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what is the dark web

What is the dark web?

The dark Web is comprised of websites that are visible to the public, but their IP address details are intentionally hidden.

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How to Access the Dark Web

How to Access the Dark Web?

Learn how to find out if you've been compromised in this step-by-step guide to accessing the underbelly of the internet.

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How to find anything on the dark web

How to find anything on the dark web?

To search anything on the deep web/dark web, you need Tor search engines. Here, I am listing some simple and easy to use links.

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The Ultimate Guide to Understanding and Exploring the Dark Web (Darknet)

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It goes without saying that you have heard of the dark web. After all, that’s the reason you are reading this - to know more about it.

Often described as the 'hidden' part of the internet where all the shady businesses and transactions are conducted, the dark web is for the selected few. Most internet users will never find themselves on the dark web, and it is understandable because some parts are not entirely safe.

Our guide will cover what dark web is, how to secure yourself when accessing the dark web websites, and how you can access the hidden part of the internet. We will also discuss about specalized software tool called Tor browser (anonymous browser) and safety tips (VPN) and why these are important when navigating through the dark web.

You may have heard about it and the shady businesses that take place in this 'hidden' part of the internet. Unfortunately, there are more myths than truths about the dark web than the facts. The reality is that dark web exists, and it is completely legal - it is the media and internet that has twisted truth about it.

“When you are on the Internet, your private information is not private anymore”, it may be a cliché indeed, but it is true to its core.Mohsin QadirSecurity Analyst - PureVPN

If you are curious to find out more about it and want to learn how to access the dark web, don’t worry, we are not here to judge you as there are many legitimate reasons you may want to access the content on this part of the internet.

Grab a cup of coffee and take your seat because you are in for a long read.

Let’s get started…

#What Is the Dark Web?

The internet is known to consist of three layers, namely;

  • The surface web (also known as Clearnet, Lightnet, Visible Web or Indexed Web)
  • The deep web
  • And the dark web (also known as Dark Net)

The surface web is the most common part of the web, which many of us uses every day. You can access it through normal search engines such as Google, Bing, and DuckDuckGo. In fact, the article you are reading right now is part of the surface web. There are at least 4.5 billion websites indexed by search engines (surface web). The rest, which is 400-500X larger than the surface web, comprises the deep web and dark web.

what is the dark web

The deep web contains specific information that is only accessible to a certain group of people within different organizations. Majorly, it comprises databases and pages that you can only access via exact web addresses (URLs). Others prompt you to enter passwords as well. Some of the pages and databases you will find in this part of the web include universities' library databases, journals, and reports that only specific subscribers to different organizations have access to, and a timeline of your Private Facebook account.

The dark web. This is the last layer of the internet, which is also the hardest to find as you can only access it through special browsers, majorly the Tor browser. Unlike the surface web, the deep web and the dark web is unregulated, which means that no government, organization, or business can apply its rules here. This is why all the shady businesses are conducted in this part of the web. Websites in the dark web do not end in .com or .org, which explains why it is impossible to reach them through regular browsers. Dark web website links contains minimum of 16 digit random mix of numbers and letters and have a suffix .onion. In addition, URLs keep changing.

Before we discuss the Tor browser and how to find websites on the darknet, it is important that we describe a few vocabularies you are likely to encounter when using the dark web.

#How to Access the Dark Web?

