The world wide web, much like real life, is so massive that it would take you a lifetime to traverse every nook and cranny. To compound that fact, by the time you were halfway done, so much more content would have been created and updated that you’d have to start all over again. All of this is well known, but how many of you are aware that the content you usually encounter on the web is barely the tip of a massive iceberg of information?
Imagine a real iceberg:
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.
Why is the Dark Web hidden?
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
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.
For those who have not used a VPN service before, you might like to try out how it works before paying for one. Kaspersky has a free version that allows 200MB of data usage per month. You can also find some good ones in this list.
3. DuckDuckGo is your friend
Navigating the Dark Web is slightly different. Remember the phase that often tossed about: ‘Google is your friend’? Well, Google doesn’t index sites on the Dark Web, so there, your best friend will be DuckDuckGo, which does a similar job.
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.
Note that these come with .onion domains as well, which you need to access using the TOR browser. Regular browsers like Chrome and Firefox will not work.
5. Dark web search engine
.onion is a domain exclusively used on the Dark Web. These are similar to regular domains, but cannot be accessed without a specialized browser like TOR. Here are a couple of relatively harmless .onion addresses that you can try out:
There are huge lists of .onion websites available and it only takes a little effort to find them. Again, bear in mind that you may bump into strange (and again, highly illegal) things on the Dark Web.
Playing the tourist on the Dark Web
For those who may be a little faint of heart and yet have stuck with me until this point, here’s the ‘safe’ tour.
This section will give you a couple of nice places to visit. Once you’re done with these, you can then burn your laptop and wash your hands with industrial-strength detergent before moving to Nome, Alaska.
1- The Hidden Wiki
This is a fantastic site to visit if you’re really new to the Dark Web. Much like the real Wikipedia, The Hidden Wiki has tons of information and links you can jump through to really get to know the Dark Web. It is one of the stalwarts among .onions and doubtless will remain so for many years to come.
Knowing that there are tons of things you can buy here, you’ll probably know you have to pay for it as well. This site is sort of like a digital wallet and allows you to transact in Bitcoins. The big difference though is that most digital wallet sites are not anonymous and many even have to comply with financial regulations as well. The Hidden Wallet is… well, hidden.
Now you have a way to sign up for things (anonymous email) and also pay for them (anonymous Bitcoin), wander over to Dream Market and browse the goods. This is one of the smaller .onion marketplaces and that’s probably why they are still in operation. The FBI has been conducting sweeps across the Dark Web to stamp out illegal trade and many famous marketplaces such as Silk Road have gone under.
It’s really strange that the world’s largest social media platform would have a .onion address, but there you are, Facebook it is. This part of Facebook was supposedly developed by them to cater to those who want a social network that’s anonymous. I’m not quite sure how ‘anonymous’ and ‘social’ work together, but the .onion Facebook claims not to keep logs of user activity.
Not to worry, the Dark Web has something for every paranoid being on earth! Private Hosting offers secured and anonymous web hosting. You can have a Linux-based PHP site of up to 100MB and unlimited bandwidth for only US$170 a year!
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?
Article by 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.