The Dark Web by its very name betrays a sense of mystery and myth. Hidden away from the rest of the internet, it’s a world away from traditional websites like Facebook and Amazon, and is totally unindexed by Google and other search engines.
But the dark web isn’t entirely mythical. Indeed, accessing the dark web is quite easy if you’ve got the right tools – and the mind for it. Home to the internet’s black market, the dark web’s trade centers are littered with stolen credit card information, drug and human traffickers, and cybercriminals.
The dark web has other uses – even for many who aren’t criminally inclined. So, if you’re wondering how to get on the Dark Web, worry no more. In this guide, we’ll be explaining what the Dark Web is, how it differs from the Deep Web, and how you can safely access and navigate it.
Otherwise known as the darknet, the dark web is a small part of the internet that is purposely hidden from the rest of the internet. Accessing websites on the dark web requires the use of dark web browsers, such as The Onion Router (TOR) browser, I2P and Freenet.
On the darkest corners of the dark web you’d find hitmen for hire, human traffickers, and child pornography. You’d also regularly find markets for narcotics and firearms. Little wonder this side of the internet carries a nasty reputation.
But the dark web can also be used to simply access data and information anonymously. You’d find regular blogs, private gaming servers, and buzzing chat rooms for different subjects here. It’s a place where people can connect safe in the cloak of anonymity from their real lives.
To that end, journalists, whistleblowers and activists exploit the anonymity of the dark web to exchange sensitive information. Security and intelligence agencies use it to keep tabs on cybercriminals. And, IT departments of businesses often crawl it, searching for compromised accounts.
With all of the illegality taking place on the dark web, you might wonder: Is the dark web legal? To answer simply: Yes, it is. The TOR browser is a legitimate project and using the browser doesn’t break any laws.
However, using the dark web for illegal activities isn’t legal (obviously!). So, whatever you do, ensure you avoid illegal activities on the dark web and you’d have no problems.
The dark web and the deep web have one thing in common – they both can’t be reached using a search engine. But that’s about where it stops. The dark web is only a subset of the deep web.
Outside of the darknet, the deep web consists of hidden databases, webmail platforms, internal business websites (intranets), files in cloud storage websites, etc. These are mostly websites that aren’t relevant to the public and are only known to those who need them.
Because they’re of no interest to the public, Google is typically barred from crawling them. But this lack of indexing doesn’t mean you’d need a dark web browser to access them.
Once you’ve got the direct URLs or the IP address of the website, you can access it with your regular browser. You should expect to hit a sort of firewall, paywall or HTML form before you gain complete access, though.
Considering the number of hackers roaming free on the dark web, it’s important that you take extra measures to ensure your security. You do not want to unwittingly bring the hackers home through your device.
In this guide, we cover everything you need to know to safely access the dark web without possible compromise.
A lot of people are so excited about the prospect of hitting the darknet that they forget that a lot can go wrong over there. Hackers eagerly set traps for newbies who easily fall for them, potentially losing a lot.
So, before you begin to enjoy complete dark web access, it’s important that you first understand what it is you hope to achieve – and how to go about it. Learn how to find what you seek, trade what you have, or share the information you hold before you begin.
You do not want to mistakenly expose your identity to hackers. You also want to avoid bringing in malware that compromises your device.
The safest way to access the dark web is by completely running it on a different device. This is especially true for Windows users, with the Windows OS collecting a ton of information on users. Getting a fresh laptop strictly for this purpose is unfeasible, but you can go the cheaper route – a live OS.
Otherwise known as a mobile OS, a live OS is hosted on an external drive. You can simply get yourself a new 8 GB USB flash drive with no trace to your device.
Once you’ve got your drive, you’d have multiple options for your mobile operating system, like Whonix, Qubes or Tails. Tails is a free lite version of the Linux OS that leaves no trace of itself or your activities on your PC. It’s also easy to install, and comes with the Tor browser pre-installed.
If you aren’t using a live OS, it’s extremely critical that you use a VPN to encrypt your traffic. Although the Tor browser is built for anonymity, it isn’t fail-proof. This means someone who knows where to look, and who has the time to do so, can always find you out.
By encrypting your traffic with a VPN, you ensure that your IP address is never found out; even if there’s a leak in the Tor browser. But you shouldn’t use just any VPN.
Your chosen VPN for surfing the dark web should provide you with complete protection. You need a VPN that stores no logs, has no DNS leaks, and is compatible with Tor. If it also accepts payment through Bitcoin, then it is just perfect.
Notes: You wouldn’t need to use a VPN if you’re using a mobile OS. Firstly, most mobile OS’s do not run VPNs. Most importantly, though, a VPN over a mobile OS is counterproductive.
While there are a few VPNs matching these criteria, we strongly recommend using CyberGhost. It boasts a solid infrastructure and large server network, but remains very easy to use. We also love it for its adblocker which helps keep out malware you may have missed.
The primary tool required to access the dark web is the dark web browser (the most popular of which is Tor). Built for anonymity, Tor is an encrypted network of relays located in different places around the world.
When you connect to a website using the Tor browser, your connection is first bounced through the different relays before heading on to your target website. Although it runs similarly to Firefox, Tor provides you with the dark web access that Firefox cannot.
This dark web access means you can visit those websites ending in ‘.onion’. These are websites which your regular browser simply won’t read. And with the browser redirecting your traffic through several relays before hitting the eventual target, it will be difficult for intruders to identify your original device.
Ensure you download Tor from the official website of the Tor Project. There are a ton of fake versions out there that compromise, rather than improve your security. So, head over to the website, get the latest available version for your device, and install it accordingly.
Notes: For maximum security, turn on your VPN and switch over to your browsers incognito mode before heading over to www.torproject.org to download the Tor browser.
You can’t be too safe online – not when you’re walking open-eyed into a den of hackers and criminals. Take every ounce of protection you can get to ensure you’re not at risk after your trip to the other side.
Some measures you can take to further protect your safety include:
Pro Tips: Avoid bitcoins when trading on the dark web, they’re hardly as anonymous as you think. Reusable addresses, connected nodes, and tracking cookies make it possible for a skilled person to find you using them.
With those security tips implemented (and the rest in mind), you can now head over to your dark web browser and begin accessing the dark web. To do this, you’d have two options:
For those who are unaware of the exact website, it’s important to note that the Google or DuckDuckGo search engines will direct you to regular websites, even when opened on Tor browser. To search the dark web, you’d need to use search engines built for the darknet.
So far, I hope you’ve come to see that it’s relatively easy to access the dark web. But this is a highly tricky and dangerous place, and is hidden for a reason.
Should you have any reason to go to the dark web, be sure to take all of the necessary measures to protect yourself. Get a mobile OS (Tails) if possible; use a dark web browser such as Tor, downloaded ONLY from the legitimate site; use a Best VPN service if you can’t get a mobile OS; and whatever you do, stay safe online.