  1. Anonymity - Download ToR for your operating system:
    https://www.torproject.org/download/
  2. Enhanced Anonymity - Some systems can give away tidbits of information that can impact the effectiveness of ToR. To address this use The Amnesiac Incognito Live System (TAILS) available here:
    https://tails.boum.org
  3. Contribute back to ToR project by becoming a Relay
    https://2019.www.torproject.org/docs/tor-doc-relay.html.en
  4. Choose "Directory Site" or access point:

Anonymity rule of Thumb

  • Use ToR browser
    - Use a dedicated browser exclusively for ToR to avoid inadvertent identity leaks
  • Do NOT install browser plugins for ToR Browser
  • Disable ALL ability to run scripts on ToR Browser
  • Use HTTPS version of sites
  • Do NOT run executables or open documents while on-line
    - Run / Open files in a seperate virtual machine with networking disabled
  • Ensure your application does not bypass ToR (i.e. BitTorrent)
  • Use ToR Bridge Relays
    https://2019.www.torproject.org/docs/bridges

Before you access the dark web, you are advised to;

  • Install a VPN on your device and turn it on
  • Purchase an up-to-date antivirus and install it on your device
  • Surf the dark web –we will talk about where you can start and other sites to visit

It is important to mention that the dark web is where all sorts of people reside. Therefore, be careful with the things you share and download there. Don't make it easy for hackers to trick you or malware to attack your device.

#Jargons and Abbreviations You Should Know When Using the Dark Web

In most cases, people who use the dark net have specialized jargons, abbreviations, and phrases they normally use, which can be unclear for newcomers. That's why we prepared this short summary to enlighten you.

Here are a few jargons and abbreviations/terminology you should know;

  • 2FA - This is a short form of two-factor-authentication. It is a better way of securing your account in addition to using your password. Usually, this is done with a smartphone whereby you can only access your account through your smartphone, or verify your authorization from your smartphone when using another device.
  • Blockchain - This facilitates the usage of Bitcoin by functioning as the public ledger to ensure that all users comply and honor their deals.
  • Silk Road - This was the first successful free-market economy on the dark web that was set up by an ambitious young man to facilitate businesses and transactions, in exception of murder, slavery, identity theft, and other illegalities. It was pulled down in 2013.
  • Alphabay - After the closure of Silk Road, buyers turned to Alphabay. However, it didn’t survive for long as the founder was captured red-handed and later found to have allegedly committed suicide in a Thai prison.
  • CP - this is short for Child P_o_r_n_ography. As we mentioned earlier, you will find all kinds of people in the dark web, including pedophiles. The dark web contains a darker section with pedophile networks whereby members exchange p_o_r_n_ography materials involving children. Law enforcers and humanitarians groups are always trying to bring down these networks, but they keep popping up. Culprits are convicted and arrested.
  • BTC - this is an acronym for Bitcoins. It is the most popular and widely-used cryptocurrency on the dark web to date.
  • Clearnet. The Clearnet comprises everything you can find on the surface web and thus does not need any registrations. However, there are websites in the Clearnet that still require you to log in.
  • Darknet - This is often used as another word to refer to the dark web (synonym), but its meaning is different. The Darknet is an umbrella term describing the part of the internet purposefully not accessible to the general public. These are networks only accessible via authorization, specific configurations, and software.
  • HS - This is an acronym for 'Hidden Services.’ These services are hidden because they do not track the IP address of the users. You can communicate with another person via these masked channels.
  • DD - short form for Daisy's Destruction. This is an infamous video on the dark web that features underage Filipina girl - younger than three years, being sexually abused and tortured. Peter Scully, the producer of the Film, was apprehended and is in Filipino prison, awaiting trials.
  • OS - This is a short form for Operating System. It can be Live OS, which means an OS that is temporarily loaded from software, or Host OS, which runs on Windows or macOS.
  • PGP - Which is short for Pretty Good Privacy. This is a cryptic network that is used by many people on the dark web to communicate safely and anonymously
  • LEA/LE - It stands for Law Enforcement Agencies/Law Enforcement. This abbreviation is used by Tor network users when they want to evade being scrutinized by law enforcers.
  • Satoshi/Nakamoto - This is a name given to people who most likely created Bitcoin.
  • Vendor - This is a person who tries to sell things on the dark web
  • Tor, also referred to as the Onion Router, is a browser that facilitates your way to an anonymous network on the dark web
  • Tails - This stands for 'The Amnesiac Incognito Live System.’ It is a live version of Linux.

