How to get on the Dark Web

Most people have heard of the dark web and the illicit marketplaces available on it. Those marketplaces – and the stories surrounding them – can make the dark web seem like a hive of criminality. Unfortunately, it is true that guns, drugs, stolen passports (and many other illegal wares) do proliferate in those stores. As a result, there are plenty of reasons why the average person might choose never to access the dark web.

That said, there are reasons some people use the dark web legitimately. In this guide, we will look at some of those reasons and explain how to access the dark web if you need to.

How to get on the dark web

Knowing how to access the dark web can be of significant benefit if you are trying to bypass censorship and gain access to information that has been blocked by the government. And it can allow you to exchange information securely if you are a whistleblower who wants to remain anonymous.

You may be surprised to find out that connecting to the dark web is actually very easy.

Regular browsers like Firefox and Chrome can't access this concealed portion of the internet, because they are not designed to find websites listed using The Onion Router hidden service protocol.

Anybody wanting to access websites on the dark web must use a browser that has been purposefully designed for the task: Tor.

Tor browser is named after "The Onion Router" protocol that powers the dark web. As mentioned, Tor servers are completely concealed from regular internet browsers. However, by connecting to them using the Tor browser you can easily access them in a completely private and anonymous manner. 

What's more, in addition to providing anonymity for surfing websites, Tor also allows website publishers to remain anonymous thanks to the strong encryption provided by the Onion Router system. Check out our what is Tor page for information about it and the steps you need to follow to install it.

How to use Tor to access to the dark web 

To access the dark web, all you need to do is install the Tor browser onto your device. Tor is free and can be downloaded from the official Tor Project website. What's more, Tor's onion browser is available for Windows, macOS, Linux, and Android. As a result, you can access the dark web on just about any device. To install Tor on your device, simply follow the steps below:

  1. Navigate to the Tor Project's download page.
  2. Choose the version of Tor that you require for your device.
  3. Download and install the Tor browser using the executable file.
  4. Launch Tor browser and connect to the network.
  5. You can now search the dark web! Alternatively, enter the URL for the dark website you want to visit. If you don't know how to search for and find resources on the dark web, we have provided some options later in this guide.

Warning:

It is vital that you only ever download the Tor browser from the official Tor website because there are malicious versions circulating online that contain malware. If you download Tor from anywhere but the Tor website, it is possible that you could become infected.

Please also bear in mind that there is no official version of Tor for iOS at this time. Thus you will need to be careful not to be tricked into downloading a cloned version of Tor for iOS.

 

How to connect to the Dark Web on iOS

Anybody wanting to connect to the dark web on an iPhone or iPad is advised that there is no official Tor app at the moment. Instead, Tor Project recommends iOS users to connect using the iOS Onion Browser app.

This app works slightly differently from the official Tor browser, and while it is a good alternative for iPhone users (that is recommended by Tor Project itself) it could potentially contain vulnerabilities not present in the official Tor browser. For this reason, you do use this app to connect to the dark web at your own risk.

What's the difference between the Deep Web and the Dark Web?

Deep Web

The deep web refers to any part of the internet that is not openly indexed and made available via a web search. This includes any private information held on the cloud that is not listed on the Web. This includes things like the data stored on private cloud servers, backup services, email accounts, etc. 

The deep web is generally a safe place, particularly when compared directly to the Dark Web. However, it is a huge target for cybercrime because it is the area of the internet where private data resides.

Whether you are accessing your email account, private backups, or your credit card statements, that data is stored on the deep web. Due to the value of the private data that is stored on the deep web, it is vital that it is always secured extremely well using encryption.

This is why that data is usually accessible only with a password (and two-factor authentication). This is also why it is essential to use strong passwords to protect any information stored on the deep web.

Dark Web

The dark web is a part of the deep web that can be accessed anonymously using Tor browser. It is concealed from the clearnet (the part of the internet where you visit YouTube and Twitter) using encryption, and it allows web developers to publish websites anonymously.

The dark web accounts for around 6% of the internet, and it is the secretive portion of the web where drug dealers, black hat hackers, hitmen, and human traffickers sell their wares or services.

The dark web is a hive for criminal activity due to its anonymous nature and the fact that it is extremely hard to track down anybody who accesses it. In fact, research performed at the University of Kent in 2015 revealed that 57% of the dark web hosts illicit material. 

On the other hand, those stats reveal that around 40% of the dark web is not actually illegal. This is because it is also used by activists, dissidents, journalists, whistleblowers, and other legitimate people seeking to share information or conduct research securely, anonymously, and without being tracked. 

