How to Access the Dark Web Safely: Step-by-Step Guide

The websites you visit daily represent just a small fraction of the internet. Beyond this...

How to Access the Dark Web Safely: Step-by-Step Guide

The websites you visit daily represent just a small fraction of the internet. Beyond this “surface web” is the deep web, and within the deep web is the dark web.

Indeed, Facebook, The New York Times, and now even the CIA have sites on the dark web, hosting “onion” versions of their pages that can be accessed via the Tor browser. The spy agency is hoping to securely and anonymously collect tips, though its entire website, including job listings, is available on the onion service.

Tor refers to “the onion router“, which is a network that bounces your traffic through random nodes, wrapping it in encryption each time, making it difficult to track; it’s managed and accessed via the Tor browser. That may seem an extreme way to browse the web, but such protections are increasingly worth considering, says Sarah Jamie Lewis, executive director of the Open Privacy Research Society. She claims that browsing the web is harmful to security and privacy. It has one of the worst security risk profiles, with protocols that were never intended to safeguard metadata and features like permitting arbitrary third parties to run code on my computer. The least-worst option for preserving your anonymity when accessing the web is Tor Browser in its maximum security setting. 

What is the dark web?

The dark web refers to content that isn’t indexed by search engines and that requires special software or authorization to access. Dark web content lives on the darknet, a part of the internet accessible only to particular browsers or through specific network configurations.

The dark internet offers anonymity by encrypting communication and distributing online content among numerous web servers. The “dark” portion here refers to the employment of particular software to access the dark web, which maintains your anonymity.

While the dark web is often depicted as an anarchic forum for criminal activity, that’s not necessarily true. The darknet is simply an anonymous space on the web that can be abused or appreciated in turn.

Dark web vs. deep web: What’s the difference?

You’d be a little right I suppose. and a little off. These are some instances of items that can be discovered on the Dark Web, a collection of websites with covert IP addresses that might need special software to access. Only 0.01% of the Deep Web, which is made up of Internet content that cannot be found using ordinary search engines, constitutes the Dark Web. To put it another way, if Google can’t discover what you’re looking for, it’s likely still there on the Web, it’s just on the Deep Web, which is more difficult to access. The Surface Web, which makes up around 0.03% of the Internet, is where it is if Google can locate it.

The Deep Web and the Dark Web have been conflated in public discourse. Most people don’t know that the Deep Web contains mostly benign sites, such as your password-protected email account, certain parts of paid subscription services like Netflix, and sites that can be accessed only through an online form. (Just imagine if someone could access your Gmail inbox by simply googling your name!) The Deep Web is vast: back in 2001, it was estimated to be 400–550 times larger than the surface web, and it’s been growing exponentially since then.

The Dark Web is rather modest in comparison; there are just a few thousand Dark Web sites. The websites on the Dark Web are distinguished by the use of encryption tools that conceal both the identities of its visitors and their locations. Because users may conceal their identities, owners of illegal websites can conceal their locations, and data can be sent anonymously, the Dark Web is a popular place for criminal behavior. As a result, there are a lot of illegal transactions involving drugs, weapons, and pornography on the Dark Web. The FBI took down the infamous Silk Road internet black market in 2013.

The Dark Web is not completely dark, though. Additionally, political activists, journalists, and whistleblowers use it to avoid government censorship and possible political punishment. The website WikiLeaks, in particular, has a presence on the Dark Web.

Best VPN for Dark Web:

Even if there are other VPNs available, you should join up with Nord VPN, one of the best. When browsing the Dark Web, this VPN is advised. Your data is further secured as a result. It also conceals where you are. You may browse the Dark Web securely with Nord VPN.

Here are steps to access a hidden site on the dark web:

Here are the steps to hide your IP address using NordVPN:

Step 1) Go to nordvpn

Now, click the “Get NordVPN” button.

Best VPN for Dark Web

Step 2) nordvpn provides 3 plans: 1) 1 month, 2) 1 year, and 3) 2 years.

Select 1 Month plan

Best VPN for Dark Web

Step 3) Click the “Continue to Payment” button

The payment page will open up

Best VPN for Dark Web

Step 4) Then click on the “Download the NordVPN app” button to download NordVPN

Best VPN for Dark Web

Step 5) Install and launch the NordVPN application by clicking on the desktop shortcut

Best VPN for Dark Web

Step 6) Select the United States country,

To change your IP address.

Best VPN for Dark Web

Step 7) Enter https://3g2upl4pq6kufc4m.onion/ to open the DuckDuckGo search engine in your Chrome browser.

The following error will be displayed in your browser.

Best VPN for Dark Web

Step 8) Now access your Tor Browser and open the same link. You will see the site is now become accessible on your screen with the help of Nord VPN securely.

Best VPN for Dark Web

What is on the Dark Web?

The darknet web, which hosts both lawful and illegal activity and content, functions with a high level of privacy. For instance, a black web site can include challenging riddles. Another option could be a formal book group that elevates eBooks. Additionally, it offers a platform for those who feel that their right to free speech is at danger. However, the dark web is most recognized for its illicit and even disturbing dark content.