With this knowledge, you will find it easier to understand the dark web.

#How to surf safe and be anonymous on the dark web?

Before we even talk about what the dark web is all about, it is important that we discuss how to stay trouble-free on the dark web.

Keep in mind that there are dangerous parts on the dark web, and thus your online privacy and safety should be paramount.

You are advised to use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) when surfing this hidden part of the web to keep your trails and privacy encrypted and anonymous.

In addition, you need to have a working and updated antivirus software to monitor malware and virus that may try to attack your PC.

A VPN will protect your privacy and keep your internet traffic anonymous when browsing the web - surface web, deep web, and dark web. When your Internet Service Provider (ISP) is masked by a VPN, hackers and government officials will not be able to decrypt your trails or know what you were doing online.

Compare and Find Your Ideal VPN Provider

One of the best VPN for the dark web is CyberGhost. This high-quality VPN provider can protect up to 7 devices simultaneously.

It has commendable encryption and different safety measures that will keep you safe on the dark web. Besides, they have an attractive package of less than $3.50 a month and comes with 45-days money-back guarantee. This means you can test its effectiveness for 45 days. On top of that, they have a stellar customer service that is user-friendly.

Now that you are safe, we can discuss the dark web.

#About Tor - - Download Tor Browser

download tor browser

As we mentioned earlier, Tor is the main browser used to access the dark web. Tor is open-source software that work as a browser. It remains the most reliable and safest way to get to the dark web. Unlike normal browsers such as Chrome, Safari, Opera, Edge, and Firefox.

Tor has some encryption that helps to keep your data and traffic anonymous. It does this by taking your internet traffic through a network of nodes, where a part of encryption is pared at every node. This keeps your internet traffic secure. The encryption in a Tor browser comes in layers of an onion, which is why websites in the dark web opted to use .onion as their suffix to remain anonymous to most people.

It is important to mention that you can use Tor to access any part of the web - surface web, deep web, and dark web. Many of the Tor users do not make it to the dark web; they use it to remain anonymous when browsing the surface web,

However, it is important to reiterate the fact that the Tor browser is not 100% foolproof, and that’s why you need to use a best VPN running in the background - - highly recommended.

#Safety Tip - - Run Your VPN before Getting On the Tor Network

This is a simple trick that can save you from having leaks in your internet traffic. For added safety, it is important that you install a VPN before you get on the Tor network. This will help keep ISP from getting into the hands of hackers and government agencies. With the VPN already running, no one will know that you have signed on to the Tor network as your internet traffic will be encrypted from the start.

Where to Start

For beginners, the Hidden Wiki acts as a great first stop. It provides dark web links to websites and search engines that will make it easier for you to navigate the dark web. This makes it a good first stop for beginners who needs direction as to where to go.

To access it, copy this URL into your Tor browser http://zqktlwi4fecvo6ri.onion/wiki/index.php/Main_Page

Keep in mind that web addresses on the dark web keep on changing, but you will find many websites on the surface offering up-to-date URL of pages and sites to visit.

With this information in mind, we can now talk about the most important thing when browsing the dark web - Your Safety.

#How to Stay Safe When Browsing On the Dark Web

As aforementioned, the dark web harbors all kinds of people - hackers, spammers, and web criminals, which is why you need to take all the necessary safety measures.

We have compiled 10 safety precautions you need to observe when browsing the dark web;

1. Have Extensive Knowledge of the Dark Web

Although this point may seem quite obvious, it is important to know that the dark web is a complex environment with both good and dangerous people. Therefore, it is not a place where you learn by doing. Many people have lost a lot of money by making stupid and uninformed decisions. Not to mention that others have encountered a breach of privacy because of malware attacks.

It is important to know that there are many people who are there to exploit people’s ignorance. Therefore, you need to have a clear purpose of what you are going to do on the dark web and how you are going to do it before you download the Tor browser.

