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5 Dark Web Browsers you can use to Remain Anonymous Online

A Dark Web browser allows you to access a huge portion of web content hidden from public view. Here’s a list of the top 5 Dark Web browsers.

We will get into our rundown of the top Dark Web browsers. But before that, let’s explore the difference between the “Dark Web” and the public web first.

The U.S. Defense Department’s ARPANET, or the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (1969), provided the foundation of today’s internet. Since then, it has evolved into a worldwide platform with fathomless depths.

Contrary to what you might think, the internet and the World Wide Web aren’t synonymous. Internet is the global hardware network made of all connected devices that allows you to access the WWW content.

But not all of the web content is visible to your average search engine. You can find only a small part of all web pages through traditional search engines such as Google.

The rest is part of what is called the “Deep Web” and the “Dark Web.”

Most use these two terms interchangeably. But they are not synonymous.

dark web browser meme
Image courtesy of Reddit user @deuscar

What is the Difference Between the Dark Web and the Deep Web?

Most people confuse the Deep Web and the Dark Web. And they both differ from, well, the regular web.

You’re using the Deep Web daily without realizing it.

Deep Web is the digital data that’s not indexed by conventional search engines and has limited access.

When you check your email, your Facebook profile, or your bank account balance, you’re in the Deep Web. It also includes user databases, web archives, company intranets, and other stuff that you can’t Google.

It’s estimated that the Deep Web is 400 to 500 times larger than the visible, or surface web.

The Dark Web is a part existing within the Deep Web as a network of encrypted websites.

Here, it’s all about anonymity and privacy. No IP addresses or DNS would allow the identification of sites.

They’re not all platforms where activities take place, though many Dark Web websites engage in illegal businesses.

Why Do People Use Dark Web Browsers?

The Dark Web isn’t necessarily for shady dealings. People could get into the Dark Web to seek anonymity, privacy, freedom of speech, knowledge-sharing, etc.

Political oppositionists, activists, whistleblowers, and many others can find in the Dark Web security they wouldn’t see otherwise.

The Dark Web also provides a refuge for ordinary people who are protective of their identity and personal information. Marketers can’t bombard them with “unethical” targeted ads on the Dark Web.

Within the Dark Web network, information flows in a complicated way, involving many traffic “nodes.”

Multi-layered encryption makes it hard to connect a user to any particular activity.

However, the Dark Web isn’t as dark as criminals would’ve liked it to be. The location, identity, and activities of the user aren’t 100% “safe.”

How to Surf the Dark Web

To access the Dark Web, you need a particular browser.

Your average browser won’t get you anywhere in this case. Instead of the usual TLDs such as “.com” or “.net,” Dark Web site URLs often come with “.onion.” Only Tor users can access these URLs.

The Dark Web isn’t inherently “evil” or illegal. It’s a tool whose potential harm or good is up to its users.

Below is a list of the top 5 Dark Web browsers:

1) Invisible Internet Project (I2P): Invisible Messages

To browse the Dark Web, there are many other solutions than Tor, like the Invisible Internet Project (I2P).

I2P is an anonymous network designed to secure the transfer of anonymous information between different applications. The communication is encrypted end to end. The I2P browser uses four layers of encryption to secure a message.

I2P The Invisible Internet Project
I2P The Invisible Internet Project | https://geti2p.net/en/

Through the I2P browser, you can access the Dark Web using a layered data stream to hide your real identity.

Users have their own I2P “router” complete with inbound and outbound “tunnels.” You can’t know for sure which inbound tunnel the message went through to reach the recipient through which outbound tunnel.

Clients can choose the length of their inbound and outbound tunnels according to their needs. The longer the tunnels, the more anonymity, but also the more latency. Unlike Tor, you can’t use I2P to access the public web.

2) FreeNet: Dark Refuge for Freedom of Speech

Introducing its project, Freenet quotes Mike Godwin from Electronic Frontier Foundation:

“I worry about my child and the Internet all the time, even though she’s too young to have logged on yet. Here’s what I worry about. I worry she’ll come to me and say ‘Daddy, where were you when they took freedom of the press away from the Internet?”

