The top protrudes above the water and is visible, yet the real bulk of the iceberg is below that, unseen. The world wide web is similar, in which the regular sites we visit are the top of that iceberg. This includes common sites such as Wikipedia, Google and even the millions of blogs that come and go daily.
Beneath the water lurks the deep and dark, hidden from view for various reasons, the Dark Web. Less nefarious is the information that skims the surface of the Dark Web, in a zone called the Deep Web. That belongs to large corporates or governments and are never exposed to the public, such as medical records, government reports, financial records and such. These are kept away from search engines and behind powerful firewalls to protect them.
It’s truly in the depths of the of the dark web that things get shady – and oftentimes dangerous.
In the case of the deep web, since personal records, government documents and such are not meant for public view in the first place, those are understandably kept safe. However, they still are mostly connected to the Internet since much of that information forms an ecosystem for many surface web applications.
The Dark Web is slightly more complicated. This part of the world wide web is often run on networks of private servers, allowing communication only via specific means. This enables a high degree of anonymity and makes it difficult for authorities to shut down.
Unfortunately, this has led to Dark Web to become a place where many illegal activities take place.
What’s hidden in the Dark Web?
If you’ve ever heard of cybercrime, you’ll probably know that the cybercriminals of today are after more than just money. They take literally anything of value, which means credit card information, personal information and more. All of these things are commodities on the Dark Web, to be bought, sold or traded.
Aside from that, there are also business dealings that are illegal and can’t be conducted on the surface web. Almost anything can be bought on the Dark Web – for a price. The items available can include firearms, illegal drugs, illegal wildlife, or even the rental of a hitman!
Finally, there is the most depraved and undesirable of all – those who deal in the sickest and most perverse types of pornography, which is illegal is almost every part of the world.
How to Access Dark Web Websites
Warning: Before proceeding further, it is important that you understand that many things on the Dark Web are highly illegal. No matter what precautions you take, being able to stay anonymous is highly unlikely. Enter at your own risk!
1. Download and install the TOR browser
Despite its current usage as a browser that is often used to access parts of the Dark Web, TOR (aka. the dark web browser) was originally developed to help safeguard U.S. Intelligence online communication.
Today, it is one of the few ways to access .onion websites, which are located on the Dark Web.
TOR is a version of the popular Firefox web browser, modified to allow users to browse the web anonymously. The browser is designed to block or advise against user attempts to do things that might reveal their identity, such as resizing the dimensions of the browser window, for example.
While you’re waiting for TOR to download, take the time to stick a piece of dark tape over your webcam lens. You never know what might happen.
And also – check out the following introduction video by TOR.
2. Consider paying for a Virtual Private Network service
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are servers that you connect through to access the web. These servers help to mask your origin and may emulate locations from many other places in the world.
Although TOR masks your identity, it does not hide your location.
Best VPN for Dark Web
For those who have not used a VPN service before, you might as well sign up with one of the best: ExpressVPN. Don't worry though as they have a 30-day risk-free period during which you can evaluate their services.
Navigating the Dark Web is slightly different. Remember the phase that often tossed about: ‘Google is your friend’? The problem is that Google is also a massive data privacy nightmare and you don’t want that albatross hanging around your neck as you navigate the dark web.
Enter DuckDuckGo, a privacy-focused search engine that won’t keep track of everything you do – or the sites you visit.
4. Sign up for a secure email address
Now that you’re ready to go, it’s time to sign up for an untraceable email address. Gmail is out of the question, and you’ll need an email address to register for many .onion websites.
Alternatively, you can start your journey with a Dark Web Search Engine like Ahmia.
* Note: Don't click on these links as they are pointing to .onion sites that you can't open with a normal browser.
Once you are ready to jump in – check out this huge lists of .onion websites we have curated. Some of them are relatively harmless that you can try out, others… well, let's say a new adventure awaits. Bear in mind that you may bump into strange (and again, highly illegal) things on the Dark Web. Stay safe. Be very caution of what you click or download from the Dark Web.
