The Dark Web: What’s in It for You?
You’ve already visited websites like YouTube, Facebook, Wikipedia, Google, and Amazon. In fact, you probably access these sites on a regular basis. And just when you think that these sites make up the majority of the internet, you realize that you’re wrong. You find out that they’re only a small part of a vast realm.
Beyond these popular sites are websites tucked away and not readily accessible to the public. This space is called the dark web.
The dark web, also called the darknet, is an online realm that is not indexed by common search engines like Yahoo and Google. It’s basically a collective term for websites that belong to an encrypted network with hidden IP addresses. Because they are not indexed by ordinary search engines, the only way to access them is by using special anonymity browsers like Freenet and the ever-popular The Onion Router (TOR).
Now, you’ve probably heard talks about the dark web as a place for criminal activities. Well, it actually is. Here, you can purchase credit card information for a certain amount and get access to stolen subscription credentials, software licenses, and hacked Netflix accounts. You can also find software that allows you to attack other people’s computers. Other illicit activities you can find here are as follows:
- Attacks or infection, including DDoS attacks, malware, and botnets
- Backdoors, exploits, and keyloggers
- Intellectual property sale and trade secrets
Then again, not everything here is illegal. The dark web also has a legit side.
For instance, you can join a chess club or subscribe to a social network called The Facebook of Tor, which you’ll know more about in the succeeding sections.
But wait, don’t confuse the deep web for the dark web. They’re different from one another.
The Dark Web and the Deep Web
The dark web is commonly confused with the deep web. Many think that the two are the same, but in truth, they’re not.
The deep web includes all sites that can’t be accessed by ordinary search engines. It includes the websites on the dark web, as well as other websites that serve critical functions, such as online banking platforms, databases, webmail platforms, and services that require passwords or other authentication methods.
Because of all the websites indexed on the deep web, it is considered vaster than the dark web and the regular internet (the clear web).
How to Access the Dark Web
So you want to know how to access the dark web? Then read on. We’ll teach you how to access the dark web with ease.
Step 1: Subscribe to a reliable VPN service
Do you think that the common dark web browsers are already enough? Wrong. Even if browsers like TOR keep your identity hidden by encrypting data and rerouting internet traffic through remote servers, you should know that the dark web is a notorious place for cybercriminals.
You still need to add another layer of anonymity, which a VPN can provide. Subscribe to a VPN service that does not keep logs, is fast, has no DNS leaks, and is compatible with the TOR browser. A reliable VPN service encrypts the internet traffic of your device and routes it through a server in a specific location of your choosing. The VPN works to hide the TOR traffic, letting it pass through an encrypted channel. Therefore, no one but you and the VPN provider can see what you are doing.
Step 2: Download and install the TOR browser
Before you download and install the TOR browser, make sure that you have successfully subscribed to a VPN service. After that, download the TOR browser installer from the official TOR project site. Once the browser is installed, locate the TOR browser folder and click Start TOR Browser. A new window will pop up, urging you to click Configure or Connect. Click Connect to open the TOR browser.
Step 3. Start browsing
Once you open the TOR browser on your computer, you are automatically redirected to the DuckDuckGo search engine. Although the search engine provides added privacy and encryption while searching the web, don’t think of it as your portal to the dark web already.
DuckDuckGo still searches the web. This means if you perform a simple search, the results that will be shown are still the same as you would see on your favorite browser.
Now, the ultimate question is still how to get to the dark web. To make this happen, you can use search engines designed to access the dark web.
Use these search engines to gain access to .onion sites or websites that offer additional layers of identity assurance:
- Onion URL Repository
- The WWW Virtual Library
Good Things You Can Do on the Dark Web
As mentioned, the dark web isn’t just a haven for cybercriminals. You can do a lot of good things here, including the following:
1. Exchange data in countries with internet restrictions
Many countries like Qatar, Turkey, Russia, China, and Cuba have restricted access to the internet, especially blocking content that they consider obscene or related to homosexuality.
2. Purchase restricted goods
Though we don’t really promote the purchase of illegal goods, we have to accept the fact that in some rare instances, such purchases can be acceptable and justifiable.
