Man putting his hood on, laptop with Dark Web symbol illustration, VPN shield icon on a light background
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Overview: How to Get on the Dark Web Safely

How do you access the dark web safely? We’ll guide you through the necessary steps so you avoid risks like malware, scams, and botnets.

Despite the dark web’s association with illegal activities, it’s also home to a number of useful and informative websites. So if you’re curious about how to access the dark web yourself, here’s a quick guide on how to go on the dark web safely:

  1. Subscribe to a VPN. Using a VPN is vital when browsing the dark web as it encrypts your internet activity and protects you from malicious actors online. We highly recommend NordVPN as it offers a number of dark web-specific features, such as Onion over VPN.
  2. Download, install, and turn the VPN on. 
  3. Download the Tor browser. Getting on the dark web requires the use of this specialized browser.
  4. Open the Tor browser.
  5. Change its security settings to “Safest.”
  6. Open the Hidden Wiki. Here’s a .onion URL to access it: http://zqktlwiuavvvqqt4ybvgvi7tyo4hjl5xgfuvpdf6otjiycgwqbym2qad.onion/wiki/Main_Page

However, even with a VPN connection, you’re never 100% safe. You may accidentally reveal personal information or click on the wrong link and infect your computer with malware. The rest of this guide will focus on how to mitigate these risks.

The dark web is a section of the internet that can’t be accessed using standard browsers. Instead, it requires a special browser called Tor. This is because web pages on the dark web aren’t indexed by search engines like Google. Wondering how to get on the dark web despite these roadblocks?

In this article, we’ll talk about how to get on the dark web safely. Using a virtual private network (VPN) when accessing the dark web is one of the most effective steps you can take to stay secure. Exploring the dark web without a VPN puts you at greater risk of malware infection, identity theft, DDoS attacks, and more dangers.

NordVPN is the best VPN to access the dark web thanks to its dedicated dark web features that keep you anonymous and safe from prying eyes. Coupled with top-notch speeds and a 30-day money-back guarantee, this is the best VPN for going on the dark web.

What is the Dark Web?

Submarine with fishes and bubbles around

The “dark web” refers to internet webpages that are hidden from search engines and inaccessible to most browsers like Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge.

While it was first created to facilitate military communication, the dark web has since been largely democratized and is now used by anyone who wants to remain anonymous.

In fact, it has proven useful for journalists and whistleblowers, as it is a great place to exchange data without endangering the safety of informants. It’s also a safe haven for free speech advocates and privacy-minded individuals.

Unfortunately, the dark web is also home to many illegal activities. Dark web marketplaces sell all kinds of malicious items, ranging from firearms to narcotics and stolen credit cards. The dark web has also been used for human trafficking, hiring professional gunmen, and even purchasing hacked accounts or software that can be used to break into someone’s bank account.

How to Get on the Dark Web

Use Tor browser icon

We can show you how to get on the dark web, but it’s important you stay safe all throughout. The dark web is more dangerous than the surface web, or the clear web, whatever you prefer to call it.

So after you read our guide, make sure you stick around for an in-depth dive into the risks of the dark web, and safety steps that you can take.

Here are the steps you must take:

  1. Download and install the anonymous Tor dark web browser from their official website. Here’s how to install the Tor browser.
  2. Subscribe to a VPN to hide your identity while browsing the dark web. We recommend NordVPN, as it’s fast, reliable, and it keeps no logs of your activity.
  3. Download, install, and turn on your VPN connection first.
  4. Launch the dark web browser, Tor.
  5. Adjust the browser’s security level to “Safest” as shown below.

    Screenshot of Tor browser, security settings
  6. That’s it! You should now be safe to access the dark web.

