A Beginner’s Guide to the Dark Web and Online Anonymity | Hacker Noon

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If you have always wondered what’s the deal with the dark web and how to access it, or you just want to learn how to browse the web without spreading your information around, you’re at the right place.

Let’s start with the Dark Web. So I will use the most popular analogy to explain this- an iceberg.

The world wide web that you and I use for our daily net surfing, videos and social networking is a part of the clear/surface web. This is just the “tip of the iceberg”. After this, comes the deep web, which is a benign part of the web, but contains certain URLs and features that can’t be accessed easily by search engines.

They, however, can be accessed if searched directly through the URL. Then we have the dark web, like the deepest portion of the iceberg, which contains hidden information that isn’t supposed to be accessed by your average web crawler (duh). It is notorious for having all sorts of illegal activities, websites and businesses.

So why does it exist and why would anyone want to access it anyway, unless they have a proclivity to be involved with illicit ventures? Well, the foremost reason is that it offers a certain level of anonymity and privacy. It is much harder to trace someone online on the dark web. On the other hand, it is a cakewalk to track someone on the surface web, as it amasses more data about you than you can imagine.

So now that we know what it is and why it exists, let us see how to actually get in.

1. Install a VPN

A Virtual Private Network or VPN ensures a high level of anonymity by hiding your IP address. This is not an absolute necessity when accessing the dark web but highly recommended. Also, if TOR is blocked in your country, you will need to use a VPN.

2. The TOR Browser

The Onion Router or TOR is an anonymity network that directs traffic through an overlay network instead of directly connecting your ISP to the address of the website you want to visit. The TOR Browser is free and open source to download from here.

Now you can start the TOR browser and surf the net like you normally do, but that will still be on the surface web. To actually access the dark side, note that the dark web URLs are very different from the clear web URLs. They are usually gibberish with an extension of .onion at the end. Take for instance, the URL for duckduckgo.com (the primary search engine for TOR) is 3g2upl4pq6kufc4m.onion (you won’t be able to open this URL unless you’re using TOR).

Let me jot down some key points for you-

  • Onion URLs may keep changing from time to time. The best way to find an address is to simply search for it on duckduckgo.
  • Even in the TOR browser, you can level up your anonymity by changing the settings. Simply click on the shield icon next to the search bar.
  • You may have issues accessing TOR services. To check whether you’re able to do so, go to check.torproject.org and you will see something like this-
  • The IP address shown in this picture is not my real IP, but the one generated by TOR to protect my identity when browsing the web.
  • If you don’t see the page shown above, TOR might be censored in your area. VPN will help in this case. Another option is to bypass this censorship using bridges. They can be found here along with the instructions to use them.

So now that you’re armed with the knowledge of how to access the dark side and stay anonymous on the web, let me add some strength to your armor by giving you some safety tips:

  1. Do not use the TOR Browser in full-screen mode. Always change the size of the screen manually.
  2. Whether you’re accessing the dark web or not, (please) cover the camera on your computer.
  3. The highest security setting on TOR blocks JavaScript. In plain English, this might reduce some functionality and may change the appearance of some sites. However, keep the highest settings unless needed to reduce.
  4. The subreddit on dark web and privacy have resources to get the onion URLs of some useful sites.
  5. NEVER EVER (I CAN’T STRESS ENOUGH) share any personal information about yourself on the dark web. To communicate with anyone, use another identity and not your own (like the onion version of Elf Qrin’s fake ID generator).
  6. NEVER EVER (AGAIN STRESSING A LOT) buy anything from the dark web with your credit card, bank details or PayPal. Stay away from all transactions. Cryptocurrency like Bitcoin or Monero is used for purchases on the dark web but it is best to not buy anything.
  7. Finally, please be responsible and do not access things you shouldn’t access.

So, that’s it?

Not quite. I mean for starters, you will still be anonymous and can access whatever you want with just the stuff mentioned above. But, in order to take your privacy and anonymity to a higher level, use the TAILS operating system to access the dark web.

3. TAILS

The Amnesic Incognito Live System or TAILS is a Debian based Linux operating system specially made for preserving privacy and focusses on security. All the connections on TAILS are forced through TOR, so it is very difficult to track you if you’re using TOR on TAILS.

The best part about TAILS is that it is a portable OS, completely free and open-source. You can carry it around in a USB stick and use it on any computer, so don’t worry, you don’t need to buy a new computer or erase your current OS. You can boot it through the USB in which it is flashed. Setting up TAILS is not complicated, and all you need is a USB stick with a minimum of 8GB capacity (although I recommend more than that for seamless performance) and an internet connection to download it. If your computer has a RAM of higher than 4GB, you’re pretty much set. You can read more about TAILS here.

If you’re wondering why you need TAILS, and what is wrong with your current OS, let me elaborate. All operating systems collect information about their users so that companies can use it to improve their products. Moreover, there are high chances of malware already being present on your computer that might track your activity and render the purpose of having the TOR browser useless. This is especially a concern for Windows users. TAILS erases everything and works like a newly installed OS every time it is booted. This makes it much harder to access your private information if you’re using TAILS. Also, it comes with many preinstalled features that enable us to instant message and share files anonymously without leaving digital footprints.

Pretty cool stuff, if you ask me.

Disclaimer- This article is written for educational purposes and sharing information. I do not support or champion any unlawful activities. Please use the information provided wisely.

Previously published behind paywall at https://medium.com/@arushiagarwal14/dark-web-and-online-anonymity-for-novices-ecc6af88f644?source=friends_link&sk=e6f4a9323d5bbe56c4775c1756914b58

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