Accessing the Darknet in Under 2 Minutes – Beginner’s Guide

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TL;DR version

  1. download TOR
  2. Use a VPN for added anonymity (optional)
  3. Surf the Darknet via search engines (DuckDuckGO – http://3g2upl4pq6kufc4m.onion/) or directories

The long and (very) interesting version

I’m assuming you’ve heard the terms Darknet, Dark web or Deep web before. If you haven’t this is going to blow your mind. If you have then you’re probably wondering how one can access these hidden Internet corners.

Before you read any further:

This is probably going to be one of the longest post I’ve written on 99Bitcoins but also the most interesting one of them all. If you just want to go ahead and learn how to access the Darknet you can skip to the bottom of the post and watch the video tutorial. But here’s the deal:

You can’t do much around the darknet without understanding it’s underlying basics, so you may want to stick around for the whole post. I promise you won’t be disappointed…

The Darknet VS. The Deep web

Most people get confused between the Deep Web and the Darknet. The Deep Web refers to all parts of the Internet which search engine can’t find. This can be anything from secure academic archives, library databases, members only websites all the way up to the Darknet which I’ll talk about shortly.

But get this:

The deep web is presumably 100 times larger than what is known as the “surface web” which is what you and I surf through search engines like Google, Yahoo! and Bing. Most of the deep web isn’t evil in any way, it’s just content blocked from search engines for security reasons.

There are some deep web search engines that let you explore some of it, you can find a complete list of them here. But here’s the interesting part of the deep web:

The Darknet. A part of the Internet that isn’t accessible through search engines at all, and also much more. It’s an anonymous Internet. On the Darknet no one knows your identity and no one knows who is behind any website. This is where people go to look for stuff when they don’t want to be found. Sounds creepy ? It is….

But even the Darknet isn’t all evil. A large part of it are just normal forums, blogs, essays etc. Because of the protection offered by the Darknet and its hidden services, activists in oppressive regimes are free to exchange ideas and organize themselves.

And then there’s the bad stuff: contract killers, child porn, drugs and other nasty stuff which share the same benefits of anonymity as the good sites.

The TOR Network

There are different “privacy networks” all composed of individual computers allowing them to create a decentrilized web. Each one of these privacy networks (also known as anonymity networks) is part of the Darknet. In this post we will focus only on the most popular one – the TOR network.

These websites around the TOR network are known as TOR services or hidden services, and since TOR and the Deep web aren’t indexed by search engines you can only find them through directories.

How to stay anonymous when surfing the Darknet

In order to access the Tor network you have to remain anonymous, this is not a request, it’s a prerequisite. This is done through a special web browser called, surprisingly enough, TOR. TOR stands for “The Onion Router”, it got its name from the fact that in order to reveal the core user of the browser you’ll have to peel a lot of layers off just like an onion.

You can use TOR to surf the pedestrian web (the everyday Internet you and I know and love) anonymously, or you can use it to access the Darknet.

Here’s the deal:

When you access the pedestrian Internet , you are directly communicating with websites. But when you’re accessing a website through TOR it’s like asking another user to ask another user to ask another user to fetch the webpage information for you. This is of course a over simplified explanation but the general idea is that communications bounce around a lot of different computers and it makes it very difficult to track who is actually viewing a website, sending an email or conducting any other action.

It also makes the Internet connection extremely slow, but for now here’s what you need to know about TOR:

It’s a free to download browser, you can get it here. The browser is built on top of the Firefox browser’s open source code so it’s pretty intuitive. Once you download and launch it it will connect you to the TOR network and you’re good to go.

TOR network was initially created by the US military to communicate anonymously. They still dump government files – not open to the general public – on the Darknet. Since the federal and other governments are themselves using the Darknet, they do not consider it feasible to order TOR to shut it down.

Navigating through the Darknet

On the surface, there is only one big difference between surfing the Darknet and surfing the “normal” web. URLs don’t look like anything you can actually read. They are random strings of characters followed by the extension “.onion”.

For example, if you launch TOR and go to this URL: http://3g2upl4pq6kufc4m.onion/ you’ll reach DuckDuckGo’s search engine on the TOR network. DuckDuckgois is a search engine that emphasizes protecting searchers’ privacy and avoiding the filter bubble of personalized search results. If you try to access that same URL through Chrome for example you won’t be allowed to view it.

One of the main resources for navigating through websites on the Darknet is through directories. TheHiddenWiki is an example of a TOR website directory which you can access through a normal browser as well. Keep in mind that some sites have already been taken offline so not all of them will work. This is the HiddenWiki’s URL on the TOR network: http://zqktlwi4fecvo6ri.onion/wiki/index.php/Main_Page.