For example, some sleeping aids and painkillers that are accepted in Europe are illegal in some Asian countries. Also, many people do not have access to prescription medications. With the help of the dark web, purchasing these items is easier.
3. Buy goods anonymously
Buying on the dark web is an entirely different shopping experience. For shoppers who are security-conscious, this provides another level of privacy and security, especially when buying anti-surveillance merchandise.
It is worth noting, though, that although the products you want to purchase may be legal, there are instances when the sellers have obtained the merchandise by illegal means.
4. Expose and share information
The dark web allows political activists and journalists to share stories anonymously to keep themselves from getting into trouble with governments and other involved parties.
Best Dark Web Links
If you are faint-hearted and want to safely tour around the dark web, then this section is for you. We will shed some information about some nice places to visit. The links work only under Tor Browser. Here you go:
1. The Hidden Wiki
If you are totally new to the dark web, this is a fantastic site to see. Like the real Wikipedia, it contains tons of links and information that you can use to be familiar with the dark web.
2. The Hidden Wallet
On the dark web, there are plenty of good deals. If you wish to purchase anything, make sure you know how to pay for it. This is where the Hidden Wallet can help. It’s kind of like a digital wallet that allows you to transact anonymously in Bitcoins. The only difference is that most digital wallet sites comply with financial regulations. The Hidden Wallet does not.
Like Google, Torch is a minimalist search engine. It allows you to access every corner of the dark web.
Yes, you’ve read that right. The world’s largest social media platform actually has a .onion counterpart. According to rumors, this part of Facebook was designed to cater to those who wish to be part of an anonymous social network. Well, it’s quite contradictory to hear the word anonymous and social altogether. But the site claims to be both because it does not keep a log of user activities.
Did you ever want to hack the account of someone who pissed you off but you just didn’t know how? Then the Rent-a-Hacker .onion website can help. This site is run by an apparent freelancer who wants to sell his hacking services to those who are willing to pay a price. The price starts at 250 Euros for small-time hacking services, such as hacking Facebook accounts or emails.
6. Apples 4 Bitcoin
Do you want to purchase an iPhone from Apple but want to pay in Bitcoin? On the dark web, you have an option. Visit Apples 4 Bitcoin. On this website, the iPhone models and types are limited. However, all of them come factory unlocked.
7. TOR Shops
This .onion website is the website builder for the dark web. It allows you to create your own .onion web shop. With TOR Shops, you also have the option to integrate Bitcoin into your web store. For as low as $100, you can have your own web store set up on the dark web.
We all need a safe zone on the dark web where we can speak freely and anonymously. SecureDrop does exactly that. The site allows whistleblowers to submit news and other stuff to media companies in a completely anonymous way. Everything here is encrypted, and there are no third-parties involved in the process. What’s interesting is that it’s now owned and operated by the Freedom of the Press Foundation.
Although Netpoleaks is quite similar to SecureDrop, this site exists to have an avenue for reporting the misconduct of others, usually in large corporate communities. With the guidance of the Hermes Center for Transparency and Digital Human Rights, this site allows one to stay anonymous and submit sensitive information.
10. ESCROW Service
Are you looking for a safe channel to trade on the dark web? ESCROW Service is the place for you. The site works in a way like lawyers can hold funds in ESCROW. Some say it’s much better as it allows users to deal in Bitcoins to retain anonymity. To use the service, all you need to do is pay a modest 1.5% transaction fee so you can trade to all your heart’s content. You will then be given the assurance that you can check the shipped items before releasing the funds to the seller. You are even offered third-party dispute resolution in the event of sour deals.
What’s great about using Bitcoin is that it allows you to transact anonymously. No wonder why it’s used by TOR users. Having said that, why not access this site using a .onion link? Should you trust the site? Of course, you should. It’s among the few .onion sites with an HTTPs certificate.
12 Dream Market
Thanks to Dream Market, you can anonymously sign up for emails and pay for subscriptions in Bitcoin currency. Over the years, the FBI has been conducting sweeps and checks across the dark web to put an end to illegal trade. But Dream Market is still standing strong. It is said to be among the smallest .onion marketplaces, so no wonder why it’s still in operation.