Like other dark web browsers, FreeNet is another anonymity-based dark network that uses free software to protect freedom of speech and fight censorship of information. Users can access websites, chat forums, and various types of content available only through Freenet’s network.

The decentralized approach to its design makes Freenet less vulnerable to attacks. Freenet works to ensure that the free flow of information, as a human right, continue without disruption.

The notion of copyrights has no place in FreeNet. As FreeNet claims, the reason is that enforcing copyrights usually entails the monitoring of communications, which compromises free speech.

The organization does, however, recognize the importance of copyrights. As an alternative to reward artists and right holders, FreeNet proposes a community-based patronage system.

3) Subgraph OS: Safe Dark Computing

Subgraph’s free and open-source platform was created from the vision that people should be able to communicate freely.

Using the same source code, Subgraph OS comes with a built-in Tor integration. It works like a desktop operating system but was designed mainly as an adversary-resistant computing platform.

How the Subgraph OS works | https://subgraph.com/sg
How the Subgraph OS works | https://subgraph.com/sg

In addition to multi-layer encryption, the network uses “sandbox containers” to eliminate any malware threat in the bud.

When Subgraph spots an at-risk application, it immediately activates its containment mechanism. This isolation system allows the strengthening of user security and prevents the jeopardization of the whole network.

4) TAILS: Leave no Trace

TAILS is another Darknet browser that helps you go incognito on the Dark Web. It is entirely amnesiac as to your deeds.

Released in 2009, TAILS, an acronym for The Amnesic Incognito Live System is a security-focused live OS based on Debian GNU/Linux. You can run TAILS independently from your everyday operating system using a DVD or USB stick.

Using Tails on a computer doesn’t alter or depend on the operating system installed on it. So you can use it in the same way on your computer, a friend’s computer, or one at your local library. After shutting down Tails, the computer will start again with its usual operating system.”

To ensure privacy and anonymity, TAILS forces every outgoing or incoming connection through Tor filters. Also, TAILS cryptographic tools make sure all files, emails, and messages are safe. Unless you explicitly ask it to, TAILS will keep no records of your connections.

A variety of built-in apps come with TAILS, all pre-configured with security and anonymity in mind. An OS, a browser, email service, instant messaging, office suite, and others all in one solution.

5) Tor: the Top Dark Web Browser

Last but not least, we have Tor.

There’s just no way to talk about and make a list of dark web browsers without bringing up The Onion Router (TOR).

Simply put, the TOR browser is in a league of its own. It is the first and most powerful Deep Web browser. It is also undoubtedly the most popular. Tor Browser is downloaded 100,000 times every day by either new or existing users.

Just like there are many layers to the real onion, the Tor network has many layers of encryption.

Free and open-source, Tor was created based on research by the U.S. Army. To this day, the Tor project benefits from the support funding of the U.S. government.

In the mid-1990s, the U.S. Naval Research Lab (NRL) was looking for a way to secure government communication. They came up with the concept of “onion routing” that now powers Tor.

Onion routing means sending information through a maze of user computers serving as nodes. The computer of the user requesting the information will be the “exit node.”

One would ask: why would the developers release such a tool to the broad public and compromise its efficiency? Well, it’s because of that — efficiency.

If government agents only used the Tor network, their actions would be more suspicious. Any connection coming from the Dark Web to the surface web would be easily red-flagged.

The more “ordinary” people use the software, the more they can blend in. Tor isn’t that anonymous, after all.

How to Use Tor Safely

Here’s how to use Tor the Dark Web browser to explore the onion network. Opening your standard browser and go to “https://www.torproject.org/download/.” Or type tor download in Google.

Click the download button after choosing your language and version (Windows, Mac, Linux). Tor is also available for iOS and Android.

Install the Tor software on your computer. Then click “connect.” The other option, “configure,” is reserved for users whose country of origin blocks Tor for any reason.

When you open the Tor browser, you’ll see it uses DuckDuckGo as a default search engine.

Before you start surfing the Dark Web, check if your computer is connected to the Tor network. In the address bar, type “check.torproject.org.”