Dark Web Security Guide
Since we’ve established that there are some truly terrifying things happening on the dark web, let’s look at some ways you can avoid them, if you really insist on peeking.
1. Make sure your Tor browser is up to date
Using the Tor browser is necessary to visit .onion sites, but every application has the occasional weakness. Always ensure that your Tor browser is kept up to date and try to stay abreast of vulnerability notices.
As I’ve mentioned, the use of a VPN is highly recommended – they help to protect your online privacy, keep your identity safe and protect all data that’s being sent to and from your device. But make sure the VPN you’re using meets a few basic criteria.
For starters, you’ll want to choose one which is based out of a country without strict data retention laws, like ExpressVPN which is based in the British Virgin Islands. Top quality service providers like this help assure your privacy and security well.
4. Watch what you download
The logic is like the above, to avoid Virus and Malware, but please watch what you download on the dark web. Remember, malicious code can be embedded in almost any file type and you won’t know until it’s too late. If you must, use a virtual machine to do so, as this will isolate the file form the rest of your OS.
5. Change your mindset
Many people browse the web daily with abandon and even with increased cyber threats today, there is still the mindset that the web is a safe place to just stumble around.
Always be security conscious and aware. Trust no one.
There are a ton of other things you should take note of, but here’s one final tip – Be cautious of making friends on the dark web, it’s not Facebook.
Frequent Asked Questions on Accessing Dark Web
When did Dark Web “start”?
The history of the hidden web is almost as old as the history of Internet itself. We found no official record of an actual “start date” but we believe the Dark Web we know today begun in year 2000 with the release of Freenet.
Is it illegal to be on the deep Web?
Sites on the deep web are simply not indexed by regular search engines. The deep web itself isn't illegal, but some sites may engage in illicit activities. Joining in those activities may be illegal.
Is Dark Web safe?
Much like real life, there is always an element of danger online and the dark web is no different. Safety is relative and it is best to increase your online protection no matter what you do. One way of doing that is by using a VPN, which can encrypt your data and hide your IP address from prying eyes. Find best VPN in my other article.
What can you do on the Dark Web?
Similar to the open web, there are all manner of activities you can do on the dark web, ranging from forum participation to browsing online marketplaces. However, there are also illegal goods and services available on the dark web. Our Dark Web Websites list features more than100 .onion sites on Tor Network. .
What can you buy on the Dark Web?
The Dark Web is an unregulated market where people can buy just about anything. This includes firearms, illegal drugs, illegal wildlife, horrific videos, fake passports, Netflix accounts, credit card information, or even the rental of a hitman.
Can you be tracked on Tor?
Using the Tor network makes your identity harder to be tracked, but not impossible. It is safer to use a dedicated privacy service such as ExpressVPN.
Is DuckDuckGo the Dark Web?
DuckDuckGo is a search engine that indexes .onion websites which are unique to the dark web. It is not the dark web itself. You can access DuckDuckGo on the dark web here: https://3g2upl4pq6kufc4m.onion/
If you’ve tested some the stuff in this article out, by now you’ve probably realized that what I’ve given you is a highly sanitized version of what’s really available on the Dark Web. Seriously, some of the things are so illegal that I won’t even type them out here.
The Dark Web can be a place of real freedom. For example, you can openly discuss anything political, no matter how left or right wing, without fear of prosecution from your local authorities. Unfortunately, that’s intermixed with a lot of, well, not so nice things.
Enjoy the freedom but always remember, if you try to stay anonymous but still get caught, you WILL be charged for whatever illegal activities you have partaken in on the Dark Web. After all, they even caught Saddam Hussein, didn’t they?
About Timothy Shim
Timothy Shim is a writer, editor, and tech geek. Starting his career in the field of Information Technology, he rapidly found his way into print and has since worked with International, regional and domestic media titles including ComputerWorld, PC.com, Business Today, and The Asian Banker. His expertise lies in the field of technology from both consumer as well as enterprise points of view.