Here is a sample of illegal things you can find on the dark web.

  • Stolen information: When there has been a data breach, there is a chance they have accessed information. Information like Social Security numbers to a bank account is available for sale on the dark web. You can also purchase stuff like log-in password information for paid software, hacked Netflix accounts, and more. However, it is strictly illegal and can get you into legal trouble.
  • Illicit substances: Illegal drugs are peddled on the dark web. You can also find toxic chemicals that can cause other types of damage.
  • Dangerous items and services: It can get ugly fast. Things like murderers-for-hire, abuse speeches, human trafficking, guns, etc., for sale can be found on the dark web.

How to access the dark web safely

Utilizing the Tor network is the safest way to access the dark web. By using Tor-over-VPN, or connecting to a VPN first, you can increase your security. A VPN will conceal your internet activities and stop anyone from discovering that you’re using Tor, which may make many internet service providers (ISPs) and governments wary of Tor use.

  1. Connect to a reliable and safe VPN. Conceal your IP address and encrypt your internet connection with a trustworthy VPN like Avast SecureLine VPN. Though they both provide encryption, a VPN and Tor are not the same. A VPN will prevent your ISP and anyone else from knowing that you’re downloading and using Tor Browser.
  2. Download and install the Tor Browser. The Tor Browser is a free browser that routes your traffic through the encrypted Tor network. Download Tor Browser from the official Tor Project website, because unlicensed third-party downloads may come bundled with malware.
  3. Browse the dark web with the Tor Browser. The Tor Browser will let you access the. onion domains of the dark web. Because the dark web is largely unregulated, never visit dark websites without first confirming their authenticity.
  4. Protect your identity. The dark website isn’t always dangerous, but many scams do exist. When communicating or making purchases over the dark web, use encrypted and anonymous email addresses and pay with an anonymous cryptocurrency wallet.

Dark web tools and services

Although dark web browsing is more complicated than conventional web browsing, there are several tools you may use to map your path. You can identify trustworthy dark websites using dark web search engines and discussion boards like Reddit, but you’ll need a black web browser to access them.

Dark web browsers

The standard dark web browser is Tor Browser, which directs your browser traffic through the Tor network so you can reach the dark web. Your traffic is encrypted as it travels through Tor and is relayed across at least three nodes. This makes it more difficult to identify your IP address and helps mask the data. However, the Tor Browser will feel much slower than a typical web browser as a result.

Dark web search engines

Search engines on the surface web cannot access the dark web, but specialist dark web search engines can guide you to the information you want. When you utilize the well-known privacy-focused search engine DuckDuckGo, you are not tracked around the internet. The Tor Browser is required to access the dark web pages that DuckDuckGo’s dark web search engine crawls.

Other dark web search engines include Not Evil, Torch, Haystack, and Ahmia. The subreddit r/deepweb is a good starting point for asking more experienced users about how to search the dark web and deep web for the content you want. Lastly, The Hidden Wiki is a collection of dark web links — but the links may not work and may lead to dangerous websites.

Dark websites

Dark websites can be visited only with a suitable dark web browser, and most dark web URLs are strings of seemingly random letters and numbers — nothing like the easy-to-remember web addresses on the surface web.

The Hidden Wiki is a surface website offering a collection of dark web links — but the links don’t always work, and they may not be safe. Use it to get an idea of what sort of dark websites you may be interested in visiting. But before you visit any sites on the dark web, get comprehensive cybersecurity software to protect yourself from any threats you may encounter.

What does the dark web look like?

On the surface, dark websites look pretty much like any other. They contain text and images, clickable content, site navigation buttons, and so on. But there are differences.

  • Naming structure. You’ll notice the URLs of dark websites end in .onion instead of .com or .co or others you would be used to seeing.
address bar
  • Complex URLs. Alongside this, the URL characters preceding .onion look like gibberish compared to what we’re used to, as seen above. Dark web links are also almost impossible to remember. For example, SecureDrop is a site on the dark web allowing whistleblowers to submit sensitive information or anonymous tips to news organizations. It contains the submission sites for major news organizations such as The GuardianAssociated Press, and The Washington Post.
  • They are frequently changing addresses. While the goal of websites on the surface web is to be found as quickly as possible, this is often not the case on the dark web. Dark sites frequently change their URLs to maximize privacy.

Only the Tor browser provides access to the dark web, which is a component of the Tor network. What then is Tor? The onion router is known as Tor. You can stay anonymous online by using this free, open-source program that makes use of a large worldwide network of servers.

How does the Tor browser work?

When you connect to the internet using Tor, your data goes through multiple phases of encryption before it’s directed through a random series of servers called ‘nodes’.

Each node decrypts your data one layer at a time so it can be interpreted, then sent to your intended dark web destination. It’s from this process of ‘peeling’ off the individual layers of encryption, like the layers of an onion, where ‘the onion router’ gets its name.

This type of multi-layer encryption means each node or server in the chain, knows which server your data came from and which server to send it to next. But that’s all.

Because of this, it is nearly impossible to follow your dark web activities from start to finish. However, don’t confuse Tor with a VPN, which employs tunnels to secure your data from snoopers. Find out the differences between using a VPN and Tor for private browsing.