How to access dark web sites

Getting on the dark web is one thing; finding dark web sites is another challenge altogether. Below, you can find our recommended starting points for exploring the dark web:

  • The Hidden Wiki: This site is a dark web version of Wikipedia, linking to thousands of dark web pages. There are many copycat versions of the site, so make sure you only access it from this link: http://zqktlwiuavvvqqt4ybvgvi7tyo4hjl5xgfuvpdf6otjiycgwqbym2qad.onion/wiki/Main_Page
  • Daniel: This page links to over 7,000 dark web sites, categorized so they’re easier to browse. You can visit the site here: http://danielas3rtn54uwmofdo3x2bsdifr47huasnmbgqzfrec5ubupvtpid.onion/
  • Hidden Answers: Hidden Answers is a website that lets you ask any questions without fear of censorship. Visit the site through this link: http://pbqttnffb5sh6ckgnz4f5by55w25gd6tuw5f5qcctmnyk62eyhgx6rad.onion/

Of course, safety is of the utmost importance when accessing the dark web. As such, it’s essential to know the risks of dark web access, especially without relevant safety measures.

Safety is of the utmost importance on the dark web. Here are some risks of accessing the dark web without taking proper safety measures.

The Risks of Accessing the Dark Web

Some of the risks of accessing the Dark Web

The dark web is a complex place where a lot can go wrong when you’re not taking protective measures. It is full of scammers, malware, and phishing websites — and it’s vital that you hide your identity.

1. Scams and phishing attempts

The dark web is full of phishing sites and scams. Cybercriminals might try to steal your data, send you to fake websites, or hack your accounts. Furthermore, fraud is widespread on the dark web, even more than on the regular internet.

There’s also no buyer’s protection when you pay for something anonymously with cryptocurrency. As such, many people end up falling for scams or phishing attempts on the dark web, especially if they’re partaking in some illegal or illicit activity.

2. Botnets

Botnets are networks of computers infected with malware that let one person control them. They’re often used to spread viruses, facilitate DDoS attacks, or phish for private information through mass targeting.

The dark web is where most botnet hackers will sell data mined using botnets. In fact, hackers often sell access to entire botnet swarms on the dark net. Of course, botnets aren’t limited to the dark web, and even devices that have never accessed the dark web can be vulnerable to them.

3. Copyright-infringing and disturbing content

Unfortunately, the dark web is home to a lot of harmful and gruesome content. From the infamous “red rooms” to the unsettling reality of illegal porn, the dark web hosts a lot of horrifying content. And a staggering majority of .onion traffic goes to these sites.

The dark web also hosts copyright-infringing content, such as pirated movies, songs, and books. Accessing such content using the dark web can potentially land you in trouble with the law.

4. Problems with the law

The dark web is home to a number of illegal activities, including the sale of counterfeit items and human trafficking. Partaking in such activities will land you in trouble, regardless of the anonymity the dark web provides, even if you take precautions like using a VPN to hide your IP address or paying with cryptocurrency.

Government agencies can track you down by other methods. Regardless of the consequences, we firmly advise you never to engage in illegal or dangerous activities.

Is the Dark Web Illegal?

Dark web icon with gavel

Having read the previous section, you may wonder if the dark web itself is illegal. Connecting to the dark web is not illegal in itself. It’s just a section of the internet you can’t access using Chrome or any other browser. Using the Tor browser for dark web access is also legal in most countries.

Only a few countries, like Russia, China, or Turkmenistan, have blocked the Tor network. These countries also tend to have more far-reaching internet restrictions. Please note that going on the dark web or using the Tor Network in these countries could land you in trouble.

As stated previously, engaging in illegal activity on the dark web will land you in legal trouble and is something we strongly discourage you from doing.

9 Tips to Access the Dark Web Safely

By now, you know how to get on the dark web. But, it’s important to stay safe. Here are 9 tips to access the dark web safely.

Infographic showing 9 tips to access the Dark Web safely

1. Use a VPN to encrypt your internet traffic

Even if you use the Tor browser, your traffic can still be traced back to you by anyone with sufficient time, resources, and know-how, especially in case of an IP leak.

So to improve your safety, you should absolutely get a VPN to use alongside Tor. VPNs encrypt your web traffic and hide your IP address and add a layer of protection.

Unfortunately, not every VPN provider is equally reliable. Free versions often suffer from slow service, data limits, and security leaks. To stay safe on the dark web, get a premium VPN service like NordVPN.

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2. Download Tor from its official website

Mac, Linux, or Android users should be careful when downloading the Tor browser, because it’s a prime target for hackers. Fake versions of the Tor browser have been created to either breach users before they even access the dark web or monitor the behavior of a user while on the dark web.

