The dark web: how big, how dark and what’s there?

The dark web: how big, how dark and what’s there?

How to explore the dark web

How do you get around the dark web? What are the best Tor clients for PC/smartphone? How do you find the sites that aren’t listed on Google? How do you become part of this culture?

The intent of Tor was not to create an impenetrable corner of the web; it was to let secret agents and dissidents in countries friendly to the US converse without the risk of their communications’ content, origin or destination being intercepted. But it turns out that it works pretty well to obscure anything.  

The first, essential tool for using it is a copy of the Tor browser. This is available for all desktops via the Tor site at torproject.org. This site also offers ways to install the official Android version, called Orbot, either from Google Play or directly from the Tor site. All of those versions are free. For iPhone users, there is the paid-for Onion Browser (costing $0.99/£0.79), which is well reviewed and built from the official code.

Having installed the browser, you’re ready to explore – but there are a few points you should bear in mind first. If you’re truly looking to go deep into this space, you should maximise your anonymity. That means not only using the Tor browser, but also a VPN so that you appear to be entering the Tor network from a different IP address than the one you’re on. Next, turn off JavaScript and disable Flash (although the latter would be a wise move at any time) because they can be used to identify your machine and location.tor_dark_web

That done, you can fire up the Tor browser, which should confirm that you’re connected to the network, and show an IP address from which you seem to be connecting. This won’t be the same as your own.

Now where? First, bring up a site such as thehiddenwiki.org (or search for “Hidden Wiki”). This will provide a long list of links for all sorts of sites. The key problem with the dark web, though, is that if you’re not looking to buy drugs or guns or fake passports, then things can feel limited. The dark web is roughly at the stage that the open web was in 1995: there are plenty of “directory” sites, and people putting up sites almost for the fun of it, but useful search engines are few and far between, and site reliability is iffy.

The most prominent search engine is Torch – which shows that you’re not using Google through its big adverts (“cheap iPhone!” “Hacked PayPal Accounts!”) on its search page. Be ready for only about half of any results to actually resolve to a page, though.

As with any new experience, you’ll only get out as much as you put in. The question with the dark web is what you’re trying to get out. Are you looking for a community of like-minded people? Or to explore the darker side of life? Both are in there. Remember not to give any details about your personal identity away – name, age, location. And then… enjoy!

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