These legitimate people use Tor browser to ensure their safety and to access information that has been censored by the government. This includes not just accessing content on the dark web, but also using tor to access the clearnet anonymously, which allows them to bypass restrictions imposed by the government in the same way that a VPN does. 

How do you search the dark web?

Most search engines do not work on the dark web, because they are not designed to search for ".onion" URLs. The good news, however, is that you can use the dark web version of DuckDuckGo to search for and navigate to websites on the dark web.

Onion link for DuckDuckGo 

Alternatively, you can use the search engine SearX. This is a deep web search engine that allows you to search for websites, but also files, maps, music, news, science, social media posts, videos etc. 

Onion link for SearX

Daniel is a dark web resource that lets you look through lists of around 7000 different .onion sites classified into various useful categories. This allows you to get an overview of what is on offer, and to find onion sites depending on your needs. It also lets you know if each specific onion site is currently available, so that you know whether it is worth clicking the link to take a look. 

Onion link for Daniel

Why would I want to access the dark web?

As previously mentioned, the dark web is not just used for criminal activities. Admittedly, studies have proven that criminal content does make up a large proportion of the dark web. However, as long as you don't specifically search for and access criminal content, there is still plenty to do on the dark web legitimately.

Some people join dark web chess clubs, other people use dark web social media sites like BlackBook, which is considered the private, darknet version of Facebook. There are even comic book libraries, dark web radio broadcasts

What it is important to remember, is that many legitimate sites keep a .onion mirror of their site. They do this to ensure that people all over the world can access their service, even if the government decides to pull the plug. As a result, you may be surprised about the kinds of services that have a .onion version of their site:

Electronic Frontier Foundation

EFF is one of the leading proponents for privacy activism online, and it should come as no surprise that it mirrors its site on the dark web to ensure that anybody can access it even if it is blocked. 

Secure Drop

This is one of the most valuable resources available on the dark web. It is a place where citizens can provide whistleblower information in a secure, private, and anonymous manner. Secure Drop is frequented by some of the world's top journalists and publications so that people can quickly get their information anonymously provide information to Forbes, The Intercept, The Financial Times, Reuters, and many more.

BBC News

BBC News prides itself on bringing impartial information to people all over the world, and in 2019 it decided to roll out a dark web mirror of its site to ensure that people all over the world can access it; even if it is subjected to censorship by the government.

The Hidden Wiki

The Hidden Wiki is a version of Wikipedia that is on the dark web. In addition to the regular Wiki information, it holds a massive resource of .onion sites which makes it a great place for finding deep web resources.

Facebook

You may never have expected Facebook to have a dark web mirror, but the reality is that even Zuck wants to ensure that people all over the world can access Facebook if they need to! Just remember that when you login to and use Facebook, the service still knows who you are. Thus, the dark web version of Facebook is there for bypassing censorship, not for gaining anonymity on the social media platform.

ProPublica

This investigative journalism organization is known for providing important breaking news that is important to the public interest. By maintaining a dark web mirror it ensures that anybody can access its content and provide it with information anonymously and securely if they want to.

Hidden Answers

This is a superb resource where people can anonymously and privately ask questions. Think of it as a dark web version of Reddit and you are on the right track! It is a good place to get help and ask questions about the dark web when you are a total noob.

Are there any other darknets?

Although the darknet that is accessed using Tor is the most popular and well-known darknet available on the internet, there are actually others. The most popular of those darknets are I2P and Freenet. However, there are others:

  • GNUnet
  • Zeronet
  • Retroshare (not strictly a darknet but can be used in darknet mode)

So, how do you connect to the darknet? To access those specific darknet networks, you will need to use the specific browsers developed for them. However, bear in mind that they are often less user-friendly than Tor (which makes accessing the dark web easy).

Dark web security

When searching and surfing the dark web, it is possible to run into malicious websites that contain malware. There is a significant amount of malicious websites on the dark web which means it is essential to be extremely careful about where you go. As a result, it is essential that you use a strong firewall, and an antivirus with real time scanning and protection against incoming threats.

We also recommend that you use a VPN for Tor, as this will ensure that you add an extra layer of privacy to your connection to Tor. This will prevent your ISP from knowing that you are accessing the dark web (your ISP will never be able to detect what you are doing on the dark web even if you do not use a VPN, but they will be able to make a note of the fact that you are using Tor to do something). Head over to our page on how to safely access the dark web for some top security tip.

Written by: Ray Walsh

Digital privacy expert with 5 years experience testing and reviewing VPNs. He's been quoted in The Express, The Times, The Washington Post, The Register, CNET & many more. 

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