It would provide you with your Dark Web IP address different from your usual one.

dark-web-browser
Tor browser

You can click on the icon, in the top right-hand corner, to request a “new identity.” This option will prevent your Dark Web browsing from being easily connected to your actual IP address. You can also have another layer of anonymity by using a VPN service along with Tor.

10 Do’s and Don’ts for Using Tor and Browsing the Dark Web

  • Tor isn’t an encryption tool for ordinary internet traffic. It’s a traffic router that anonymizes the origin of internet traffic and its trajectory. Don’t use Dark Web browsers like Tor with HTTP Websites, as opposed to HTTPS.
  • Even when surfing the Dark Web, you leave breadcrumbs of your activities all over the place. Specific websites you visited, a PDF document you viewed here, or a torrent file you downloaded there.  For maximum anonymity, when using a browser, you should use a VPN.
  • Don’t access any random .onion URL you find. Ensure URLs are accurate and keep a record of correct URLs. Tor doesn’t support caching. Be careful not to click whatever links you stumble on. Check the trustworthiness of an onion website address.
  • Use the latest Tor version. Make sure to always keep your system up to date. This includes your OS, Tor client, and Tor applications.
  • A Dark Web browser doesn’t secure data stored on your computer. For example, a hacker can still access your personal information through the internet. Then he has access to your Dark Web “identity.” If you like, you can use a specialized cryptographic tool to encrypt your sensitive data.
  • Based on your settings, Jave, JavaScript, Flash,  ActiveX controls, QuickTime, and other applications can access and share your data. You need to disable these applications for a higher level of data protection.
  • Some websites use cookies and local data to track you wherever you go, including the Dark Web. Delete cookies and site’s local data. You can use an automatic cookie-deleting tool.
  • Don’t use Google on the Tor network. Google is known for being all about data, particularly personal data. Try privacy-compliant alternatives like DuckDuckGo or Startpage.
  • Don’t use your real email or anything that gives away your real identity while on the Tor network. It’s like wearing a face mask with your name printed on the forehead.
  • Do use the Dark Web and Tor browser. It’s for anyone who wants to avoid tracking and hacking and protect their anonymity and privacy. For those who want to blow the whistle on corruption, to report abuse, or divulge sensitive information and fear for their lives.

Read More: Monero To Replace Bitcoin As Currency Of Criminals In Dark Web

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Switch to the anonymous web

With most of us currently self-isolating and social-distancing to avoid spreading and catching the coronavirus, we’re likely to be spending more time online than usual. This makes it more important than ever to keep our web activities private and secure. 

One option is to disguise what you’re doing by using a VPN, but another, more intriguing proposition is to connect to an alternative internet that better protects your identity and lets you access sites that are otherwise unavailable or censored. Often misleadingly called the ‘dark web’, the decentralised internet may sound legally dubious, but it’s actually a very effective way to browse and communicate anonymously online. However, you can’t just jump onto hidden networks through your standard browser. 

In this feature, we lift the lid on the invisible web, reveal the tools you need to access it, suggest the best hidden sites to visit and explain how to stay completely safe and private.

Anonymous web FAQs

There are lots of misconceptions about the so-called dark web, which detract from its many benefits. Here we address the most frequently asked questions.

Why would you want to access the dark web?

It’s exciting to explore web content that the vast majority of people never get to see, and you’ll find things there that may not be available on the normal web. You can also have completely anonymous and unmoderated interactions with other people, without worrying that Google will index and display everything in its search results. People can be themselves – for good or bad.

What content can you find there?

The dark web has a reputation for being a ‘hive of scum and villainy’, and there is certainly some truth in that – some of its online marketplaces sell illegal products such as weapons, drugs, fake passports, counterfeit currency and so on. But you can buy perfectly legal things, too, usually paying with Bitcoin or another cryptocurrency, with the benefit that you don’t need to worry about a ‘middle man’, such as Amazon, taking a cut, trying to sell you additional products or tracking your movements and building up an advertising profile.

