friend-to-friend messenger communication and file transfer platform. It may be used as a darknet if DHT and Discovery features are disabled.
  • Riffle is a government, client-server darknet system that simultaneously provides secure anonymity (as long as at least one server remains uncompromised), efficient computation, and minimal bandwidth burden.[22][23]
  • Secure Scuttlebutt is a peer-to peer communication protocol, mesh network, and self-hosted social media ecosystem
  • Syndie is software used to publish distributed forums over the anonymous networks of I2P, Tor and Freenet.
  • Tor (The onion router) is an anonymity network that also features a darknet – via its onion services.
  • Tribler is an anonymous BitTorrent client with built in search engine, and non-web, worldwide publishing through channels.
  • Urbit is a federated system of personal servers in a peer-to-peer overlay network.
  • Zeronet is a DHT Web 2.0 hosting with Tor users.

No longer supported


See also


  1. ^ a b Gayard, Laurent (2018). Darknet: Geopolitics and Uses. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. p. 158. ISBN 9781786302021.
  2. ^ Wood, Jessica (July 2010) [1 January 2010, the majority was completed by the original date]. "The Darknet: A Digital Copyright Revolution". Richmond Journal of Law & Technology. 16 (4): 14. Archived from the original on 24 November 2020. Retrieved 19 March 2020.
  3. ^ Mansfield-Devine, Steve (1 December 2009). "Darknets". Computer Fraud & Security. 2009 (12): 4–6. doi:10.1016/S1361-3723(09)70150-2.
  4. ^ Pradhan, Sayam (2020). "Anonymous". The Darkest Web: The Dark Side of the Internet. India: Pothi. p. 9. ISBN 9798561755668.
  5. ^ Martin, James (2014). Drugs on the Dark Net: How Cryptomarkets are Transforming the Global Trade in Illicit Drugs. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 2. ISBN 9781349485666.
  6. ^ Press Foundation, Freedom of the. "SecureDrop". github. Freedom of the Press Foundation. Archived from the original on 16 April 2022. Retrieved 28 January 2019.
  7. ^ a b "Darknet.se - About darknet". 2010-08-12. Archived from the original on 2010-08-12. Retrieved 2019-11-05.
  8. ^ Wood, Jessica (2010). "The Darknet: A Digital Copyright Revolution" (PDF). Richmond Journal of Law and Technology. 16 (4): 15–17. Archived (PDF) from the original on 16 May 2013. Retrieved 25 October 2011.
  9. ^ Mansfield-Devine, Steve (December 2009). "Darknets". Computer Fraud & Security. 2009 (12): 4–6. doi:10.1016/S1361-3723(09)70150-2.
  10. ^ Barratt, Monica (15 January 2015). "A Discussion About Dark Net Terminology". Drugs, Internet, Society. Archived from the original on 18 January 2016. Retrieved 14 June 2015.
  11. ^ "Clearing Up Confusion – Deep Web vs. Dark Web". BrightPlanet. Archived from the original on 2015-05-16. Retrieved 2015-06-03.
  12. ^ NPR Staff (25 May 2014). "Going Dark: The Internet Behind The Internet". Archived from the original on 27 May 2015. Retrieved 29 May 2015.
  13. ^ Greenberg, Andy (19 November 2014). "Hacker Lexicon: What Is the Dark Web?". Archived from the original on 7 June 2015. Retrieved 6 June 2015.
  14. ^ Biddle, Peter; England, Paul; Peinado, Marcus; Willman, Bryan (18 November 2002). The Darknet and the Future of Content Distribution (PDF). ACM Workshop on Digital Rights Management. Washington, D.C.: Microsoft Corporation. Archived from the original (PDF) on 17 July 2012. Retrieved 10 October 2012.
  15. ^ Lasica, J. D. (2005). Darknets: Hollywood's War Against the Digital Generation. Hoboken, NJ: J. Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0-471-68334-5.
  16. ^ Ian, Burrell (28 August 2014). "The Dark Net: Inside the Digital Underworld by Jamie Bartlett, book review". Archived from the original on 20 June 2015. Retrieved 3 June 2015.
  17. ^ Taylor, Harriet (19 May 2016). "Hit men, drugs and malicious teens: the darknet is going mainstream". CNBC. Archived from the original on 13 June 2018. Retrieved 9 September 2017.
  18. ^ "Who uses Tor?". Tor Project. Retrieved 14 May 2017.
  19. ^ "Anticounterfeiting on the Dark Web – Distinctions between the Surface Web, Dark Web and Deep Web" (PDF). 13 April 2015. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 June 2015. Retrieved 1 June 2015.
  20. ^ Bennett, Krista; Grothoff, Christian; Kügler, Dennis (2003). Dingledine, Roger (ed.). Privacy Enhancing Technologies Third International Workshop (PET 2003). Springer-Verlag (Heidelberg). pp. 141–175. ISBN 9783540206101.
  21. ^ Xiang, Yang; Lopez, Javier; Jay Kuo, C.-C.; Zhou, Wanlei, eds. (2012). Cyberspace Safety and Security: 4th International Symposium : Proceedings (CSS 2012). Springer (Heidelberg). pp. 89, 90. ISBN 9783642353628.
  22. ^ Young Hyun Kwon (20 May 2015). "Riffle: An Efficient Communication System with Strong Anonymity" (PDF). Retrieved 12 July 2016.
  23. ^ Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office (11 July 2016). "How to stay anonymous online". Archived from the original on 12 July 2016. Retrieved 12 July 2016.

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