Since keeping your connection anonymous requires bouncing around the connection you’ll notice that surfing on TOR is extremely slow in comparison to normal browsing. I guess that it’s also the reason most of the websites look like they were designed in the 1990s.

It gets even better:

Since sometimes websites are hosted on personal computers it’s totally possible that you won’t be able to access a site since the computer is just shut down. Other sites requires additional security measures and only allow specific users to enter. Remember this is a whole different universe that you know nothing about and the whole experience is kind of like travelling back in time.

Bitcoin’s role on the Darknet

Bitcoin plays an important role throughout the Darknet. Since staying anonymous is key, Bitcoin is the only currency you can pay with there. Unlike the “normal” web almost every other website has the “Bitcoin accepted” sign displayed on it.  Because of Bitcoin’s pseudo-anonymous nature, it’s the perfect currency to power such an ecosystem.

Actually crypto currencies and “privacy networks” like TOR have a lot in common. They both require a network of individual computers to run, as opposed to one main server. This is called “distributed computing” and the computers are called nodes.

The problem occurs when people aren’t incentivized to operate nodes which can make the network slow and unreliable. The Bitcoin network does incentive miners to maintain the network, but individual nodes still aren’t getting any rewards and this can cause problems.

Additional security – using VPN

Although no one knows your identity when using TOR, some people like to add an additional layer of protection and connect to TOR through a Virtual Private Network (VPN). The reason is, that even though you’re anonymous, you can still be identified as using TOR for “something”.

Here’s the ugly truth:

Wired published an article back in 2014 called “Use privacy services? The NSA is probably tracking you” which explains how the NSA is tagging people who were identified as using TOR. Using a VPN allows you to connect to the Internet through a remote server which is located out of the country and therefor is impossible to track.

A taste of the Darknet

I’m pretty much a n00b to the Darknet. I opened up the HiddenWiki and tried to pick the most interesting sites I could find. Since this post is already bordering age appropriate content I’m not going to link to actual websites, only try to share my own experience.

I can categorize my experience as a mix between good and evil. The good part of it was surfing around websites which were all about freedom of speech, exchanging of ideas and grouping people together for common cause. Here’s an example of a quote from a website called Alpha-7-Bravo (http://opnju4nyz7wbypme.onion):

This is Lexington Green. Use this space for discussion and coordination of activities such as rallies, protest marches, etc… Any posts advocating  violence or terror tactics will be removed.

On the other hand, you have the evil websites. Those who will sell you fake passports and IDs for different countries, allow you to acquire guns and ammo and even (and I quote) ruin someone’s life by getting them arrested through hacking.

It kind of gives you a bad feeling knowing that such websites exist around the world, but I guess that’s a more philosophical discussion of good vs. evil. Contradictions are very common around the Darknet as you can find security experts and criminal hackers on the same discussion board exchanging ideas.

Keep in mind, It’s not only terrorists that inhabit the Darknet it’s also government agents, and it’s not only criminals, it’s also law enforcers. So get ready for a ride if you plan to explore it yourself.

The 2 minute guide to accessing the Darknet

If you’re just interested in quickly accessing the Darknet, here’s how you do it:

  1. download TOR
  2. Use a VPN for added anonymity (optional)
  3. Surf the Darknet via search engines (DuckDuckGO – http://3g2upl4pq6kufc4m.onion/) or directories

Important security steps when using the Darknet

  1. Turn off running scripts in the TOR options (click the button just before the address bar). This is because most of the sites in Darknet are criminal in nature. If you land on one, they might want to trace you down. And scripts created using JavaScript can be dangerous if they manage to store something on your computer.
  2. Think twice before you click any link as you do not know who operates the website and where any of these links lead to. Use only known directories to reach authenticated destinations.
  3. DO NOT DOWNLOAD ANYTHING TO YOUR COMPUTER. No BitTorrents and no downloads as they may give away your actual IP when storing things to your computer.

A final word of warning

This post was written for educational purposes only. If you wish to use the Darknet, do it at your own discretion and at your own risk. Make sure to be aware of any consequences that may follow. I believe that information is a wonderful thing and that the Internet allows us to explore many wonderful places, but also many dark ones, stay safe and always make sure to employ good judgement.

If you have any interesting experiences you’d like to share from your travels throughout the deep web I’d love to hear them in the comment section below.