So always download the Tor browser from its official website: Make sure you download the latest version, and always keep it up to date.

3. Secure your computer before accessing the dark web

Before you open the Tor browser, you should:

  • Close all non-essential apps on your machine, like Netflix, Spotify, browsers, or any other app that’s connected to the web.
  • Cover your webcam with a piece of paper. This might seem unnecessary, but remember that webcams are surprisingly easy to hack.
  • Install a reliable and fully updated antivirus program. We recommend Norton.
  • Turn off your location on your device. Your location can be found through your IP address as well as your device itself.
    • In Windows 10 and 11, you can turn off your location from Settings > Privacy > Location > Turn off location + erase location history
    • For macOS: System Preferences > Security & Privacy panel > Privacy > uncheck “Enable location Services”

4. Change Tor’s security settings

You can change Tor’s level of security to ‘Safer’ or ‘Safest’. Naturally, the highest setting is the safest. Unfortunately, this setting significantly slows down your internet connection and causes some websites to load wrong.

The highest security setting will disable most video and audio formats, some fonts, and even icons. JavaScript is disabled, and some images may not display properly. If you’re willing to sacrifice that for your safety, here’s what you need to do:

  1. Open the Tor browser.
  2. Click on the three horizontal lines in the top-right corner.

    Screenshot of Tor browser
  3. Click on “Privacy and Security”
  4. Scroll down to the “Security” heading.

    Screenshot of Tor browser, security settings
  5. Select “Safer” or “Safest.”

The “Safer” option only disables JavaScript on websites that aren’t HTTPS protected. “Safest” disables JavaScript on all websites.

You can also manually turn off scripts in Tor, without changing Tor’s general security level. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Navigate to this address on your Tor browser: “about:config”.
  2. Click on the button that reads “I accept the risk”.
  3. Now type the following into the search bar: “xpinstall.signatures.required”.
  4. Press Enter.
  5. Check whether “value” now reads “falls” and “status” reads “modified”. If so, you have successfully disabled JavaScript.

It is important to change these settings because websites often run scripts without notifying you. But you won’t need to do this if you already enabled the safety settings on Tor, as the scripts are already turned off.

Tor also has other security settings that you might want to consider, like:

  • The option to clear all of your cookies.
  • The option to clear your browsing history.
  • A setting that warns you about potentially deceptive content,

    Screenshot of Tor browser, Deceptive content settings

If you visit the dark web, we highly recommend you enable this setting and clear your cookies and history regularly.

5. Be wary of how you share your data on the dark web

Hackers can steal your data without a hoodie, dark rooms, and green lines of code splashed on the computer screen. It’s enough to share your details by mistake, click on the wrong link, or sign-up with your regular name.

So here are a few tips to limit data sharing on the dark web:

  • Don’t share your credentials with anyone, no matter what they say.
  • Don’t click on links unless you know exactly where they’ll take you. 
  • Only access sites from trustworthy indexes, like The Hidden Wiki.
  • Don’t change Tor’s screen size. If you do, there’s a chance you’ll have a unique viewport size, making you easy to identify.
  • Don’t type straight into the Tor browser. Believe it or not, typing patterns can be used to identify you. So write your queries out in a Notes app, then copy and paste them into Tor.
  • Analyze your browser’s identity with Cover Your Tracks.

6. Use safety and privacy-enhancing apps

All the care in the world will never replace a strong security suite. So make sure you use the best safety and privacy apps, including:

  • A private search engine, like DuckDuckGo. While most search engines won’t work on the dark web, DuckDuckGo does. Unlike most other search engines, DuckDuckGo also shows websites that end in “.onion”. The onion address for DuckDuckGo is: https://3g2upl4pq6kufc4m.onion/
  • A password manager to secure all of your accounts, on and off the dark web.
  • Anonymous file-sharing apps like OnionShare.
  • A secure messaging app like Signal or TorChat.
  • An anonymous email address host like ProtonMail.

7. Use cryptocurrency to pay for stuff

There are tons of dark web commerce sites where you can buy all kinds of legal or illegal goods. The most infamous example was “The Silk Road”, but it was taken down by US law enforcement agencies. Still, dozens pop up every year.

