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What Is the Dark Internet?

By Paul Scott
Updated May 17, 2024
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Dark Internet is a term used to describe that portion of the total Internet site population that cannot be accessed through conventional search methods. Also known as dark address space, the phenomenon affects a substantial number of websites, rendering them unable to connect globally. There are a variety of causes of this phenomenon that include overzealous traffic filtering, incorrect configuration, and the use of archaic Milnet addresses by military sites. This situation has obvious negative implications for the sites or potential users, but may also have a more sinister effect on the rest of the Internet community due to malicious use of dark address space. This threat arises from the characteristic lack of connectivity between mainstream Internet users and the dark Internet, allowing hackers to hijack unreachable networks for use as launch platforms for their illegal activities.

The Internet community is a cyber-presence group of staggering proportions. It is widely accepted by many Internet users that the entire community is globally connected and available. This is not the case, though, with a huge number of sites partially or completely cut off from the rest of the web. There are a number of common, known causes of this situation, although the lack of connectivity experienced by many broadband modem users is still a mystery.

One of the most common causes of dark Internet blackouts is over-aggressive traffic filtering instituted by network administrators trying to free up local resources and reduce server loads. Although this certainly achieves its intended purpose, it can, if applied too vigorously, cut the network off either partially or completely. Incorrect configuration is another major cause of networks languishing in dark address space that can be laid at the door of long-suffering administrators. An incorrectly set-up Internet protocol (IP) address can place single users or, in the case of routers, entire networks firmly in the unreachable nether regions of the dark Internet. A third group of heavyweight contributors to the dark address space phenomenon are the large number of military sites still occupying ancient Milnet address blocks, some dating back to the Arpanet.

The dark Internet obviously has a negative effect on its victims and their potential users or clients due to the absence of connectivity. It does, however, have another even darker side to it as a potential springboard for malicious distribution of malware, spyware, viruses, and an origin for denial-of-service attacks. The shady, untraceable nature of the dark Internet allows hackers to use its latent cloaking characteristics to carry out their illegal activities with little or no chance of any action being taken against them. Overall, the resolution of the dark address space issue is certainly one of the most pressing calls to action facing the broader Internet community today.

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Discussion Comments
By Ana1234 — On Feb 17, 2014

I'm not sure if I like the fact that the internet is this complicated or not. It seems almost organic, like a city where buildings have been put in as they became possible, rather than planned in advance.

In some ways that makes internet freedom more likely, because it would be so difficult to truly control it, but on the other hand it also makes it very difficult for people to understand and I think that can be dangerous.

By croydon — On Feb 16, 2014

@clintflint - Well, the last I heard The Silk Road had been basically routed by officials, but there are plenty of other places like that. I don't know if they even have to be based in the dark side of the internet though. There are other ways of hiding IP addresses and whatever else needs to be done to keep people from finding a site.

I've actually always wondered how hard it would be to just make a website that was completely exclusive and didn't appear on any search engines. I guess that is what the dark internet basically is.

By clintflint — On Feb 15, 2014

I didn't realize that parts of the dark internet were actually legitimate sites, like military sites. I thought they were basically all illegal and mostly were sites like the Silk Road, where people can go to buy drugs and weapons and things like that.

I guess I thought it was more a Star Wars reference to the dark side of the internet, than a more literal description of areas where the other parts of the internet just don't reach.

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