How To Access The Deep Web or DarkNet – A Beginner’s Guide
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You may have heard that there is some mysterious hidden internet called the ‘Deep Web’ or the ‘DarkNet’ that you can’t get to from Google, and which is hidden from most web surfers. Perhaps tales of the dark marketplaces selling all kinds of legal and illicit goods anonymously for Bitcoin have picqued your curiosity, and you would like to take a look around and see what they are like. Perhaps you live in a country where social media and ordinary internet sites are censored and you would like to visit a place where everyone is free to speak their mind freely and without fear of repurcussion. Or perhaps you simply care about your privacy and security online and are attracted to the idea of an internet space where users are not constantly tracked, monitored, and analysed by manipulative marketeers, government spies and malicious hackers. All of these are common reasons why people become interested in visiting this hidden, anonymous internet space – but if you are like 99% of people you probably don’t have a clue how to access the so-called ‘darknet’ or ‘deep web’.
Many people find the idea of even trying to access and use the deep web a little bit intimidating and scary, and if you are a complete beginner to this kind of stuff you are probably feeling the same. You may be concerned over what you will see, who you might meet, or what other concequences there may be for using something so strongly linked in the popular imagination to illicit activity. Please do not worry. You will not find anything which you haven’t looked for, and the beauty of the darknet is that nobody you meet will know who you are – you are just another anon – and there is a great security in that. You will be safe and you will suffer no negative consequences for visiting the darknet. You will also have no technical trouble learning how to access the darknet and find your way around once you have read this beginner’ guide which will hopefully tell you everything you need to know!
WTF are the Deep Web and the DarkNet anyway?
Before you set out on your maiden journey into the dusky twilight lands of the hidden internet, it will probably serve you well to have some idea of where it is you are going.
The deep web is not actually a single unified place, as many people think when they have only heard about it in brief references from the mainstream media. In fact, it is not so much a place as it is an unplace. It is anywhere other than the ‘surface web’ or ‘clearnet’ which is crawled and indexed and served up in search results by Google et al, and which is generally accessible to anybody who drops by. This can actually include a wide variety of places, from academic databases to private members websites to corporate portals. These are all places on the internet which are hidden from the view of search engines and regular web visitors for reasons of privacy and security, but of course these are not what most people have in mind when they talk about the deep web. In popular language the deep web usually refer to a place where there are whole sections of internet in which all of the websites are hidden from the view of regular web surfers, and also in which the people using them are hidden from view. This is the anonymous internet, in which it is much more difficult for spies or hackers or government agencies to track internet users and see which websites they are using and what they are doing there. There are multiple ‘places’ such as this, which are hidden from view themselves, but which also hide their users.
A DarkNet is a private network. The internet, at its base, it a bunch of computers connected together. Usually we can connect to any computer we want to – we just need to know its address, in the form of an IP address or the familiar website addresses which are mapped to them. In a darknet you maintain a list of trusted friends, and your computer can only connect to the people you know. This provides an even more private and secure corner of the internet than you can get from a deep web, but also a much more limited one. Darknet and deep web technologies can be combined, as you will see below, to provide a balance of privacy and useability.
The deep web or darknet of popular imagination is, in some ways, a kind of combination of the two things described above. You access it through a private network which you must join (by running a piece of software and connecting to peers) in order to view any of its sites, but which anybody can join without restriction, and then connect with any part of the network.
Also Read: How To Use The Internet Anonymously
A Beginner’s Guide: How to Access the Deep Web
As stated above, the deep web is not a single location, but a whole class of different locations which share one thing in common – that they are hidden from search engines and regular internet users. Different areas of the deep web therefore have different requirements for you to be able to access them, and any technology which you use will only give you access to its specific area of the hidden internet. Having said that, there is a very small number of technologies used to create what is popularly called the ‘deep web’ or ‘darknet’, and one in particular which the vast majority of people use – TOR.
