The Dark Web has become synonymous with the shady lanes of a city where no one ever goes willingly. Yet, the rather negative picture painted by popular media hides a rather plain truth about it. The dark web is nothing more than a collection of unindexed websites running on proxy servers. These have been kept off the regular search engine indexes on purpose. Technically, you can’t access those websites without the help of special software. So, if you’re interested in what the Dark Web has to offer, here’s how you can access its websites freely.
The Dark Web – How Big is the Internet’s Badlands?
What we use on a daily basis is referred to as the internet’s surface. You’re all familiar with how big Yahoo!, Bing, and Google are. Although more than 6 billion websites that have been indexed by these search engines, and despite giving you the impression of how big the surface is, it still pales in comparison to what lies underneath.
I’ll give you the information in the simplest way possible. Just consider the internet as a sea with two surfaces. The shallow surface which represents the normal web (Clearnet) you’re using now to access this page and an almost bottomless, deep level one that goes by the name of the Deep Web. According to research, it is to be 400 to 550 times larger than the normal web.
Now, let’s dive deeper into the darkest pits of the deep web. If you ever feel that there’s something shady going on online, chances are it’s happening on the Dark Web. But why do people want to use that? Why are there so many illegal acts on it? The selling point? Total anonymity. The Dark web’s illicit marketplaces generate more than $500,000 per day. That includes selling drugs, guns, ammo, and dozens of other illegal goods and services.
However, as grand and intimidating as the Dark Web is, it may not be as big or scary as many believe. Don’t forget that it requires specific software, configurations, or authorization to access. And according to researchers, the actual amount of live, reachable onion sites doesn’t exceed more than 0.005% of about 200 million surface Web domains. In other words, the big scary Dark Web isn’t that frightening after all.
What is Tor and .onion Sites?
Tor is short for The Onion router, an anonymity-centric fork of the Firefox browser. This browser relays your connection over proxy servers. Doing so grants you access to both regular internet websites and hidden sites on the deep web.
Prior to going out to the open internet, Tor bounces your connection between multiple relays. These are computers (used by volunteers) that run software allowing users to connect to the Internet via the Tor network. Your connection has to go through these even if that routing is not required to reach your destination. Here’s what it looks like.
By doing so, it wipes its tracks each step of the way and makes it next to impossible for anyone to figure out who and where you actually are. In other words, it’s an excellent tool if you like to keep your browsing cloaked from your advertisers, passive government data collection, and of course, your ISP.
If you’ve heard of the Dark Web, you have to know that the Tor network forms a large portion of it. The word “Dark” will give you the impression of it being illegal. Well, that’s not entirely true. Users in repressive regimes, journalists, activists, and even the military, all use Tor for legitimate reasons. However, what makes it an attractive spot for those with pure intentions, also makes it a tempting proposition for users with malicious ones.
.onion sites are a particularly popular example of such websites. You can use these to delve deeper into the deep web or dark web. These are Tor’s hidden services. Once you visit them, they don’t show up on Google. Oh, and you can’t visit them while using a normal browser. Only the Tor browser has access to them, yet it still allows you to use normal websites with additional anonymity.
Getting The Tor Browser
Just like any other application or software out there, the Tor browser can be easily installed on your device. Here’s what you need to do along with an extra tip to get you going:
- First, go the Tor’s official website.
- Next, click on the “Download Tor Browser” button.
- On the next screen, you’ll find different Tor compatible devices. Check your device and click on its respective image.
- Once the download is finalized, launch the Tor Browser.
- A window will appear, asking you to connect or configure. Click on Connect.
- Wait a few seconds for the connection to take place.
- Now, if you live in a country where Tor is blocked, instead of selecting Connect, click on Configure. This way, you’ll be able to choose the Connect to a Bridge option during the setup process. Finally, select “Tor is censored in my country.” As a result, you’ll have Tor in your region even if the government doesn’t allow you to.
- You now have Tor for an over-the-top anonymous browsing experience.
Key Darknet Websites You Ought to Know
Now that you know what these basic tools are, here are some of the most popular .onion websites you can access now.
The DuckDuckGo Search Engine
If there is a popular alternative to Google, which does not compromise your online privacy, it’s DuckDuckGo. This search engine has a fair bit of popularity and has a very strong privacy matrix. The best thing about this search engine is that it does not track your online activity.
If you are using Tor, then using DuckDuckGo will also provide better search results. Google often crashes or has bug reports when accessed over Tor. So, the former search engine is a better alternative. Further, you can access many kinds of unindexed websites through the search engine. These include all kinds of clandestine websites otherwise not available on the internet.
