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 darknets 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
- Download Tor Browser from here
- Install Tor Browser on your computer by opening the file you downloaded and following the prompts
- Open Tor Browser
- Click “Connect” on the Tor startup page
- Wait for a connection to be established
- Surf the dark web!
Note: Closing Tor will automatically disable its connection to the Tor Network
- Download Brave from here
- Install Brave on your computer by opening the file you downloaded and following the prompts
- Open Brave browser
- Click the hamburger menu (≡) on the top right of the browser
- Select “New private window with Tor”
- 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.
- Download the Tor Browser app from here
- Open Tor Browser
- Click “Connect”
- Once a connection is established, you should see an onion icon in your status bar
- 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.”
- Download Onion Browser from the App Store
- Open Onion Browser
- Click “Connect to Tor”
- Once connected, click “Next” to configure your security level:
- Click “Start Browsing”
- 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
FAQ: Accessing the dark web
Is it illegal to get on the dark web?
No, it is not illegal to get on the dark web. While the dark web is infamous for stories of illegal products or services, it also has legitimate uses—such as secure and anonymous communication and providing access to news in high-censorship countries. Simply accessing the dark web is not illegal, but illegal activity is illegal whether you do it via the dark web or not.
What’s illegal on the dark web?
Like the surface web, the dark web has its fair share of illegal content. That said, the dark web is mostly known for illegal activity. This can include drug trade, sales of firearms and weapons, data leaks, and extreme pornography—including child pornography.
Where can I go on the dark web?
You can access the dark web from any computer; you just need to download Tor Browser or Brave. Then, there are plenty of legal sites to visit, from dark web search engines to Bitcoin wallets, privacy tools, and news sites.
Read more: Top 19 .onion websites from the depths of the dark web
What happens if you go on the dark web?
When you visit dark web sites, you’re connecting to websites on darknets, which are specifically designed for anonymity. Your browsing activity is both anonymous and private.
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