What is the Dark Web? In simple terms, it is a list of websites not indexed by search engines like Google or Yahoo. It is part of the Deep Web. Some claim that only around 6% of the worldwide web is indexed. The remaining 94% represents what is known as the Deep Web. While the Deep Web is usually accessible to all, the Dark Web is restricted and requires special software such as Tor to be accessed. Learn what the Dark Web is and how to access it safely in this tutorial.
What Is the Dark Web?
The Dark web consists of publicly visible web sites. However, these sites hide the servers’ IP addresses that host them, making it difficult to determine who and where these websites are hosted. Most Dark Web sites use a tool called Tor to achieve anonymity. Tor encrypts web traffic and bounces it through random computers around the world. Each of these computers then removes one encryption layer. The data is then passed to the next hop in the network. Three jumps are usually involved. This process makes it extremely difficult to match the destination of the traffic with its origin.
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How to Access the Dark Web?
Tor users can only access any website that runs Tor. To access the Dark Web, you need a special browser called the ‘Tor Browser.’ Once you have downloaded and installed the Tor Browser, all that’s left to do is visit these web sites.
Is the Dark Web Safe?
As with any activity you might carry out online, there’s an element of risk involved. While using Tor does make your online activity less traceable, you can still get tracked down in theory. In general, it’s highly advised to use a VPN service like NordVPN to achieve a higher level of anonymity while browsing the Dark Web or the Internet in general.
- When using a VPN, all your traffic is encrypted, whether you are accessing the Dark Web or not.
- Connecting to a VPN server spoofs your IP address. Websites you visit will not be able to your real IP address. Your ISP, on the other hand, will not be able to track the site you are visiting.
- VPN apps can be installed on PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, and Android devices.
Below is a list of top VPN services you can use alongside Tor.
Is the Dark Web Legal?
Accessing the Dark Web is totally legal. However, some dark web users engage in illegal activities because they’re kept anonymous. Keep in mind that the same applies to the ordinary World Wide Web you access daily. Make sure you are using anti-virus software and that your PC firewall is turned on. Also, connect to a VPN server for extra privacy and security before accessing the Dark Web.
VPN over Tor versus Tor over VPN
A VPN allows a user to encrypt all the internet traffic traveling to and from their device and route it through a server in a location of that user’s choosing. A VPN, in combination with Tor, further adds to the security and anonymity of the user.
While somewhat similar, Tor emphasizes anonymity, and a VPN emphasizes privacy.
Combining them reduces risk, but there’s an important distinction in how these two tools interact. Let’s first discuss Tor over VPN.
What does Tor Over VPN Mean
If you connect to your VPN and fire up Tor Browser, you’re using Tor over VPN. This is, by far, the most common method. All your device’s internet traffic first goes to the VPN server; then, it bounces through the Tor Network before ending up at its final destination. Your ISP only sees the encrypted VPN traffic and won’t know you’re on Tor. You can access .onion websites, usually.
Trustable VPN is a Must
Tor over VPN requires you to trust your VPN provider, which can see that you are using Tor and keep metadata logs, though it can’t actually see the content of your encrypted Tor traffic. A logless VPN, which doesn’t store any traffic logs nor session logs, is highly preferable. Traffic logs contain your internet traffic content, such as search queries and websites you visited, while session logs contain metadata like your IP address when you logged into the VPN and how much data was transferred. Traffic logs are a bigger concern than session logs, but neither are good.
Built-in Tor over VPN
For built-in Tor over VPN functionality, NordVPN operates specialized servers that automatically route you through the Tor network. You don’t even need to use Tor Browser, but keep in mind other browsers can still pass identifying information through the network.
Is It Secure?
Tor over VPN also doesn’t protect users from malicious Tor exit nodes. Because Tor nodes are made up of volunteers, not all of them play by the rules. The final relay before your traffic goes to the destination website is known as the exit node. The exit node decrypts your traffic and thus can steal your personal information or inject malicious code. Additionally, Tor exit nodes are often blocked by websites that don’t trust them, and Tor over VPN can’t do anything about that, either.
VPN over Tor
Then there’s the less popular VPN over Tor, which is advised against by the official Tor Project. In this case, the two tools’ order is switched. Internet traffic first passes through the Tor Network, and then through the VPN. This means the VPN provider doesn’t see your real IP address, and the VPN protects you from those bad exit nodes.
The big downside is that your ISP will know you are using Tor, which causes concern in some places and will put many people off using this method. In this instance, it is essential to use a logless VPN and pay with Bitcoin if you can stay anonymous. The VPN over Tor technique is also susceptible to an end-to-end timing attack, though it’s highly unlikely.
Tor over VPN requires you to place some trust in your VPN provider but not your ISP and is best if you want to access .onion websites. VPN over Tor requires you place trust in your ISP but not your VPN, and it is best if you’re going to avoid bad Tor exit nodes. Some consider VPN over Tor more secure because it maintains anonymity throughout the entire process (assuming you pay for your VPN anonymously). Although the official Tor Project advises against VPN over Tor, both methods are superior to not using a VPN at all.
The major caveat is speed. Due to all the nodes that your traffic passes through, Tor by itself significantly limits bandwidth. Adding a VPN to it, even a fast one like NordVPN, will make it even slower, so please be patient.
I2P is an alternative anonymous network to Tor. Unlike Tor, however, it cannot be used to access the public internet. It can only be used to access hidden services specific to the I2P network. I2P cannot be used to access .onion sites because it is an entirely separate network from Tor. Instead, I2P uses its own brand of hidden sites called “websites.”
So why would you use I2P instead of Tor? After all, it’s much less popular, can’t be used to access normal websites, and isn’t as easy to use, among other disadvantages. Both rely on a peer-to-peer routing structure combined with layered encryption to make browsing private and anonymous.
I2P does have a few advantages, though. It’s much faster and reliable than Tor for a number of technical reasons. The peer-to-peer routing structure is more advanced, and it does not rely on a trusted directory to get route information. I2P uses one-way tunnels, so an eavesdropper can only capture outbound or inbound traffic, not both.
Setting up I2P requires more configuration on the user’s part than Tor. I2P must be downloaded and installed, after which configuration is done through the router console. Then individual applications must each be separately configured to work with I2P. You’ll need to configure your browser’s proxy settings to use the correct port on a web browser.
Like I2P, Freenet is a self-contained network within the network that can’t be used to access sites on the public web. It can only be used to access the content uploaded to the Freenet, which is a peer-to-peer distributed datastore. Unlike I2P and Tor, you don’t need a server to host content. Once you upload something, it stays there indefinitely, even if you stop using Freenet, so long as it is popular.
Freenet allows users to connect in one of two modes: darknet and opennet. Darknet mode will enable you to specify who your friends are on the network and only connect and share content with them. This will allow groups of people to create closed, anonymous networks made up solely of people they know and trust.
Alternatively, users can connect in opennet mode, which automatically assigns peers on the network. Unlike darknet mode, opennet uses a handful of centralized servers in addition to the decentralized peer-to-peer network.
The configuration is fairly straightforward. Just download, install, and run. When you open your default browser, Freenet will be ready and running through its web-based interface. Note you should use a different browser than the one you usually use to help ensure anonymity.
Freenet is still an experiment designed to resist denial-of-service attacks and censorship.
On a final note, Best VPN Analysis encourages everyone who uses the Dark Web to do so responsibly. Offensive material can sometimes be just a click away. Browse at your own risk, and never break the law.