The Facebook .onion Website
This is why it has a very secure website called the .onion Facebook website. This website has been created to bypass censorship laws established by restrictive governments. Of course, this doesn’t mean you can create an anonymous profile. It only means you will lose less critical details about your device and your actual position.
As I mentioned, .onion websites don’t work on a normal browser. To shed some light on the matter, I got you some images to prove it. This is what you get when you enter Facebook’s .onion URL in a Chrome browser.
Now, when you use the Tor browser and type in the same URL, the results are different. Well, it’s obvious as they’re only designed to work on the software itself. Here’s Facebook on Tor.
Sci-Hub: A Scientific Database
The internet has changed the way academics collaborate and work on their papers. Aside from websites that have already been indexed, there are some others that provide academic paper hosting. Sci-hub is one such website where can upload your own academic paper and also access others.
At present, it has over 50 million papers across many academic disciplines and research areas. Further, it also grants complete anonymous access, which means users do not need to worry about tracking. This allows even sensitive research materials a chance of being shared and accessed freely.
The Intercept: Whistleblower’s Safe Zone
The Intercept is one of the websites which have a TLS certification. It is dedicated to securely receiving any kind of documentation which the sender might want to relay to other parties. This specifically designed to help whistleblowers who want to make their information public without compromising security.
In particular, the SecureDrop installation offered by The Intercept is of critical importance for maintaining anonymity. If you are a journalist or any kind of professional looking to transmit sensitive information, this is the website to consider.
Keybase for Cryptographic Online Security
Keybase has a very unique value proposition for security enthusiasts. Anyone who is worried about online identity theft can now use this .onion website to generate a unique online cryptographic signature.
What this means basically is that your sum total online profile and presence will be given a unique key. This digital key will further be encrypted, so only you can access it. Alternatively, anyone who has more insights into person security can also upload their own PGP encryption key. This can help you achieve more robust online security at the cost of needing to learn technical details.
ProPublica: A Pulitzer Winner
In the age of mass media, paid news has become the norm. In this light, relying on the information you see in front of you can be tricky. This is why free media websites like ProPublica and their .onion version have taken up the cause for a free press.
This website has already received a Pulitzer prize for the work it has done. The onion versions do not allow for user activity tracking, which makes it ideal for people who want added online security. Also, it is possible to find some news stories and publish them as well on the onion version. This is a good alternative when not possible on the open internet version.
The Hidden Wiki
Finally, we are mentioning a very important .onion website on this list. The Hidden Wiki basically provides you with all the information you may need on otherwise hard to locate stuff. However, there is a major catch here.
There are many links on each page of this website, and not all of them will be legit. In fact, plenty of these might actually lead you to scam or trojan pages. It is important to exercise caution. Ideally, you should be using a strong antivirus along with your VPN connection to access The Hidden Wiki.
How Should You Access the Deep Web?
The deep web is a vast repository of information and services you might want to access. Ther are some dangerous bits and some useful bits where a lot of traffic can be found. IN all access, you need a strong VPN connection to access websites.
When it comes to privacy and security, a premium VPN provider has it all. From a kill switch to military-grade encryption, everything you need when you’re lurking in the Dark Web.
Despite being anonymous on its own, with certain software, anyone can figure out what you’re doing while using Tor. With a VPN encryption and a kill switch, you’ll make sure none of this occurs. First, you’ll hide your location with a real IP address, not by taking someone else’s, sorry, HolaVPN.
Second, if there’s a kill switch present, none of your data will go leaking to your ISP’s servers in case a sudden drop in your VPN connection occurs. It will terminate your internet access instantly.
How to Install a VPN on Your Device
Now, the steps are pretty easy to follow. Here’s what you should do in order to install a Virtual Private Network on your device:
- First, subscribe to a credible service. Stay away from free ones as they’ll do you more harm than good.
- Download and install the VPN application on your device. You’ll find dedicated clients on Android, iOS, PC, and Mac.
- Sign in with your credentials and head over to the server list.
- Pick a server and hit connect.
- Browse the web with more anonymity than ever.
How to Access Dark Web Websites – Conclusion
Tor is a great deal for those who like to keep their anonymity in check. Once you use it, your actual location and identity will be hidden. But to make sure you’re connected through the Tor Network, use this IP verifier, which will automatically detect your location based on your IP address.
If the web browser shows that you’re accessing the web from a different location, you’re good to go. Now, if you have further questions, kindly drop them in the comments below and I’ll make sure to answer them as soon as possible.