Computing

How to Safely Explore the Dark Web

Learning how to access the dark web is not as secretive and illegal as it is often portrayed. In fact, there can be legitimate reasons for wanting to explore this hidden part of the internet. While it does come with potential risks, accessing the dark web is perfectly legal and relatively safe if you follow the right steps.

Navigating the Dark Web Safely

Step 1: Download and Install the Tor Browser

To access the dark web safely, start by downloading the Tor browser from the official website. This free web browser, based on Firefox, allows you to explore the dark web with relative security. The Tor browser uses the onion router to bounce your signal through other Tor users globally, providing a pseudo-anonymous experience.

For enhanced security, consider using a VPN in conjunction with Tor. For the most security-conscious individuals, installing the Tails operating system on a flash drive and running Tor from there can provide additional layers of protection. However, this is not necessary for your initial exploration of the dark web if you’re simply curious.

The Tor Browser in 2023

Step 2: Ensure Privacy

When using the dark web, it’s crucial to prioritize your privacy. Close any apps that could potentially track your activities. Additionally, disconnect any microphones and webcams, or use physical privacy switches or covers if available.

The Lumina webcam with privacy cover mounted on top of a Toughbook laptop

Step 3: Begin Your Dark Web Exploration

Launch the Tor browser to start your journey into the dark web. However, be aware that it is not as user-friendly as regular clearnet websites. There is no “Google” for the dark web, and even if there were, it wouldn’t be trustworthy.

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Finding what you’re looking for on the dark web can be challenging, especially if you want to ensure your safety. Only access websites that you know are safe and have been vetted by trusted sources. Good starting points are the Onion Directory and the Hidden Wiki. These directories collect websites that are considered safe, allowing you to explore various topics of interest.

However, keep in mind that the dark web hosts a wide range of websites, including both benign and highly illegal ones. It is possible to get into legal trouble for visiting certain sites, so exercise extreme caution.

While browsing these websites, avoid maximizing your browser window, as it can potentially identify you through your monitor resolution. Refrain from sharing any personal identifying information and avoid uploading pictures or documents of any kind.

How to access the dark web

Step 4: Exiting the Dark Web

When you are finished exploring the dark web, close the Tor browser and completely shut down or restart your computer. Pay close attention during the startup process, ensuring that everything appears to be normal. You can then re-enable the microphone settings, webcam, and other functions. For added security, consider running an anti-virus scan.

Is the Dark Web Illegal?

The dark web itself is not intrinsically illegal. It is merely a version of the internet accessible exclusively through a Tor browser, making it nearly impossible to identify website owners and users. However, due to its anonymity, the dark web harbors plenty of illegal content, including images, information, products, and services. In many countries and states, attempting to access such content is illegal. To maintain a clean record and conscience, it is best to steer clear of illegal sites.

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Is the Dark Web Safe?

With proper caution and the use of the Tor browser, the dark web can be used safely. However, it is crucial to exercise discretion when choosing which sites to access. Engaging with illegal sites or failing to practice good operational security by sharing personal information or attempting illegal activities can make the dark web a dangerous place. Law enforcement agencies, hackers, and criminals may target individuals engaging in such behavior.

To ensure safety while using the dark web, utilize privacy-enhancing tools and programs. Avoid revealing any personal information to anyone for any reason.

Should You Use a VPN and Tor?

For those seeking extra security, using a VPN in conjunction with Tor provides more protection than using Tor alone. It is also possible to further safeguard yourself by employing the Tails operating system. The level of security you adopt depends on your individual needs. If you are exploring the dark web out of curiosity, Tor or a combination of Tor and VPN is sufficient. However, if you are attempting to hide from an oppressive government or want to report illegal activities, take as many precautionary steps as possible.

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