The dark web is infamous for all kinds of unlawful stuff where people access black markets and buy all kinds of illegal goods and services. However, there are also legitimate websites there and so much more you can do. But if you are an explorer like me, the first thing you need to know is how to access the dark web safely.
According to researchers, the part of the internet that you can access with your regular browser makes up just about 4% of the entire internet. This part is usually referred to as the surface or clear web, and the rest of it is known as the deep web (>90% of the web).
The dark web is however mentioned more than the deep web, and as its name suggests, resides in a hidden zone of the web. It is similar to the clear web in that it contains websites, although these websites used different indexing and can’t be accessed via regular browsers – unless you do a lot of tweaking.
Accessing this part of the internet comes with lots of security threats such as data theft, scams, malware, etc; therefore everyone needs high levels of privacy, anonymity, and security before connecting to the network. In this guide, we’ll show you how to access the dark web safely.
Deep Web vs Dark Web
Before we dive deeper, it’s important to understand these two as they often confused and wrongly used interchangeably.
The deep web is the part of the internet that can’t be accessed by simply searching on Google or other search engines. In other words, it is the hidden web. This includes content that is kept behind a paywall or requires users to log in with their credentials. Such content includes medical records, court records, membership webpages, and even your emails among others.
The dark web on the other hand is a part of the deep web that was created with a goal to offer anonymity, and it can only be accessed via a special browser. This infamous part of the web contains websites just like the surface web, although these websites there usually have a different naming system that ends with a .onion suffix for the Tor network.
The Dark Web
What is found on the Dark Web?
You can’t really describe what can be found on the dark web, although one can say “everything.” This is because just like the regular web, the dark web still has legitimate sites in domains such as news, social media, entertainment, etc. For example, Facebook and even The New York Post have a mirror site on the dark web.
However, as we all know, the dark web is infamously known for all types of villainy and illegal stuff; illicit drugs, weapons, fake currency, stolen credit cards, malware codes, hacking tools, etc. There also rooms and websites that have scary and gore videos; so you should always access the dark web safely. And, although there are legitimate market places that people buy from, it’s important to note that the dark web is notorious for scams, which means you shouldn’t trust easily.
However, some of the stories you hear about the dark web are usually exaggerated; most of them are also scams. You surely won’t get a hitman for hire or even find the infamous red rooms; they are there, but they are not real.
Away from that, the Dark web is also a useful channel for covert communications by journalists, whistleblowers like Edward Snowden, and intelligence agencies. SecureDrop is the leading platform for sharing sensitive information on the dark web; it is used by ProPublica and other investigative bodies.
Is the Dark Web Illegal?
We do not want to leave you with the notion that the dark web is illegal.
The dark web is completely legal, and so is the Tor network. However, there are both legal and illegal activities that go on there, and what you engage yourself in is what matters. Browsing through illegal market places won’t really get you in trouble, although buying illegal stuff and accessing child porn is prohibited by law.
Also, some countries with restrictive laws, like China, blocks access to The Dark Web
Why you need a VPN for the Dark Web
Unlike the clear web, the dark web is made up of decentralized servers that are connected through peer to peer technology. These servers are usually not owned by companies but by volunteers all over the world.
Each request you make is encrypted and then passed through 3 different nodes. The first node knows the source but not the destination or message, the second node knows the destination but not the source or message, and the third node knows the message but not the source. The problem comes in that the first node can see where you are, based on your IP address. Your ISP can also see that you are connected to Tor. And though the latter may not have much implication, some countries like the US are very invasive and they even run some of the Tor nodes. This means they can do correlations using various techniques; that’s why the FBI makes arrests on irregular activities on the dark web.
To enhance the anonymity provided by Tor, you need to hide your privacy using a VPN that doesn’t keep any sort of logs.
Surfshark is one of the best VPNs at this.
Tor over VPN vs VPN over Tor
This may sound a little techy, but it is actually very simple. The two involve using tor when connected to a VPN in order to access the dark web safely.
