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What is The Dark Net?

Today, I am using the Truesilver blog to have a little rant about bad journalism. I apologise in advance to the good journalists out there, as I am about to make a few generalisations which don’t include you, but I’m hoping this might enlighten a those people out there who don’t code and may have had the wits scared out of them by badly researched news articles…

So you may have heard yesterday on the news about the Government’s crackdown on paedophiles who spend time on THE DARK NET. Which is absolutely a good thing. Anything that helps stops the abuse of children in any way is absolutely a good thing.

What you might be confused about is the term ‘Dark-Net’ or ‘Darknet’.

And you’d be forgiven.

I get a little cross when writers use slogans and catchphrases to distort the news. According to Wikipedia this is what the Darknet is, and, in my opinion, is the correct definition:

” A darknet is a private network where connections are made only between trusted peers — sometimes called “friends” (F2F)[1] — using non-standard protocols and ports.

Darknets are distinct from other distributed peer-to-peer networks as sharing is anonymous (that is, IP addressesare not publicly shared), and therefore users can communicate with little fear of governmental or corporate interference.[2] “

However news articles on Sky News and BBC News are reporting that ” The dark net refers to areas of the internet which are not indexed by search engines like Google or Bing. ” (according to Sky News) and ” The term ‘dark net’ refers to parts of the internet that are hidden and can be hard to access without special software” (according to BBC News)

You can read both articles here:

Sky News – Sexual Messages To Children To Be Made Illegal
BBC News – GCHQ to help tackle ‘dark net’ child abuse images

So according to these news articles, the Darknet is simply a website that is purposefully ‘hidden’ from Google and other search engines.

Do you know the difference between a non indexed for Google site and a normal site? This tiny bit of code…

< META NAME=”ROBOTS” CONTENT=”NOINDEX, NOFOLLOW”>

Ok, so I’m oversimplifying a little, but it’s such an oversimplification on the part of journalists that anyone who doesn’t code is going to immediately imagine that the Darknet is a place full of evil people hiding; partaking in criminal behaviour – and that, worse, their children might somehow stumble across it.

So let’s look at some examples of what could be classed as Darknet sites if we’re using Sky and BBC’s defintion:

WordPress sites

In your WordPress site settings you have the option to “Discourage search engines from indexing this site” and it specifically says “It is up to search engines to honor this request.”

And what that means is you are politely asking Google and Bing not to show this site in search results. However, spammers can still index your site (because, let’s face it, they don’t care what you politely ask them to do) and will try and find email addresses and forms to send their spam messages to.

Facebook closed groups and profile pages

These aren’t indexed because of Facebook privacy settings. A simple bit of coding means that unless someone is your Friend then they can’t see your posts. That means that Google spiders and spammers can’t ‘index’ your group or profile page – which is a good thing.

Company Intranet systems

Many companies will have a site where you can login to update or download whatever you need to see to do your job. The pages you access also aren’t available to the general public or Google because they are data protection sensitive or contain corporate information.

Government websites

Yes, everyone, Government owned websites would also be classed as Darknet, under this definition. Many parts of government websites are not available to the general public.

Do you see why it’s frustrating? And why I feel the need to have a little rant?

In my opinion Wikipedia’s definition is much more accurate and, thankfully, much less inflammatory.

The key thing is the lack of tracability. Using software to hide your IP Address for example. This takes effort. However, there are lots of normal people who use this kind of software in order to access content that isn’t available in their country.

I’ve heard that because of the Government restrictions placed on the internet, many in China are forced to use software to hide their location so that they can access information and exercise freedom of speech.

An analogy

It would be like the newspapers saying the Government are cracking down on any photographs not uploaded on Facebook but using a new scary term like Dark-graphs. Photographs and the internet both have relevant, innocent, day-to-day uses as well as seedy and criminal uses. Yes, some people use the internet (and photos) for nefarious purposes. But making people scared of the whole because of a minority is wrong and Sky News, the BBC and any government body that had a hand in this PR stunt should be ashamed of themselves.

Don’t fall foul to scare mongering, guys.

There you go. Rant over. And I apologise again.

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