We advise you don’t purchase anything that’s illegal in your country. But if you want to buy legal items, pay with cryptocurrency when visiting dark web sites. It’s the only way to stay anonymous.

Bitcoin is the most well-known cryptocurrency, but it’s not the safest. Bitcoin has a number of privacy issues (address reuse, connected nodes, tracking cookies, and blockchain analytics) that make it possible to link someone’s personal data to a Bitcoin transaction.

Even though it’s quite hard to figure out someone’s identity through Bitcoin, you should use a privacy-focused coin like Monero.

8. Close everything when you are done

When you’re done accessing the dark web, make sure you close:

  • All of your browser windows and any other related content
  • The Tor dark web browser
  • Tails or any other operating system used to access the dark web

If you want to be completely safe, you should also clear browsing cookies and history, then do a complete reboot of your system. This ensures you won’t be tracked by any scripts or cookies you might’ve enabled in your browsing. It may take a while, but it’s an important step.

9. (Optional) Use a mobile live OS

The more anonymous you are on the dark web, the better. That’s why you might want to use a mobile live OS for this. Operating systems like Windows 10 are not very well suited for privacy, because:

  • Your data is continually synced: browser history, open websites, app settings, and Wi-Fi hotspots are all tracked.
  • Your device is automatically linked to a unique advertising ID for third parties.
  • Cortana collects data such as your keystrokes, search results, microphone audio messages, calendar information, music playlists, and even your online purchases.
  • Microsoft can collect all sorts of personal data: your identity, your passwords, habits and interests, user data, contacts, and locations.

If a hacker manages to get into your system via the dark web, all of this information is in danger. Mobile operating systems like Tails, Whonix, ZeusGuard, and Qubes OS are all much safer and private.

But they’re very difficult to install. So we do not recommend you do this if you just want to visit the dark web once or twice. If you’re serious about this though, then definitely look into mobile live OS.

Dark Web vs. Deep Web: Key Differences

Infographic illustrating difference between Dark Web and Deep Web

The deep web refers to all the web content that is not indexed by search engines. Most of the content on the internet is, in fact, part of the deep web. It includes things like your email inbox, company databases, member-only areas, and anything you won’t find on Google.

The dark web is a very small part of the deep web. More specifically, it’s a series of networks that can only be accessed with specialized software. This software encrypts your data before you access anything, and routes it through multiple random points.

This makes it anonymous (to some degree), and the perfect spot for anyone on the internet that wants privacy. Like the deep web, it’s not accessible by normal search engines, so you’ll need to do some digging for the dark web websites you want to visit.

Here’s an overview of all the “webs” people refer to:

Infographic explaining different types of web

Both the deep and dark web are hidden from popular search engines. Dark web content can be accessed with the help of specific web pages, like the Hidden Wiki. But deep web content is only accessible with the right credentials.

Tor Over VPN vs. VPN Over Tor: What You Need to Know

Image showing Tor over VPN and VPN over Tor

The specialized tool people generally use to access the dark web is the Tor browser. It’s a special app that can encrypt and decrypt traffic to access dark web websites. And it’s a way of hiding your identity online. But it’s not identical to using a VPN – the two apps have different security protocols and encryption methods.

And that’s why there are two ways to use them together:

  • Tor over VPN – when you first connect to a VPN, then open the Tor network.
  • VPN over Tor – when you open Tor, and then connect to a VPN.

But it’s simple to choose. If you want to access the dark web, you need to do Tor over VPN. It won’t be as secure, but it will give you access to onion sites. If you just want the best anonymity, but you’re visiting the surface or deep web, then VPN over Tor is the way to go.

What Will You Find on the Dark Web?

Freedom of the Press icon

Like the regular internet, the dark web is home to all types of sites. If you don’t venture far, you’ll find normal things like forums, chat rooms, or torrent websites. To a lot of people, the dark web is just like the surface web – a place where they go to watch funny videos, chat with like-minded people and read up on the news.

Thanks to its high-level encryption though, the dark web also features a lot of sites you won’t find on the surface web. Let’s first talk about the good stuff.

The dark web is a place where a lot of journalists go to exchange information anonymously. Sites like ProPublica and Secure Drop are fundamental to investigative journalism.