For those who are curious about what goes on in the dark web and are looking to explore, make sure to have knowledge on how to navigate this hidden part of the internet.

You will encounter plenty of phishing websites, dead URLs, and much more, which is why you should know where to go and how to do it.

You can learn about the history of the dark web - from the time it was still Arpanet. This will give you a clearer picture of this part of the web. Also, if you are trying your luck in the field of cryptocurrency, make sure that you understand what blockchain is, what mining is, different wallets, rates between cryptocurrencies, etc.

The point here is, don’t make guesswork on the dark web - amass knowledge on what you want to do and know how it is done.

2. Always Use a Reliable VPN

It is true that Tor has its own encryption and will keep your traffic anonymous from 'ordinary' people, but anyone with sufficient knowledge and resources will be able to trace your traffic back to you. This is the main reason having a reliable VPN is a must when browsing the dark web.

VPNs will encrypt your web traffic and hide your IP from any government surveillance or hackers. It is important to know that not every VPN is reliable. Most free versions of VPNs are prone to security leaks and data limits, which is why you should get a reliable, premium VPN provider.

Keep in mind that if you opt to use a live mobile OS such as Tails, you will not be able to use a VPN. In this case, you need to take extra precautions.

3. Take All the Necessary Security Precautions

There are several security precautions you need to take before you open your Tor browser;

  • Close all other apps on your device - password managers, Netflix, social media apps, etc.
  • Use a piece of paper to cover your webcam. It is very easy to monitor someone via their webcam, even without them noticing
  • Have an up-to-date anti-malware software
  • Install a reputable antivirus program and ensure it is updated
  • Turn off your location on your machine. For Windows 10, Go to Settings>Privacy>Location and turn off location. For macOS, go to System Preferences>Security and Privacy panel>Privacy> Deselect "Enable location services."

The reason you are taking all these extra security measures is because the dark web is full of hackers who are always trying to exploit any little ignorance you have or mistake you make. Once you get hacked, all the apps and services running in the background are prone to attack l.

The don’ts of the Dark Web

  • Do not give out your personal information
  • Do not leave a lot of traces on the darknet
  • Do not click on any suspicious or unknown dark web links
  • Do not haphazardly browse around the darknet
  • Do not alter the size of the Tor browser screen. There is a reason why it is the way it is.

These are precautions you should always take.

4. Only Download Tor Browser From the Official Website

For Windows, Mac, Android, or Linus users, ensure that you download Tor from the official Tor website.

Government agencies and hackers have floated a lot of fake versions of Tor browsers to monitor behaviors of users while on the dark web and to compromise them before they even get to the dark web. The latter method is preferred by hackers, while the former is normally used by government agencies.

To avoid such scenarios, you should always download the Tor browser from the official website which is; https://www.torproject.org/

Make sure to keep your browser up to date all the time to ensure you have the latest security updates in place.

Android users can opt for Orbot, an app that is built by the makers of the Tor project. For iPhone users, it is not possible to use any Tor product without rooting your device first.

5. Increase Security Level of Your Tor Browser

There are a few changes you can make in your Tor browser to make it more secure. You can access Tor browser settings by clicking on the Tor logo in the upper left corner. Choose security setting and change its security level from medium to high.

The only downside to doing this is that you will experience a slower internet connection and fail to access some websites. Also, you may not be able to play most audio and video formats, and some icons and fonts may not display correctly. In addition, JavaScript is disabled, among other things. However, with this security setting, you will be safer.

In the end, you get to choose between safety and access since this setting restrict unlimited browsing experience. If you know what you are going to do on the dark web, we recommend that you opt for the highest security setting.

6. Block Scripts

If allowed, scripts on websites become a part of your digital fingerprint and can be used to keep track of your doings online. There is a feature in your Tor browser that can restrict websites from running scripts on you, and you need to activate it. On your browser's upper right corner, click on the symbol labeled "S" and select "Enable restrictions globally."