Reputable companies including the BBC, New York Times, DuckDuckGo, ProtonMail and Facebook offer access to their websites on the dark web through ‘.onion’ addresses (so called because onion services have multiple layers, like onions). These onion versions aren’t really any different to the standard sites, but they provide a channel for people who might not otherwise be able to access them – for example, if the country they are based in blocks or censors their content.

Is the dark web legal?

Yes. Think of accessing the dark web as akin to using BitTorrent. You can fire up the tool you need to access and explore content without breaking the law, but downloading a copyrighted film, TV show or some music is illegal – and that’s also true if you purchase something illicit from one of the dark web’s marketplaces. 

Just visiting the hidden web won’t get you into trouble. It’s also important to point out that you’ll only see bad stuff on the dark web if you go looking for it, so you’re not going to stumble across anything illegal unless you choose to.

The team behind Tor, the most popular way to access the dark web, states categorically that “it is not a tool designed or intended to be used to break the law”, but to “enable anonymous communication and combat network surveillance that threatens personal freedom and privacy”.

Is it safe?

It’s mostly as safe as the standard web. Just take the same precautions as you usually would online, and don’t click any unknown links or download anything unless you’re sure it’s harmless. 

Purchases can be more risky – if you buy from one of the marketplaces, you may end up receiving fake goods – or nothing at all. And if that happens, you won’t be able to complain to customer services, and you’ll lose your money. 

Don’t be tempted to engage in illegal activity, either, because you could end up being arrested. Law-enforcement agencies have officers monitoring hidden sites and forums.

Who uses it?

Mostly people who live in oppressive regimes where the regular internet is restricted and access is monitored, but also anyone who just wants to browse the web away from the prying eyes of their ISP and other snoopers.

Recent research by cybersecurity website PreciseSecurity.com found that more than 30% of North Americans used the dark web regularly in 2019. Globally, users have cited their main reasons for accessing the dark web to be anonymity, privacy from internet companies and the ability to access content not available in their own country.

How do you access it?

The most common way is to use the Tor Browser, but you’ll need to know the exact web address of the sites you want to visit. These usually consist of a jumble of 16 (sometimes 32) characters and the domain ‘.onion’. You can also use Google or another, more private search engine to track down sites – search for ‘BBC .onion Tor’, for example, to find the address of the BBC’s dark-web site (bbcnewsv2vjtpsuy.onion). There are also a few dedicated search engines for finding hidden sites on the dark web, of which Ahmia (msydqstlz2kzerdg.onion) is the best-known – and least dubious! 

Aside from Tor, there are other tools you can use to access the hidden web, which we’ll look at in the next section.

How to access the anonymous web

You can’t just hop on the dark web using Chrome, Firefox or another standard browser – it requires special tools for access. Here, we look at the main options

Tor Browser

Available for Windows, Mac, Linux and Android, Tor Browser is based on the same engine as Mozilla Firefox, but with a privacy-focused twist, using the Tor network to protect your browsing and disguise your location. Your traffic gets transmitted and encrypted across Tor relays around the world, and you can request a new “circuit” for any site at any time. This means you can browse the regular web anonymously, but the software is also adept at handling ‘onion’ addresses with ease, just as if they were HTTPS addresses, which makes it the best – and certainly the simplest – gateway to the dark web.

Unlike a VPN, there’s no single entity behind Tor that you need to trust – the network is run by thousands of volunteers, so there’s no chance of your data being harvested and sold to third parties. 

Tor also does a good job of hiding where you’re browsing from and preventing you from being tracked, although visiting an unsecured website (HTTP instead of HTTPS) could allow an exit node to spy on you. You can use Tor with a VPN for additional anonymity.

Why you should use it: Tor is very easy to use – not much different from browsing the web normally – and, in addition to its built-in Tor functionality, the browser comes with a number of privacy-focused features and add-ons. It uses DuckDuckGo as its default search engine, disables risky plugins, such as Flash, and lets you adjust the security level of the browser – you can choose from Standard, Safer and Safest. The higher levels disable additional elements, such as JavaScript, and stop audio and video autoplaying.

The biggest downside of using the Tor Browser is a drop in speed. Your traffic gets routed through a number of relays, which can slow down your browsing noticeably. It’s not a tool you should use for protecting your torrenting, either. In fact, the developers strongly advise against using it for that purpose, because it slows down the network even more.

