A significant portion of the Internet is made up of the deep web. Navigating this part of the Internet requires special networks, tools, and web applications.
In this guide, you will learn how onion websites work, how to access them using a darknet browser, and some basic security measures you need to take while surfing the dark web.
Onion sites offer anonymous hidden service and are only accessible with darknet browsers.
These websites are designed to allow communication only via specific means, making the information provider and the person accessing a piece of information hard to trace. You can not access these onion sites through Google or view them using a normal Internet browser. The Googlebot can neither crawl nor index them. However, you could find onion sites with deep web search engines and through websites that offer dark web links directory like The Hidden Wiki.
A lot of onion sites are not illegal like many think; there are regular forums, blogs, and websites with the onion extension. Also, activists in oppressive regimes often use the Tor network to access websites that have been blocked and exchange ideas without getting detected.
Onion addresses are generally obscure, containing 16 character alpha-semi-numeric hashes which are generated using a public key when configuring a service on the Tor network. For example, an address could look like this: http://3g2upl4pq6kufc4m.onion/.
The necessary tools required to access an onion website are the Tor network and a browser that can connect to this network, the most popular being the Tor Browser.
There are several few darknet browsers that you can use to surf the deep web. They include:
- TOR – The Onion Router
- I2P – Invisible Internet Project
- Subgraph OS
- TAILS – The Amnesic Incognito Live System.
The most widely used dark web browser is the TOR Browser. It actually paved the way for other darknet web browsers.
The free TOR browser makes it difficult for your Internet browsing activities and location to be traceable by serving webpages through multiple nodes. Volunteers spread across the world manage these nodes. However, to be able to mask your identity completely, you would need a VPN service alongside the TOR browser.
How to Access Onion Websites
1. Download Tor
Downloading and installing Tor is straightforward. Head over to the Tor download page https://www.torproject.org/download/ to get the latest version of the Tor Browser. You would have a choice to select your preferred operating system.
Currently, Tor is available for:
– Apple OS X
If you have advanced knowledge of computer programming, there is the option to download the Tor source code and compile it yourself.
Once you have downloaded the software, the procedure for installation follows the same process as any other average software: Double click on the file, choose a language, pick an install location, and start the installation.
2. Set Up a VPN
Internet Service Providers (ISP) can identify when a client is using Tor. So, it is advisable to connect to Tor via a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to add another layer of protection and privacy.
VPNs allow you to access the web through private servers, which would help to mask your location.
3. Start Tor Browser
When you start the browser, it establishes a Tor circuit and connects you to the Tor network. One of the popular search engines on the darknet is DuckDuckGo. The search engine prioritizes the protection of user’s data.
You can access DuckDuckGo’s search engine on the TOR network through this URL: http://3g2upl4pq6kufc4m.onion/.
Safety Measures on the Darknet
1. Always ensure that your .onion URLs are accurate.
2. Verify any URL from several sources before accessing it. If you are confident that you have the correct URL, copy and paste in an encrypted note; the Tor browser does not support caching.
3. Be careful not to click any links when you are surfing the darknet. Use only known trusted web directories to cross-check an onion website address.
4. Turn off scripts by clicking the “S!” button at the top left corner before the address bar in the Tor browser. This could prevent hackers from hijacking your PC by scripting malware.
5. It is recommended to always check for new updates to Tor and ensure you have the latest version of the software.