Changing this setting will forbid websites from running scripts on you, especially websites on the dark web, as they are unregulated. By forbidding scripts in your Tor browser, you will reduce the chances of your device getting infected. Remember that this is another security measure and not a reason to ignore other precautions.

To confirm that you have successfully blocked script in your Tor browser, look at the “S” symbol. If there is no exclamation mark, know that you are safe from scripts.

TIP: For other browsers, you can disable scripts using extensions.

7. Discover the Common Myths and Truths of the Dark Web

Being aware of the common dark web myths and truths will enlighten you further and make you less likely to fall prey to a scammer or hacker.

Here are common myths and truths

Myth: All cybercrimes on the internet takes place on the dark web.

Truth: Most cybercrimes take place on the surface web.

Myth: The dark web is larger than the deep web.

Truth: Compared to the deep web, the dark web is relatively smaller. The deep web comprises banking portals, academic databases, company networks, corporate data, webmail account, etc. This is far much larger than the 250,000-400,000 websites existing on the dark web.

The dark web is illegal: in itself, the dark web is not illegal. However, some of the encryptions in the Tor browser are very strong, and thus illegal in some countries. As some, we can say that the dark web is indirectly prohibited in some countries. However, most of the countries where the dark web is completely illegal, such as Russia, China, Turkey, North-Korea, Iraq, and Belarus, have other far-reaching internet restrictions.

Myth: Anything that happens in the dark is illegal.

Truth. The dark web in itself is not illegal, nor is every activity that happens there is illegal. Legalities and illegalities of the things happening on the dark web depend on the country from which you are accessing the dark web from. What this means is that if something is illegal in the country you are in, it will also be illegal in the dark web.

8. Use Anonymous Services

On top of heightening your security by changing Tor settings and using a reliable VPN, you should also take other necessary precautions, such as using anonymous services.

Some of the online services that can leak your information include file-sharing, emails, messages, extensions, and search engines. Many online services use scripts, trackers, and cookies to gather digital fingerprints. That’s why you need to use alternative online services that value your privacy.

Anonymous search engines

One of the best anonymous search engines you can use is DuckDuckGo (this is a good alternative to Google). Here is the onion address to this search engine - https://3g2upl4pq6kufc4m.onion/

Other search engines that are accessed on the dark web include StartPage and SearX.

File encryption

Before you download or upload files on the dark web, it is important to encrypt them. A reliable and free open-source encryption tool you can use is PeaZip. You can encrypt your file into 181 different types using this tool. Mac users can use Keka.

Anonymous sharing

A safer way of sharing files anonymously is through OnionShare. Using Dropbox and other regular file-sharing software might not be the best method in the dark web because they can leak your data or privacy. You can also use Firefox Send

Anonymous office services

A great alternative to Google Docs is Etherpad. This has better security and is open-source. Another good alternative is Cryptpad. You can use these tools to write texts, make presentations, and create spreadsheets. Only people with access keys can read your documents.

Video calling

You can use Linphone to video call. This software apps have end-to-end encryptions. Mumble is also a great VoIP software.

Sending emails anonymously

ProtonMail is a renowned email service on the dark web. Their mail accounts have end-to-end encryptions. If you still want to use your email address on the dark web, ensure that it has extra protection through Pretty Good Privacy (PGP). You can do this by adding Mailvelope.

9. Avoid Plugins, Payments, Logins, and Subscription

Anonymity is your best bet on the dark web. That's why you need to avoid sharing your personal information, such as bank accounts, emails, etc. You don't have to give your bank account to a stranger directly for them to know it; by login into your online account while browsing on the dark web can have your bank details leak out. Therefore, you are advised not log into your account or profile while browsing the dark web.

You will also find websites that are prompting you to create an account to gain access. In this case, you can create a randomized email address that doesn’t personify you and one that you don’t use to log into your other profiles. This means not using your name, interests, location, hobbies, birthday, etc.