I2P

The Invisible Internet Project is an anonymous, peer-to-peer decentralised network layer (written in Java). It is essentially an internet within the internet, and lets you send messages, browse and host websites, chat and perform other web activities in complete privacy. 

I2P employs ‘garlic’ routing (as opposed to Tor’s ‘onion’ routing), which adds an extra level of privacy by encrypting multiple messages together, to make them harder to snoop on. 

Incoming and outgoing messages in I2P use separate tunnels, which improves  privacy. It’s also designed to anonymise traffic within the network, protecting communication and preventing your ISP from seeing what you’re up to.

I2P is faster and more secure for accessing hidden services than Tor, and you can use it to access normal websites anonymously. However, it’s more complicated to set up and use than other anonymous services and while there is a browser configuration page you can follow, the website doesn’t do a great job of explaining how to get started. Additionally, I2P relies on Java, which could be seen as a security risk.

ZeroNet

ZeroNet is a peer-to-peer decentralised service that uses the BitTorrent network and Bitcoin cryptography to deliver “open, free and uncensorable” websites. Where Tor uses ‘.onion’ addresses, ZeroNet has ‘.bit’ domains. You can create your own websites and, just as with torrent files, the content remains online as long as there is at least one peer connected. 

You need to install ZeroNet’s software to access it (available for Windows, macOS and Linux), and can then browse the available sites and services from the interface in your browser.

Because it uses the BitTorrent network, which isn’t very anonymous at all, ZeroNet offers less “out of the box” privacy than some other options. However, you can hide your IP address by using it in conjunction with the Tor Browser. There are instructions for how to do this in this FAQ.

There are a number of benefits to ZeroNet, primarily that it is very fast and it lets you access hidden sites even if you have no internet connection. Sites are updated in real time, so you don’t need to refresh your browser to get the latest content, and there are some excellent sites to browse. As mentioned above, however, ZeroNet isn’t anonymous by default, and it can be overwhelming when you first start using it because the list of available sites constantly refreshes (sort it by English to make it more manageable). Because ZeroNet relies on BitTorrent, you work as a peer to serve the sites you visit, which uses some of your bandwidth. You continue serving them, too, until you pause or remove them.

Freenet

Freenet has been around for 20 years, so it predates other, similar services. It’s a peer-to-peer decentralised platform that lets you share files anonymously, chat on unmoderated forums and browse and publish so-called “free sites” that can only be accessed through Freenet. 

If you’re wondering how anonymous you will be, the answer is “very”. As the site explains: “communications by Freenet nodes are encrypted and are routed through other nodes to make it extremely difficult to determine who is requesting the information and what its content is”. There’s also a ‘darknet’ mode, which is where you only connect to your friends, making your activities even harder to detect.

Freenet’s purpose has always been to provide a private, anonymous service, and that remains the case today. You can chat on forums without fear of censorship, and publish and share files anonymously.

On the down side, it’s a peer-to-peer service. When you use Freenet, you contribute to the network by providing both bandwidth and a chunk of space on your hard drive. Popular content from Freenet is kept in this “data store” (in an encrypted format) and updated regularly. You can choose how much space to devote to it during setup. 

Would a VPN suit you better?

A VPN (virtual private network) is similar to Tor in that your traffic gets routed through its own servers, hiding sites you visit from your ISP and disguising your location. The main benefit of using a free VPN over Tor is simplicity – you can visit sites as you would normally, in your usual browser; and access geo-blocked content by choosing where to appear to be browsing from, whereas Tor assigns your location randomly.

On the downside, free VPNs come with data limitations – even the more generous, such as Windscribe, only give you 10GB of data a month – or there’s an ongoing cost of at least £3 a month if you use a paid-for service providing unlimited data and choice of servers. There are also privacy concerns, with reports of free services selling user data to third parties.

Both Tor and VPNs have their pros and cons, but combining the two gives you the strongest possible anonymity. However, you will definitely experience a noticeable hit to your browsing speeds if you do so

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