Investigating the darknet


The "darknet" is often the subject of journalistic reports - but hardly any journalists have ever been there themselves. This workshop provides insights into the "dark side of the internet". 


Its aim is to enable journalists to report from the darknet in future by researching it themselves. The training is practically orientated and shows participants how to access the darknet themselves, where it is worth researching and which communication strategies are promising. In addition to practical tips, the technical basics of encryption and anonymisation are also discussed, so that participants can also learn something "en passant" to strengthen their own digital security.


The focus is on research in criminal milieus - cybercrime, drug and arms trafficking, product piracy - but the seminar also sheds light on why darknet technologies can be vital for media professionals in repressive environments in some areas. (Note: The colloquial term "darknet" is understood in the seminar as onion services in the Tor network; other darknets are only discussed in passing).


Participation may be particularly worthwhile for people whose work involves researching the topics of cybercrime, political extremism, drug and arms trafficking or product piracy. (The topic of paedocrime will be discussed, but for ethical and legal reasons will not be explored in depth in practical exercises).


Key questions:

  • How does the darknet work and why does it guarantee technical anonymity?
  • How do you access the Darknet? Which research strategies are promising?
  • How do you communicate in encrypted form on the darknet?
  • What legal and professional ethical questions do journalists face when conducting research?
  • What role do digital cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin or Monero play on the darknet and how can they be used for research in blockchains?
  • How do you work with the live operating system Tails?
  • What potential do darknet technologies offer for journalism in politically repressive countries and in Germany?


On the second day of the workshop, the topics of the first day will be deepened with further exercises. Participants will also receive an introduction to the anonymous Tails operating system, which is indispensable for professional darknet research. Previous knowledge of Tails is not necessary.


Technical requirements:

Participants must bring at least one laptop on which the Tor browser can be installed and used. A second laptop on which "Tails" can be used in parallel is recommended for the second workshop day. Furthermore, all participants of the second workshop day are asked to bring an empty USB stick (at least 4 GB).




Daniel Moßbrucker lives and works in Berlin as a journalist specialising in surveillance, data protection and internet regulation. He specialises in darknet research and works as a service provider for editorial offices throughout Germany. In 2022, he was awarded the Otto Brenner Prize for innovative media projects with a team from NDR and "Spiegel" for his darknet research into paedophile crime.