Sources and additional reads:

How to access the deep web or Darknet

A beginner’s guide to exploring the Darknet

Darknet or Deepnet

Find the best exchange to buy Bitcoins


Ofir Beigel

Owner at 99 Coins ltd.
Blogger and owner of 99Bitcoins. I've been dealing with Bitcoin since the beginning of 2013 and it taught me a lesson in finance that I couldn't get anywhere else on the planet. I'm not a techie, I don't understand "Hashes" and "Protocols", I designed this website with people like myself in mind. My expertise is online marketing and I've dedicated a large portion of 99Bitcoins to Bitcoin marketing.

32 Comments

  1. TOR is primarily used as a proxy. Their .onion hostnames are too short to be secure. Anyone with enough power can generate private key that matches onion hostname. For secure and encrypted end to end communication you should use Invisible Internet Project aka I2P. If you want to use I2P for browsing their darknet services, you should only visit sites that are recommended by I2P developers. Your life may get ruined if you saw thing that you do not wanted to see. If you believe there is nothing that could break you down, continue believing and do not ask questions if you do not want to see answers.

  2. I know this is stupid but how do you know you’re ‘on’ the darknet, i’ve got Tor and and have been to hidden wiki uncensored but I can’t find anything horrible at all not that I want to find horrible things but I’m interested in exploring just for curiosity purposes but I don’t actually understand fully how you get onto the dark net and know you’re on there??

    • Well if you’ve followed the instructions on the post then you’re “on” the deep web. The darknet it just a name for all sorts of “bad” websites. If you do enough digging you’ll find it. It took me some time as well but it’s there. For obvious reasons I’m not posting how to get to these sites.

  3. The EFF also has a good article about how Tor and HTTPS help secure your online privacy or anonymity.

    https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2012/03/https-and-tor-working-together-protect-your-privacy-and-security-online

    Just try the buttons on the interactive graph:

    https://www.eff.org/pages/tor-and-https

    PS You know what the people of the Tor project say ?:
    people who use TOR in capitals instead of Tor don’t really understand Tor yet.

    But it’s good that you are looking in to it and trying to educate people.

    • Ofir Beigel on

      Nice saying….I’ll stop saying TOR. Ooops…did it again :)
      Thanks for the additional info!

  4. I was reading this and thinking “how can they not track you?” and you got to the part about the VPN and it all made sense. I will be using TOR combined with a VPN – very curious how it will go!

  5. The “important security steps” you mentioned at the end are a must read for anyone wanting to try Darknet. You could get in a lot of trouble if you don’t know what you are doing there so make sure you are ready for this ride ;)! There are plenty of good sites and a lot of bad ones and curiosity can be dangerous in this case, so, just like Ofir said, tread lightly.

  6. Criminal hackers along law enforcers! This is going to be interesting to say the least! It’s like a totally new and surprising world has opened for me right now! Do I want to go in? I sure do! Thanks for sharing man!

  7. Hi Ofir

    Thanks for the interesting post.

    I’ve been looking into this myself.

    Surely, to communicate with others on the darknet you need an anonymous email account? Or does the communication work differently there? What email provider do you suggest and do they have the ability to use PGP?

  8. Totally very interesting! I’m sort of an SEO in training and hang with the big boys, so I hear a lot of terms and don’t want to monopolize the conversation with “What’s that” questions constantly. You covered a few of them… Thanks, Ofir!

  9. This is indeed like an alternate universe! It’s very hard to think that you couldn’t access a site because it is hosted on someone’s PC and that PC is shut down at that time!!! It’s like going back to the 90s and things like that!

  10. One minor technical note: TOR is, strictly speaking, not a browser but rather the peer-to-peer network to which the browser connects. There are other ways to access the TOR network without using the TOR Project’s Firefox bundle: https://github.com/Patrick-Bay/BreakOutBox/tree/master/BreakOutBox_standalone

    Although BreakOutBox is probably not as secure as using the TOR Project browser bundle it demonstrates that TOR is not the browser but rather the network to which almost any browser (and other software) can connect.

  11. I manage to land on a few pages most of them illegal or scams but there was one i liked which is a forum called the intel exchange you can talk about anything from hacking and politics to quantum physics. There was another one i saw were you can buy phished paypal accounts with the balances from under $200USD to a few thousand dollars and a few thousand Euros its probably a scam

    Just stay away from the deep web twitter and hard candy shit as it is pedophile crap.

  12. I thought this shit was basically compromised. did Feds put you up to this? don’t go nuts, people.

  13. OMG! I can’t believe that I’ve been using the internet for so many years and I have never heard of Darknet! And yes it does sound creepy because of all the bad things that can go on in there but I am at least glad to know about it now so thanks, Ofir!

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