Unfortunately, the dark web’s criminal underbelly is very real. You can find black markets where people advertise drugs, guns, stolen IDs, and more. There is also an abundance of disturbing content like snuff films or illegal pornography. So you should always tread with care on the dark web.

Some of the illicit stuff you can find on the dark web includes:

  • HIPAA sensitive information, such as medical records
  • Stolen credit card numbers
  • Stolen financial account details
  • Sensitive legal documentation
  • Malware, botnets, Trojans, keyloggers, and other harmful exploits
  • Services like corporate espionage or DDoS targeting

Conclusion: How to Access the Dark Web Safely

VPN shield icon with thumbs up around it, representing advantages of a VPN

Our guide on how to get into the dark web safely provides users with effective and simple steps to explore the dark net without compromising their security.

Remember: the two most important steps before exploring the dark web are using a VPN and an antivirus scanner. We use NordVPN and Norton 360 when browsing the dark web to gather information for these articles.

NordVPN is particularly important as it encrypts your information and ensures malicious elements on the dark web can’t cause to harm you. You can try out NordVPN for free by taking advantage of its 30-day money-back guarantee.

For more guides and tips about the dark web, read our other pieces as well:

How to Get on the Dark Web Safely: Frequently Asked Questions

Do you need a quick answer to a question? Here are some frequently asked questions and answers about the dark web and how to access it.

How do I go on the dark web?

To visit sites on the dark web most people use the Tor browser. This is a browser that allows you to visit special dark web URLs. However, if you want to stay safe on the dark web you also need a VPN.

Is Tor free?

To visit sites on the dark web, most people use the Tor browser. The Tor browser is free and legal to use in most parts of the world. Some countries, like China, Russia, and Belarus have banned it.

What is a dark web site?

A dark web website is a website that has a .onion extension in its URL. These are only accessible through the Tor-browser. In the media, they often talk about dark web websites as places where illegal things take place, but this is not always the case.

How do I access a dark web website?

Most dark web websites have an .onion extension in the URL. These URLs are often very strange combinations of letters and numbers. For this reason many people use the Hidden Wiki or the DuckDuckGo search engine to browse the dark web.

What is the Hidden Wiki?

The Hidden Wiki is a page on the dark web that kind of looks like a Wikipedia page. Here you can find several links to dark web websites.

What is DuckDuckGo?

DuckDuckGo is a search engine just like Google and Safari. However, DuckDuckGo doesn’t keep track of your usage and also shows .onion websites in its results. Would you like to know more about this search engine and how it helps to keep you anonymous while browsing? Learn how to get on to the dark web safely.

Leave a comment

  1. Emily

    How do I get URL to websites in dark web

    • David Janssen

      A good source to start is the Hidden Wiki. We have an article with some Dark Web URLs and a link to the Hidden Wiki here: sites to visit on the Dark Web.

  2. Chris

    Great info here. I have always wanted to visit TDW, just out of curiosity mostly. However, I am never able to fully commit because as you said, you can never be guaranteed 100% anonymity or safety. I’m not worried about being anonymous so much as I do not plan to visit any sites that promote illegal activity, but I understand it is imperative to remain anonymous anyway to avoid identity theft and scammers/hackers. Overall this info is the best I’ve see on the subject!

  3. Aishwarya . R

    Can i know the reason why ‘it is advisable not to dive deeply in some parts of the dark web’?

    • David Janssen

      Because some sites deal with topics that are illegal and could get you into legal trouble (drug marketplaces, gun marketplaces etc.)

  4. EM

    Is there anyone who tutors people locally for a fee in regards to this? If so, how would one find these people? Any ideas, any references?

    • David Janssen

      We wouldn’t know about any local tutors, since we don’t (have to) know where you currently are. There are probably some online courses to be found, although when it comes to the dark web, it’s especially important to always make sure you’re getting the right, reliable information. We’d advise you to read guides like the one in this article and go from there. If you want to make sure of the quality, cross-referencing different articles is always helpful. Besides that, we’d also advise you not to dive too deeply in some (especially dark) parts of the dark web. Using the BBC Mirror or other informative or otherwise interesting pages is fine, of course.

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