How to access the dark web

Diving mask with binary numbers.

You may have heard the terms darknet, dark web, and deep web used interchangeably but there are distinctions between the three. So before we take this deep dive, let’s first define what the surface web is, then clear up what these other terms mean.

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Surface web vs. deep web vs. dark web

Surface web, also known as visible web, refers to the indexable parts of the internet. In other words, content in this portion of the World Wide Web is readily accessible and searchable with search engines. The surface web accounts for roughly 5% of information on the internet.

Deep web, conversely, refers to non-indexable parts of the internet—content that’s only accessible through the use of passwords, encryption, or situationally with specific software. The deep web accounts for over 90% of information on the internet.

Read more: Come to the dark web… it’s a little safer now

Darknet refers to a restricted overlay network that is only accessible with specific software or authorization. Darknets are specifically designed for anonymity.

Dark web refers to websites on darkents and account for less than 1% of the information available on the internet. Although the dark web has become infamous for stories of large-scale illegal activity, there are various legitimate uses, including secure communications, whistleblowing, and breaking through censorship.

With that out of the way, let’s get onto accessing the dark web—specifically Tor (which stands for The Onion Router), the largest darknet.

Accessing the dark web on your desktop or laptop

We suggest using either Tor Browser or Brave to browse the dark web.

Using Tor Browser

  1. Download Tor Browser from here
  2. Install Tor Browser on your computer by opening the file you downloaded and following the prompts
  3. Open Tor Browser
  4. Click “Connect” on the Tor startup page 
  5. Wait for a connection to be established
  6. Surf the dark web!

Note: Closing Tor will automatically disable it’s connection to the Tor Network

On Brave

  1. Download Brave from here
  2. Install Brave on your computer by opening the file you downloaded and following the prompts
  3. Open Brave browser
  4. Click the hamburger menu (≡) on the top right of the browser
  5. Select “New private window with Tor”
  6. Go dark!

Read more: Ranked: Best (and worst) browsers for privacy

Accessing the dark web on your smartphone or tablet

On your Android or iOS device, download and install a browser app capable of accessing the Tor network on mobile. For Android we recommend Tor Browser, as it is built by The Tor Project. Despite there being no official iOS app built by Tor Project, they have endorsed Onion Browser—an open source Tor browser.

On Android

  1. Download the Tor Browser app from here
  2. Open Tor Browser
  3. Click “Connect”
  4. Once a connection is established, you should see an onion icon in your status bar
  5. Start exploring!

Note: To disconnect, click the three vertical dots (⋮) on the address bar on the bottom right hand side of the screen and select “Quit.”

On iOS

  1. Download Onion Browser from the App Store
  2. Open Onion Browser
  3. Click “Connect to Tor”
  4. Once connected, click “Next” to configure your security level:
    • Insecure
    • Moderate
    • Secure
  5. Click “Start Browsing”
  6. You’re in!

Start with these dark web sites

You can’t just start surfing the dark web by typing something into Google. You’ll have to visit sites using their onion URLs or search with an onion search engine. Check out our recommended onion sites and search engines. 

Combine VPN and Tor for extra security

While Tor by itself is a robust and secure privacy tool, combining it with a VPN is an ironclad way to ensure that your privacy isn’t compromised. Additionally, using Tor with a VPN lets you access the Tor Network in situations and locations where it is blocked.

Read more: What is an .onion address on Tor, and how to get one

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