How to Access the Dark Web Safely and Anonymously?

by Alice Woods - -

How to Access the Dark Web Safely and AnonymouslyHow to Access the Dark Web Safely and Anonymously

Did you know that there is another hidden layer of the Internet known as the dark web(deep web) [1]? It has often been associated with illegal activity but not everything in there is spooky. Well, the dark web is the source of plenty of hidden information that cannot be accessed by public search engines like Google. Think of it as a place where anonymity reigns. Because nothing is perfect, we have to be cautious when accessing the dark web to browse safely and anonymously. There are several trusted ways that users can access the dark web without being on the radar or risking being noticed by law enforcement agencies. Perhaps you are wondering how you can access the dark web whilst protecting your privacy. Let us cover some tricks and hacks you can use to access the dark web safely and anonymously.

What exactly is the dark web?

Before we go into how to access the dark web safely and anonymously, let us first understand what the dark web is all about. It is quite simple. When you query something on Google or other search engines, they return the “surface web[2]”. There are many other links that are not visible to Google or normal search engines. The unsearchable content is called the “deep web[3]” and is often not indexed by Google. Now, the dark web is a section of the deep web that is deliberately hidden.

In these sites, you will find businesses like drug trafficking, firearms sales, hitmen hiring, human trafficking, child porn sharing, and selling of stolen credit cards among other illicit businesses. Lots of illegal businesses run here but there are also some good things. The bottom line is that dark sites have content that can be accessed anonymously via blogs, forums, chat rooms, and private gaming servers among others. Provided you observe the necessary precautions, your identity is hidden. Not even the government or prying agencies can unravel your identity. But this is only possible if you follow the right precautions.

How to access the Dark Web Safely?

Tor[4] is the database of a large portion of the dark web content. Tor is nothing but a series of interconnected volunteer relays that routes the user’s internet connection. This connection is encrypted and the Tor traffic moves between relays across the world. This technique makes the user of Tor anonymous. But how can you access Tor?

It is quite easy! The easiest and best way is to use the Tor Browser. Yes, it is not Mozilla or Google Chrome. It is a browser that is dedicated for accessing the Tor network. This browser is based on Firefox and can be used to access both the surface web and dark web. Whichever the case, all your data is routed through the Tor Network.

Download Tor from Official Website

The first step to safely access the dark web is to download Tor from the official download page/website. Downloading from other sources is riskier because you can easily fetch malware into your device. It is advisable to use a VPN[5] or your browser private settings/mode to protect your privacy as you download the Tor Browser

The Tor Browser is not available across all operating systems but you will get it in most. It is officially available in Mac, Windows, Linux, and Android. This means iOS is locked out of the list. If you are an iOS user, then do not be tempted to use a third-party mobile browser to access Tor. It might be a loophole to your anonymity. Remember it’s all about safe and secure anonymity.

Integrate Tor with VPN

Again, a VPN is a popular and most effective way to hide your IP address information when accessing sites over the internet. Even with the normal browsers, you can use VPN to hide your IP address from institutions or governments who want to spy on your data. However, be aware that not all VPN providers will not relay your information to a third party organization. Free VPN providers are notorious with this kind of behavior. They trade your data with third party organizations to boost their financial strength. In other words, if you are serious about integrating a VPN, just go for the trusted and paid VPN providers like NordVPN or ExpressVPN.

Since Tor node IP addresses are public, they too can be detected by internet providers and websites. Although you can’t be identified by both the ISP and the websites you visit, your Tor node IP will tell them you are using Tor. This information alone is sufficient to generate attention to some agencies and may become a drawback in your quest for anonymity. This is where a VPN comes into place. Using a VPN with Tor fortifies anonymity and security-Tor comes with anonymity while VPN adds security. There are two ways to use VPN with Tor namely VPN over Tor and Tor over VPN.

Tor over VPN

This is the most common method of integrating Tor with VPN. You simply connect to a VPN and start your browser. This means your traffic first goes to the VPN server and that the ISP or website will see the IP address of your VPN provider. This way, they can’t easily know that you are using Tor. It is important to repeat that the VPN provider is responsible for keeping your IP address and this is why it is important to use a trusted VPN provider. Go for VPN providers that don’t save your traffic logs or session logs.

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VPN over Tor

This method is unpopular and not recommended by the official Tor Project. Your traffic first goes through the Tor network then the VPN. This is pretty much the opposite of Tor over VPN. The problem with this is that the ISP will know that you are using Tor. You will have to put trust in your ISP! The only positive about this method is the fact that the ISP will protect you from making those bad exit nodes.

