Dark Web
(Photo by USA Network)

What Is the Dark Web and How the Hell Do I Access It?

You have an absolute right to privacy. The UN even said so in its Declaration of Human Rights. So how can you stay hidden on the ever-obtrusive Internet? The Deep Web and Dark Web are things you’ve heard about, but never explored on your own. Now, with the coronavirus pandemic destroying society, you think “What better time to try out the Dark Web?” Well, here’s our guide to expanding your search horizons and feeling like you have a bit of inalienable freedom.

What Is the Dark Web?

The common misconception is that the Dark Web and Deep Web are the same. They’re not. The everyday Internet is known as the “Surface Web”—the stuff we can see and that Google indexes. The Deep Web is the other 96 percent of the Internet that you can’t search; I’m talking hospital records, bank pages, academic records, and even social media accounts. Typically to reach it, you just need the actual URL, and some sort of username/password combo.

However, the Dark Web is a very small subset of the Deep Web where, unless you’re up to speed on how to access it, you won’t be able to find anything. It’s “No-Man’s Land”—unregulated, no street signs, and danger lurking around every corner if you’re not careful … kind of like Detroit. But if you have a bit of knowledge and a large dose of healthy paranoia, the Dark Web can be a whole new world.

Is the Dark Web Illegal?

There are certainly legitimate uses of the Dark Web. For example, increased (but not absolute) anonymity, political protesting, whistleblowing, and journalism that requires the utmost security. But there are also very illegitimate uses like drug trafficking, trading in stolen financial data, and all those little activities that law enforcement tends to frown upon.

So before riding willy-nilly into the Dark Web, the best thing to do is have a plan. Why are you going there? Curiosity? Journalism? Looking for some of that fine sticky dank? Just know that law enforcement is everywhere, so while most of the Dark Web is legal, if you choose to do illegal stuff, that’s on you. We’re showing you the door, but what happens after you walk through it is none of our concern. 

Let’s Talk Hardware

Stay away from using a Windows machine. They attract viruses like Wuhan, China. Use a Unix- or Linux- based system and keep your antivirus up to date. There is even a full OS called Tails that you can run from a USB stick.

Protect your Internet connection with a VPN. We like services like NordVPN that give you an encrypted tunnel for all of your Web activities. Think of it like up-armoring your Internet connection. It ain’t perfect, but it’s more protection than what you had that night you stayed in Tijuana.

Now that you’ve set up your VPN, the only way to access the Dark Web is through TOR (The Onion Router), which utilizes its own navigation system—the TOR browser. TOR is a series of proxies through which communication is encrypted and anonymized. It’s the only easily accessible doorway into the Dark Web. So now you’ve got a layer of VPN and a second layer of encryption with TOR. The world is yours, right? Wrong.

Dark Web Browser

Once you’re in, you’ll need to use a search engine like DuckDuckGo or The Hidden WIKI to find locations. They will typically just be a jumble of letters and numbers and end in the .onion suffix. Addresses change often and the shadier sites are typically invite-only; either that or someone needs to vouch for you—kind of like getting into a gang. 

There are scams and traps and malware everywhere, so act as if every link is infected. Kind of like you do right now in real life. With a little bit of forethought and preparation, the Dark Web can be a lot less scary. And now you’ve gained back a bit of liberty in a world that has very little left.

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