Not only does Tor’s encryption system keep your activity anonymous, it keeps host websites hidden too. You can see why this ecosystem would be so attractive to those involved in criminal activity.

However, it’s important to remember there are tonnes of legitimate reasons to use Tor to explore the dark web too.   

How to stay safe while browsing the dark web

When using the dark web, think safety first. Stay vigilant and follow these extra tips to stay safe on the dark web.

1. Navigate to the correct URL

.onion websites aren’t going to hurt you if you’re securely connected, but you could stumble into some dark content by mistake. Be careful and deliberate about the sites you want to access.

2. Be careful what you share

The dark web is an unregulated and popular environment for illegal activity. As above, make sure you’re only visiting .onion sites you trust and don’t share any personal information.

3. Don’t download any files

Similar to the surface web, the dark web can contain malware. Please don’t download anything you’re not 100% certain is legitimate to avoid the risk of compromising your data.

4. Don’t make any purchases

Some dark web shops may be legitimate, but making a purchase is not worth the risk.

5. Keep your programs up to date

System and software updates are designed to keep you safe. Keep these updated, including Tor and your anti-malware and VPN software.

There are many good and legitimate reasons to step into the dark web, but you should always do so with caution. For instance, did you know you can unknowingly break the law while browsing the internet? 

Having said that, sometimes, it’s best to steer clear of the dark web entirely. Luckily, Clario is here to give you a worry-free digital experience.  

How to get on the dark web

Downloading and installing Tor Browser is the quickest way to gain access to the dark web because it will send your traffic over the Tor network. You can enter any URL you want to go to on Tor, even dark web.onion domains.

The history of the dark web

The release of Freenet in 2000 is often cited as the beginning of the dark web. The thesis project of Ian Clarke, a student at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, the Freenet was intended as a way to anonymously communicate, exchange files, and interact online.

In 2002, the dark web grew significantly when researchers supported by the US Naval Research Laboratory built and released the Tor network. At the time, the internet was still young, and tracking people was easy while staying anonymous was not. The Tor network was created to open safe communication channels for political dissidents and American intelligence operatives around the world.

The Tor network was created to open safe communication channels for political dissidents and American intelligence operatives around the world.

Later, Tor’s underlying code was released under a free license, and a nonprofit called the Tor Project was formed. In 2008, the Tor Browser was released, which made it easy for anyone to get on the dark web.

How big is the dark web?

The dark web may seem large, but it’s actually not very big. Researchers from Recorded Future estimated that while there are more than 55,000 existing onion domains, only 8,400 (or roughly 15%) of these sites were active. This means that the total network of live dark websites` is only about 0.005% of the size of the surface web.

Dark web domains tend to be inconsistent — new ones pop up and others disappear, which makes sense since some of these sites may be offering questionable or illegal goods and services.

The Tor Project says that of the 2 million people using Tor every day, only 1.5% of them are accessing hidden, or dark, websites. And most dark web websites are in English — according to one estimate, a staggering 78% of information on the dark web is in English.

What happens on the dark web today?

Because privacy and anonymity are the hallmarks of the dark web, it’s easy to assume that everything that happens there is illegal. And while plenty of cybercrime does take place, the dark web is used legally as well.

Some people simply prefer not to share any information online and use Tor to access normal websites outside the dark web, or to visit dark web news websites and forums.

Is the dark web used for illegal purposes?

Yes, the dark web is used for many illegal activities. It’s possible to buy and sell illegal drugs, malware, and prohibited content in darknet marketplaces. Some dark web commerce sites have dangerous chemicals and weapons for sale.

In exchange for a fee or a share of the ransom payments, some hackers sell ransomware as a service (RaaS), allowing online criminals to “rent” a specific strain of ransomware from its developer. Others market software flaws that can be used by other cybercriminals to infect users with malware and steal their personal information.

The most well-known dark web marketplace was the Silk Road, which launched in 2011 and essentially functioned as an Amazon-like market for illegal drugs. In 2013, the FBI shut down the Silk Road, and its founder, Ross Ulbricht, is now serving a double life sentence.

Dark web marketplaces offer a variety of illegal goods for sale.

Fraud and scams run rampant on the dark web: offers too good to be true and fake services requiring upfront payment. Hackers sell access to email accounts, social media profiles, or other information that can be used for identity theft.

Is it illegal to access the dark web?

Accessing the dark web is not always legal depending on where you are. Visiting the dark web is lawful in the US, but using Tor without the security of a VPN could result in government and ISP monitoring. Additionally, while accessing the dark web may be lawful, engaging in illegal conduct there is not.

The dark web’s privacy protections are crucial for activists and whistleblowers.

The dark web’s main function is anonymous browsing. Although some people abuse this anonymity for unlawful purposes, activists and whistleblowers depend on the privacy safeguards offered by the dark web. For people who live in nations where free expression is restricted or outlawed and who want to share information or organize without facing legal repercussions, dark web domains can be essential.

So is the dark web illegal? On its own, no — but accessing it might be, depending on where you are. Always check your local laws before visiting the dark web, using Tor, or using a VPN.

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