Although it is estimated that Google indexes over 35 trillion web pages, this is only a small percentage of the internet. Just like other search engines, Google only shows you results from the “surface web” and all the content that remains hidden is known as deep web or invisible web. In the majority of cases, the content is not displayed because it wouldn’t be relevant for most users. A large amount of the data is kept in databases that Google or other alternative search engines won’t go through. Much of it is out of date and in many cases, it refers to content that is private.
The difference between Deep Web and Darknet
Many people believe that the deep web and the Darknet (or Darkweb as it is also called) are the same. However, this is not true. The deep web is the information on the internet that search engines don’t index. While it doesn’t appear in the results, it can be accessed without using special technology. All you need to know is where to find the content. There are directories, advanced search engines and other sources that will allow you to locate the content that you want. DeeperWeb, Surfwax and IceRocket are some of the options that can help you to find deep web content. If you know what you are looking for, you can rely on specialized search engines to find it. Narrowing down the search as much as possible will make things easier when it comes to finding the information.
The darknet on the other hand, is a small section of the deep web that is hidden intentionally. In order to access websites and content on the dark web, you will need special tools. When you think about the dark web, it is likely that the first websites that come to mind are the marketplaces where illegal drugs, firearms and stolen goods are offered. Even more sinister material can be found on there and the content can be accessed anonymously. The main appeal of the dark web is precisely that it allows users to keep their identity hidden. Although it is used by some to carry out criminal activities, Activists, journalists and users who live under authoritarian regimes, also rely on the dark web and Tor to access and share information.
The darknet is not a single location and like the surface web, it is distributed across servers all over the world. The most popular way to get access to darknet content is using The Onion Router, commonly known as Tor. The URL of darknet websites is usually .onion, which indicates that they can only be accessed with Tor. When you use Tor, your internet connection is routed through a network of volunteer relays. The traffic is encrypted and the traffic is passed through relays located across the world, which helps users to keep their anonymity.
In order to access the Tor network, you can download and install the Tor Browser, which is based on Firefox. With the Tor browser, you will be able to surf the web in the same way as you would with a traditional browser. The main difference is that the traffic was routed through the Tor Network. It is important to download the Tor browser only from the official website to avoid malware and other threats. The Tor Browser works on Windows, Mac and Linux and once you install it, you will be able to get access to .onion websites.
Navigating the dark web
Remember that when accessing darknet websites, it is important that you are cautious. Keep in mind that although your ISP, government agencies and other parties can’t see what you are doing when you are on the Tor Network, they will know that you are on the Tor Network. This will drive attention to you and in many cases, it is enough to prompt the authorities to monitor you. This is why it is crucial that you use a VPN to add an extra layer of protection for your connection.
VPN over Tor or Tor over VPN?
With a VPN, your internet traffic is encrypted and routed through a secure server in the location of your choice. When you use a VPN along with Tor, you can enjoy additional security and keep your identity protected. It is a powerful combination because Tor focuses on your anonymity, while a VPN gives you privacy. It is important to keep in mind that there are two ways to combine these technologies. The first one is Tor over VPN, which means that you connect to the VPN and then launch Tor Browser. The entire internet traffic goes through the VPN server and then it goes through the Tor Network, before reaching its final destination. When you do this, you can visit .onion websites and your ISP can only see the encrypted VPN traffic. It won’t find out that you are accessing Tor.
It should be noted that when you use Tor over VPN, the VPN provider can see that you are using Tor and while it can’t see what you do, it may keep some connection logs. It is advisable to go for a VPN provider that doesn’t keep any logs of your traffic or your connection. A zero logs VPN is the best option to keep your privacy and anonymity protected. A highly recommended solution is NordVPN, a Panama-based provider that has servers that route your traffic through the Tor network automatically. It is not even necessary to use Tor Browser.
The downside of Tor over VPN is that it doesn’t protect you from malicious Tor exit nodes. Since these nodes are run by volunteers, some of them may not be reliable. The exit node is the one before the traffic reaches its destination and it decrypts the traffic, meaning that it could steal your personal data or infect you with malware. In addition, Tor exit nodes can be blocked by websites that don’t consider them as trusted and there is no way to avoid this.
The alternative to Tor over VPN is VPN over Tor, but this solution is not recommended by the Tor Project. When you use VPN over Tor, the order in which you connect is switched. Your online traffic goes through the Tor Network first, before going through the VPN. Your VPN provider won’t see your real IP address and the protection of the VPN keeps you safe from malicious exit nodes. AirVPN is one of the providers that support this option.
The downside of VPN over Tor is that your ISP will be able to see that you are using Tor, which can get you undesired attention. When using Tor over VPN is also important to take measures to enhance your anonymity. A logless provider and opting for payment options like Bitcoin is advisable. Luckily, AirVPN doesn’t keep logs and it accepts Bitcoin as method of payment. The benefit of using Tor over VPN is that it works well when it comes to accessing .onion websites, while VPN over Tor protects you better from malicious exit nodes.
The main issue with both methods is that they slow down your connection significantly because your traffic goes through numerous nodes. VPN and Tor have an impact of the speed of your connection due to the encryption used so if you use the two of them, you can expect even slower speeds. This is why it is advisable to only use these methods when you need the highest level of security, anonymity and privacy.
If you are looking for an alternative to Tor, you can consider I2P or Freenet. The downside with I2P is that it is not possible to access the public internet with it. It is only suitable to access hidden services in the I2P network. I2P is not the right option when it comes to accessing .onion sites since it is a different network that uses its own type of hidden websites known as eepsites. The advantage of I2P is that it is considerably faster than Tor and it offers more reliability. However, it is more difficult to set up than Tor and it requires more steps.
Freenet is another solution and like I2P, it is a different network. It only works to access content on the Freenet. A server is not required to hos content and once the data is uploaded, it is available for an indefinite period of time. The configuration is very simple and you only need to download, install and run Freenet to start using it, with the help of the default browser. Freenet uses a web-based interface but you need to use a separate browser to keep your anonymity protected.