13. The Campfire
The Campfire is the modern incarnation of Internet Relay Chat (IRC) but on the dark web. This site has a number of chatrooms and advertises itself as a virtual rendezvous for “gathering around the campfire and chatting”. It is worth noting, though, that this site is meant to be family-friendly. So, do not expect to find drugs, sex, and porn in here.
Improve Browsing Security While on the Dark Web
Now that you know that there are a lot of terrifying things going on the dark web, let us look at some ways to avoid them should you really insist on peeking:
Tip #1: Be sure you are using an updated TOR browser
When visiting .onion sites, using the TOR browser is important. However, like other browsers, the TOR browser has weaknesses. Make sure that this browser is up to date to stay abreast of the latest risks and vulnerability notices.
Tip #2: Subscribe to a VPN service for an added level of protection
The use of VPNs is highly recommended to keep your identity protected and safe. But make sure that the VPN service you are using meets the basic security criteria.
Ideally, you have to choose a VPN service that is based in a country without strict data retention laws. Another thing to consider is the level of encryption being used by the service.
Tip #3: Think before you click
The point is to avoid malware. So, when you’re on the dark web, watch what you download. Take note that malicious code can be embedded in different file types, and you won’t know until it’s too late.
If you must download something, you can use a virtual machine. This will isolate the file from the rest.
Tip #4: Stop using macros
Macros and scripts can open a can of worms and put your data at risk. Yes, ordinary websites like YouTube may need them. But if you’re on the dark web, think twice.
If you are asked to enable scripts twice, there is a chance that you are dealing with a threat.
Tip #5: Be security-conscious
Even with all the cyber threats on the dark web, many people still visit it on a daily basis. They think that it is a safe place to freely roam around. What they do not know is that surfing the dark web with that mindset could be dangerous.
Tip #6: Minimize your TOR browser
Browsing the dark web while in public places like coffee shops or airports? We suggest that you resize or minimize your TOR browser.
Well, there is a reason why it’s a must-do. Aside from the fact that the people around you might take notice, there is a chance that you can be tracked based on the dimensions of your active window. Yes, we’re not exaggerating here, but it can really happen.
Therefore, do yourself a favor and resize the browser.
Tip #7: Do not use your credit and debit cards for purchases
No matter how enticing an offer is, do not ever swipe your credit or debit card to complete a transaction.
True, some shops on the dark web are legit, but do you really want to take that chance and expose your details to the darker side of the web? We wouldn’t.
Now, if you are itching to complete the transaction, use bitcoins or other cryptocurrencies. Using your credit card or anything of this sort is like calling cybercriminals while yelling, “Come here and take all my money!”
Tip #8: Tweak your security settings
Tip #9: Use a fresh machine
This may not be a useful tip for most users, but it’s the most ideal setup. If this is not possible, always have a backup of your most critical data and important local files. Be sure your hardware and software are also malware-free.
Tip #10: Don’t push yourself into a place where you don’t belong
This is probably the best advice on the list. And this applies not only to the dark web. Always remember that many criminal activities take place on the dark web. As a matter of fact, many illegal groups are using this channel to communicate and sell illegal merchandise.
If you are not careful, you might find yourself in the middle of an ugly situation. So, if you ever come across a fishy and shady website, close the tab and pretend you didn’t see anything. In this modern era, you should trust no one. If you want to browse the dark web, always be security-conscious.
Other important tips to consider to maintain anonymity:
- Do not use your real name.
- Do not upload your photos.
- Do not use an email address that you have already used before. Instead, use an encrypted email account that cannot be traced back to you.
- If you decide to make a purchase, use an anonymous Bitcoin wallet.
- Access HTTPs versions of websites to prevent exposing your data to third-parties.
- Disconnect from the internet before opening documents.
- Do not torrent over a TOR network. Your details could still be visible to other peers within the network.
There are plenty of things you should be careful about when on the dark web, but here’s an important tip: Be cautious when making friends. It’s not Facebook.