The network of sites known as the darknet, only accessible through the anonymizing Tor browser, resembles the early internet in many ways ' including being difficult to navigate. Most users get around by clicking from link to link, accessing pages like "The Hidden Wiki" that list popular site addresses, or typing long, complex URLs directly into the browser. Sites often change addresses as a cautionary measure, making them even more difficult to locate.
That makes it tough for customers attempting to shop for drugs, fake IDs, or other items on the darknet's black markets like Black Bank, Silk Road, and Pandora. However, an anonymous developer has released Grams, a search engine that has indexed eight of the darknet's markets.
Like Google or Expedia, Grams (Tor link
) delivers top search results according to relevance, and users can restrict the search only to certain markets or sort by price or date. It also keeps track of the latest exchange rate for Bitcoin, the semi-anonymous digital currency used in most darknet markets, updating the rate every five minutes.
Grams looks like Google, copying the site's multi-colored branding and even including an "I'm feeling lucky" button, which takes the user to a random search (we got "shatter," which is a waxy version of butane-extracted hash oil). The developer says Grams will soon offer clearly-marked paid results as well
, just like Google AdWords. That will help ensure the site's continued existence, as he or she is a little strapped for cash. "Right now we have only one advertisers and a lot of server bills," the site says. "Donations are very appreciated!"
The darknet black market scene was set back when US law enforcement took down Silk Road
, by far the largest site, and arrested its alleged owner. Other sites, including a successor to Silk Road, were busted, went out of business, or simply disappeared. However, new sites continue to crop up, peddling drugs, guns, and credit cards. Grams doesn't collect any personal information, so it's pretty safe to use. But by funneling users to sites where they can buy drugs, Grams is likely breaking US law ' Google had to pay a fine in 2011 for directing users to illegal online pharmacies. If it makes the darknet significantly easier to use, it could become a target for law enforcement in the future.