Open directories on the Internet are kind of like the Wild West. You never know what you’re going to run into. They are mysterious relics of a simpler time that can take the average Joe down a digital rabbit hole. Furthermore, open directories can be treasure troves for data hoarders.
What Is a Directory? What Makes It “Open”?
Think of a folder on your computer. Most people make folders to help them organize any number of digital files, like Word documents or photos. Simply put, folders contain a bunch of stuff. Directories are essentially the same. Like folders on a PC, directories also contain various digital content. However, there is one significant difference: directories are accessible via the Internet.
Long story short, directories are just direct links to various files. A directory is “open” if that directory is not protected by a username and password. This makes the directory, and all of the files contained within it, freely accessible by anyone who visits it.
Why Do Open Directories Exist?
There are a number of reasons a directory might exist. For example, think of a website that allows you to download something. Maybe they’re PDFs of old instruction manuals, or maybe they’re promotional songs for an independent record label. Those files need to be stored on a server. That server would be home to a directory or list of all of the files stored on that server.
Servers aren’t unique to larger, well-known websites. Servers are owned by individuals, governments, universities, hospitals, businesses – anyone who needs to remotely access digital files. If these servers are connected to the Internet and are not properly secured with a username and a password, it means that anyone who finds the directory is able to view and download any of the content within it. This could be assets for a website, personal photographs, research documents, music, movies, TV shows, even useless junk files. Literally anything and everything can be found on open directories.
What Is the Legality of Open Directories?
The legality of open directories and the content within is subject to debate. It is important to note that laws differ around the world, making the issue complicated. That being said, the general consensus is that simply browsing open directories isn’t illegal. However, things get less clear when the open directory contains copyrighted material. Copyrighted material includes things like movies, TV shows, ebooks, music, videogames, software and anything else that one would normally have to pay for.
While torrenting movies or music might be more well known, searching open directories for copyrighted content has been around since the early days of the Internet. Some organizations, like the Dutch anti-piracy group BREIN, have been targeting open directories that contain copyrighted material, forcing them to shut down, and in some cases, issuing fines to the owners of the open directories.
Generally speaking, those who distribute copyrighted material are usually the ones who are in the crosshairs of the authorities. Those who access the material that they find on open directories are usually given a free pass. This is because it would take a lot of time and effort to track down the individuals who potentially accessed copyrighted content. So, while risk is low, downloading copyrighted material found in open directories is still problematic.
How to Find Open Directories
Finding open directories is pretty simple. You don’t need any fancy software or technical know-how. All you need is a connection to the Internet and a browser. To start snooping around open directories, point your browser to Google. In the search field, type “index of/” followed by whatever you want to look for. For example, let’s say I want to find open directories that contain files related to unidentified flying objects. To start searching, I’d head to Google and type “index of/ ufos.” Alternatively, you can also type “intitle:index.of” followed by your search term.
In addition to the method detailed above, you can also use custom search engines to find open directories. These sites function exactly like other search engines but only retrieve results from open directories. OD Finder, FONETASK and Palined are all popular open directory search engines that are easy to use. Regardless of which method you choose to use, be aware that searching open directories isn’t an exact science. You’re bound to come up with a lot of stuff that has little relevance to you. That being said, sifting through weird digital junk is all part of the fun!
How to Stay Safe on Open Directories
Exploring open directories can be a lot of fun. It’s kind of like the digital equivalent of shopping at a thrift store or going to a garage sale. Sure, there’s going to be a lot of junk, but you never know when you may find a diamond in the rough. While open directories are generally safe, there are a few precautions we recommend taking before diving in.
First, make sure your anti-virus/malware protection is up to date. If you download any files found on open directories, make sure you give them a scan before opening them to ensure that they are free of viruses. Secondly, don’t download any copyrighted material. We know it’s tempting, but if you want to avoid legal headaches, just don’t do it. Lastly, if you operate a file server, make sure it’s protected with a username and password. If you don’t, you may inadvertently be supplying the Internet with yet another open directory to explore. Have fun exploring open directories!
Do you search for open directories? What do you look for? Do you have any interesting experiences with open directories? Let us know in the comments!