Lastly, avoid enabling plugins while searching the dark web as they are known to gather personal information about your online behavior and your location.

10. Use Cryptocurrency to Buy Things on the Dark Web

You will find many marketplaces on the darknet selling things that are legal and illegal in your country. However, never make a mistake of using your regular credit card to make payments - always use cryptocurrency.

Popular cryptocurrency providers

When using cryptocurrency, ensure that you use a privacy-focused coin such as Zcash and Monero.

Bitcoin is the most popular cryptocurrency and is often used to facilitate transactions in the dark web in a safe, anonymous manner.

Whatever you buy, make sure your transactions remain anonymous. All financial transactions in the dark should go through cryptocurrency to ensure anonymity for both the seller and the buyer.

By keeping these safety precautions in mind and observing them, you will be safer on the dark web. Keep in mind that you can never be 100% safe while on the dark web, but at least do your part.

#Why Do the Dark Web Exist and How Did It Come to Existence?

The internet originated from the Arpanet - Advanced Research Projects Agency. This agency was aimed at connecting different computers in universities to facilitate the sharing of information in the late 1960s.

However, it didn’t take long before this small network was expanded because of the introduction of telephone cables by Peter Kirstein, an IT professor, which cut across the Atlantic Ocean to connect England and America. This network expanded across the world and offered a revolutionized way of communication.

It became the most preferred way of sharing information rather than using interconnected computers to share data sets.

In 1978, the Bulletin Board System, popularly known as BBS, was invented. Usenet followed suit in 1979.

United States used this technology to position itself across the globe, with the CIA stationing themselves in many countries. This created a global network of American spies who collected intelligence for the United States government.

However, there were continued developments in communication in the 1990s, which led to the digitization of information. This meant that the spies didn't have to send their reports through an old-fashioned way of using letters and radios. The internet led to the invention of other cryptographic techniques to allow safe relay of information through it.

In 1995, the US Naval Research Lab set up a program that would become the current Tor network. This project was handed over to Defense Advanced Research Project Agency in 1997, who, in turn, passed it on to several civil rights groups. However, questions remain as to why this technique and network were passed on to civilian advocacy groups, but that's a story for another day.

Another theory of how the dark web came to existence is that the US government had to open an anonymous network where its agents could relay secret information from anywhere across the globe. After some time, the network began to leak and became open to infiltration.

However, instead of shutting it down, they saw it better to leave it open for other people so that intelligence and secret information would be passed over the network by their agents anonymously without victimization. This way, everyone, including US agents, would use the network anonymously.

#Why It Is Impossible to Pull Down the Dark Web?

Despite the many shady businesses and illegal transactions that go on in this network, it is impossible for the governments to shut down the dark web. This is because different servers were set up in different locations across the globe, making the network decentralized.

With each server set up in a different location, the US jurisdiction and control over this hidden network narrowed. In other words, the decentralized nature of this network makes it impossible for it to be shut down. If the US has to shut it down, it has to turn down all the decentralized servers in different locations.

In addition, the US benefits from this network, even if there are a lot of illegal activities that happen on it. Intelligence agencies still use it as a channel to relay secret information. Besides, people in different countries where human rights are violated use the dark web as a way of exposing such acts, which help to keep such regimes on their toes.

In other words, despite the dark web being a platform where shady businesses are done, it is still beneficial. As such, it cannot be turned down. What many authorities do is to collaborate to shut down sites and channels that propagate illegal acts and hold their owners and users accountable.

Final Thoughts

Before you browse the dark web, first gather enough knowledge of where you want to visit and what you need to do when you get there. Take all the necessary safety measures.

Remember that the dark web is unregulated, and thus, criminals find it easier to live there. Therefore, don’t get overly curious and end up exposing yourself to hackers and scammers.

Have a solid VPN service, reliable anti-malware, and antivirus software, and observe the 10 safety precautions we have discussed in the guide.

Stay safe!