An Introduction to TOR and Using it to Access the Deep Web
Tor is primarily a ‘privacy network’ which lets people use the regular internet without being tracked. It does this by bouncing communications around a lot of different computers, so rather than user A asking for a webpage from server Z, user A asks user B to ask user C to request the webpage (of course this is a massive simplification and is pretty inaccurate really, but it does give you are rough idea of what is happening). This means that any third party who is trying to spy on people will find it very difficult to tell who is actually viewing the webpage, or sending the email, or whatever it may be.
In addition to this enhanced privacy for web browsers, TOR also offers a way for people to host ‘hidden services’. A TOR hidden service is a website or app of some kind whose location is hidden in exactly the same way that the true location or identity of web browsers is hidden by TOR in the example above. These hidden services can only be accessed by other TOR users – not by regular search engines or regular internet users. You can recognize them by their address – it will end in .onion and is often composed of a seemingly random string of characters. Once you have TOR installed on your computer you can visit these hidden services, which include the infamous dark markets where bitcoin, drugs and hacked credit card details are ubiquitous, in exactly the same way that you would access a regular website.
Installing TOR on your computer is incredibly simple. It is no different from installing any other piece of software. It is also very easy to use – when you open TOR you will see that it is just a web browser which you use exactly the same way as you would any other web browser. In fact, it is based on Firefox so if you have ever used that browser you will find it to be very familiar indeed. For those in need of more rigorous privacy and security there is also a TOR operating system called TAILS (The Amnesiac Incogneto Live System) which you can run from a USB stick, but for most people the browser is sufficient.
You can download the TOR browser here.
Using a VPN with Tor
Virtual Private Networks or VPNs are another kind of privacy software which masks your IP address (hiding who you are) but do not allow you to access hidden deep web sites.
Some users make use of a VPN in addition to Tor, in order to hide the fact that they are using Tor. This is not necessary, but some people just want that extra level of privacy. I recommend IPVanish if you’re looking for a VPN that works well with Tor and provides an excellent service for a fair price.
Other Popular Deep Web Technologies
- I2P – This is an anonymity network which you may find slightly more techie to install and get running, but once you do there are some great tools and apps, including one to make it easier for you to set up your own hidden blog.
- FAI (Free Anonymous Internet) – Based on blockchain technology, this network allows for the anonymous publishing and browsing of content and has a social network style homepage that lets you follow other users, share content with your followers, and tip the creators of content you like.
- FreeNet – One of the older and most highly regarded systems, FreeNet combines deep web with DarkNet. This means that you can maintain a list of trusted peers and either connect to them only, or connect to them in preference to less trusted peers. As far as I know, this gives the highest level of privacy and security of any system, but does require a little more effort to make the most of.
- ZeroNet – Based on torrent technology in combination with Bitcoin encryption, this is a new system which is not well developed but which I think holds promise for the future.
Finding Your Way Around the Deep Web
Finding your way around the hidden interent is just the same as finding your way around the regular internet. You can use a search engine or a directory website like Tor Hidden Wiki which contains a list of interesting links, but is often out of date or wrong and is not free from scams – and also seems to exaggerate the darker type of sites.
There is even a search engine specifically for searching hidden services and which allows you to view dot onion websites through a proxy – even if you don’t have TOR installed. It can be found at Onion.City and it is perhaps the easiest and most convenient way to access the hidden internet, but please remember that if you don’t have TOR installed and just use a proxy service like this you aren’t anonymous yourself.
If you are looking for how to access the infamous dark markets then you may like to start off by taking a look at DNStats which offers information about a wide variety of different dark markets including stats about their ‘uptime’, the technology they use, what you can buy there, reviews and more. For more detailed information about how to use these markets please read our article How To Buy Things from Dark Web Markets
For more in depth information about encryption technology and hidden internet applications of all kinds I also recommend browsing the articles on DeepDotWeb from time to time.