I deep dived into the Darknet

Have you ever wondered what the Darknet looks like? I have! And then I remembered that, hey, I’m a journalist. So I went ahead and did a story about it.

For those who skipped the lead and don’t know it yet: I’m a journalist, working for an Austrian print paper. Said newspaper also publishes a magazine called Futter. And since the beginning of this year, I’ve been primarily occupied with writing stories for Futter.

When I told my boss that I wanted to deep dive into the Darknet, she thought it was a cool idea. If you understand German, you can read the full story here. If you don’t speak German, you can still click on this links because I wouldn’t mind the visits. Plus, it includes a set of screenshots which come right out of the Darknet and which you won’t find on here.

Accessing the Darknet

Anyway. For my story, I got in touch with a police officer who works for my homestate and is specializing in IT-Security. He accesses the Darknet on a daily basis. We meet on a Thursday afternoon. He’s brought along his laptop and a USB stick.

He has stored a special browser on the stick. The one that can display pages that have the suffix “.onion”, which is an indicator for the Darknet. As it turns out, it’s really not that hard to enter that particular corner of the internet. Really, all you need is that browser.

“The tricky thing is to navigate your way around there”, the officer says as he starts his laptop. “You have to know what exactly you’re looking for.”

He has brought along a document with links we can access. The first page we visit belongs to a hacker.

“(Illegal) Hacking and social engineering is my business since I was 16 years old”, it says on his webpage. Later, he proceeds to list his technical skills. Clearly, that guy has tons of experience. I find it ironic, though, that the header “Rent-A-Hacker” is written in Comic Sans.

Comic Sans? Really?

The officer scrolls down. On the bottom of the page, the hacker writes about the services he offers. It’s unsettling.

“Not a pussy”

“I’ll do anything for money, I’m not a pussy”, he says. “If you want me to destroy some business or a person’s life, I’ll do it!”

The hacker does anything for money

He claims that he can even get people arrested or make them known as a child porn user. WTF?

“This guy has been around here for a while”, the officer explains to me. “Nobody knows who he is.”

Because that’s the thing about the Darknet: You’re pretty much anonymous there. But that doesn’t mean that police won’t get you. The content of the next page we access has been confiscated by German police.

“They do have their tricks”, the officer says. “Sometimes they’d rebuild pages. Or they make mock purchases.”

Amazon for drugs

The next page we visit is an online store for drugs. You can find literally anything there: heroin, meth, cocaine, flakka. And just like on Amazon, people rate their purchases. Skimming through the reviews, I can’t help but laugh. It’s priceless.

“Fast delivery and over average material, I am satisfied!”, one users says. Another one praises the airtight packaging.

Sadly, the dealer says, he’s run out of weed. “But hash is a great alternative”, he adds.

The Amazon for drugs

Jesus. I’m ready to move on and see what else we could find in the Darknet.

“So technically… could I hire a hitman here?”, I ask. “Of course, I’m only asking for a friend”, I say, jokingly.

The officer laughs: “You could. But it might also be a scam.”

“A scam?”, I ask.

“Yes. It could be an impostor who tries to gain as much information as possible about you to blackmail you”, he says.

“Oh. I guess that makes sense”, I reply. I want to know if I could also purchase organs.

“There’s nothing you can’t find on the Darknet. But then again, you never know if whatever they’re offering is real.”

Is it legal though?

Accessing the Darknet is perfectly legal, by the way. But of course, as soon as you purchase drugs, watch child pornography or order a kidney, you break the law.

I’ve gathered enough information and get ready to go back to the newsroom. But before I say goodbye, there’s one last thing the officer wants to add.

“The Darknet isn’t all bad”, he says. “I’m convinced that it also played an important role in social movements such as the arabic spring.”

Fair enough.

Have you ever accessed the Darknet? Which pages did you visit? Leave a comment or drop me a message!