Tor over VPN
Tor over VPN is the most secure and popular way of connecting to Tor as it ensures that before you enter the network, your is already private encrypted. To use Tor over VPN, ensure that your VPN is connected to a server before you launch the Tor browser. Advisably, also activate the kill switch option for maximum privacy.
VPN over Tor
VPN over Tor on the other hand is simply the opposite of Tor over VPN. A user first connects to the Tor network and then activates the VPN. This means that after the Tor relay, the traffic then goes to the VPN provider’s server.
This method is not commonly used as it is not very secure. Your ISP can still see that you are connected to Tor, and the Tor entry node can see your IP address.
How to Access the Dark Web Safely
Even though Tor already offers anonymity, your privacy and security aren’t guaranteed. Using Tor alone may lead to exposure to malware, information theft, IP blacklisting, and even legal charges depending on your activities.
He’s a step by step on how to access the dark web safely:
Step 1: Connect to a VPN
Before you launch your Tor browser, you need to connect to a VPN first (Tor over VPN). This will increase your security and privacy by ensuring that your traffic is already encrypted and you are not using your IP address to enter the network.
What this means is that even the first node of the Tor network won’t know who you are or where you are from.
However, you also need to ensure that you are using a secure and private VPN, which:
- Does not keep any connection or usage logs
- Uses AES 256-bit encryption
- Has a huge server network
Apart from that, the VPN needs to have great speeds since Tor can greatly slow down your connection.
The VPN that best meets the above criteria is Surfshark. This VPN doesn’t keep any logs of your traffic; also has a huge server network that is well distributed across the world, and this facilitates great speeds due to the less connection distance.
As for security, Surfshark uses the industry-standard encryption, and it enhances this through other important security features such as a kill switch and an IPv6 & DNS leak protection among many other. All this is supplied at the price /quality rate of:
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Step 2: Install an Adequate Browser
There are several ways you can access the dark web. You can use browsers such as Tor, I2P, Matrix, Orbot, FreeNet, and many others. You can even configure a regular browser to access the dark web, for example by using NordVPN’s Onion over VPN servers.
However, all the above methods offer varying levels of anonymity, privacy, security, and functionality. Some browsers can be tracked, and other anonymous ones such as I2P highly limit what you can access (they can’t access Tor or the surface web).
- To get started, first connect your Surfshark app for privacy
- Then ensure that you download the Tor browser from the official website (torproject.org).
- After installation, launch it and it will connect you to the Tor network. You will now have what is referred to as Tor over VPN connection. You will able to use the surface web privately and anonymously, as well as access the hidden dark web services.
Step 3: Browse Safely
Apart from ensuring that you have a secure connection, you also need to use privacy best practices and also navigate this tricky part of the internet securely.
If you decide to create encrypted emails, join chat rooms, make a purchase, etc., always ensure that you do not provide your personal details.
Apart from that, you will need to use trusted links; the dark web is not short of scams and malicious individuals. Since the Tor network is highly decentralized, you can’t easily search for websites or content like you can on Google. Further, some of the websites you’ll stumble upon can’t be trusted, and so you need to be quite careful. To get started, head over to the HiddenWiki (wikitjerrta4qgz4.onion) to get links for some of the popular darknet websites.
Need More Security?
In case you want to do more than just browse the dark web or you need to ensure that you are completely anonymous and secure, there are various techniques that you can use:
- Ensure that you register for your VPN when connected to Tor. Use pseudo names and pay using anonymous bitcoin. Surfshark supports bitcoin payments.
- Use TAILS, a unique Debian-based version of Linux which can be live booted. It leaves no trace of any user activity – nor the operating system itself – on your computer. It’s free and can boot from a USB stick or DVD.
Though it’s not illegal, If you are planning to explore/use The Dark Web, just be conscious that you are entering a zone and that most of the time you’ll stumble with strange things and illegal activities.
That’s why is so important to stay safe and anonymous, so grab yourself a secure VPN and explore the hidden world!
Nevertheless, there’s lots of stuff to discover in the dark web. We hope this article on How to Access the Dark Web may help you explore the invisible part of this iceberg.