Tor Bridges

Another way to hide your Tor nodes IP[6] is by using Tor bridges[7] also referred to as Tor relays. To use Tor bridges, you should at least know one bridge address in advance. You can put it down on a piece of paper or store it somewhere. Tor project provides bridge addresses in plenty of ways including via email or websites. What Tor bridges do is that they make it hard but not impossible for ISPs and respective websites to know that you are using Tor.

Browsing the Dark Web

Once you have downloaded TOR and maybe integrated a VPN, what remains is to access the dark web and see what anonymity is all about. First, the dark net websites are different from the normal websites in their url address. While a normal web has the “.com” or “.org”, the dark web on the other hand is “.onion”.

Find the .onion websites

Remember these dark websites are not indexed by Google and so they can’t show up if you queried using Google. Your first major assignment is to find these .onion sites[8]. Fortunately, there are a few search engines that index the .onion websites. Examples of these search engines include Not Evil, Candle, Torch, and Ahmia. Directories like dark.fail can also help you arrive at these .onion websites.

Although these publicly posted onion URLs will save you the time and energy of curating for the .onion websites, it may cost you as well. Keep in mind the transactions in the dark web are largely malicious. You just can’t pick a url address from a public post and trust it because you can be a victim of a scam, or phishing before you even know. The best way to obtain the onion addresses is from a trusted source. If it proves difficult, you can grab from the publicly posted onion url addresses and verify the address from diverse sources. Remember HTTPS is not so useful in the dark net and therefore you can’t use the SSL certificate to determine the genuineness of a given website.

Another good option to locate a .onion website is using Reddit. Run subreddits like /r/deepweb, /r/Tor, and /r/onions and see whether you can find the onion darknet websites.

Safely Browsing

After getting the desired darknet website, it’s time to browse these websites. When your intention is to visit these sites and stream or get target data, this isn’t much of a problem because it won’t involve different other parties.

Now, what if you want to transact business on the dark web? A point of warning, don’t engage in illegal activity on the dark web. For the sake of illustrating, let’s say you want to buy a firearm or a certain drug from these dark webs. First, you will need to set up an anonymous and encrypted email address, use a fictitious business name, encrypt your messages with the help of PGP, create an anonymous bitcoin wallet, disable JavaScript on your Tor Browser, run vendor research, and plenty of other things that will be involved in the transaction. The aim here is to make sure that no other party in the transaction chain can be a loophole to anonymity.

Another good practice is to check that the .onion url in question is the correct one. Most onion url addresses consist of random letters and numbers and you can’t easily remember. You can save them in a convenient place because Tor Browser cannot cache them. Don’t just save a url before you confirm it is the correct one lest you fall a victim of phishing.

Tor Alternatives for safe browsing on the dark web

Tor is no doubt the best way to access the dark web safely and anonymously. There is no question about that. However, if Tor is far from your reach, there are other options but are not recommended as such. Some of these Tor alternatives include:

I2P

I2P[9] is another anonymous network but only limited to services that are not accessible to the public. You cannot access the .onion sites with I2P because it is a different network from Tor. The .onion equivalent websites can be found in its hidden site called “eepsites”. It is also unpopular and complex to use.  The only advantage is that it is faster than Tor due to technical reasons.

Freenet

Freenet[10] cannot be used to access sites available on the public web but rather the content uploaded to the Freenet. The unique thing about Freenet is that you don’t require a server to host the content. Even if you upload and stop using freenet, it will remain there provided the content is popular. You can use Freenet in the darknet mode that gives you the freedom to choose peers or the opennet mode that automatically assigns you the peers.

Wrap up

Using Tor alone cannot guarantee safe and anonymous access to the dark web. Tor has to work in tandem with other privacy-based elements to make it extremely hard for the ISPs or agencies to know that you are using Tor. This way, the government, and other interested parties can easily know about you. Use Tor browser, trusted VPN especially VPN over Tor, and other security layers to make your access to the dark web safer and anonymous. Keep in mind that just being known that you are using Tor can be substantial evidence to get seized and searched by law enforcement agencies. Stay safe!

About the author
Alice Woods
Alice Woods - Antivirus software analyst

Alice Woods is an anti-malware analyst at Reviewedbypro.com. She is passionate about testing new pieces of software and discovering pros and cons of each program.

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