Thanks to a certain online drugs marketplace called “Silk Road”, you may have become aware that there is another version of the Internet out there. One which cannot be accessed by any ordinary browser or indexed by any ordinary search engine.

It is called the Dark Web, not to be confused with the Deep Web, which are websites which cannot be ordinarily accessed due to paywalls or password-protected login pages (such as online banking).

The Dark Web has some legitimate valid uses, such as protecting the free speech of dissidents and activists in countries run by oppressive regimes (such as China). But mostly, the Dark Web has been referred to as the “dark underbelly of the web”. A lot of it comprises drugs, pornography, gambling, hitmen, and various other criminal enterprises.

That being the case, you might ask why it is worth even looking at it if you are not inclined that way. I would argue that it is worth taking a look, even if it’s just for curiosity’s sake. It’s a fascinating glimpse at another world.

The Onion (Tor) Browser

To access the Dark Web, you need a specialised browser. Using Firefox, Chrome or Safari is not going to work. To access the Dark Web, you need the Onion Browser (otherwise known as Tor). You can download and install the Tor Browser by going to the Tor website.

Being a modified Firefox browser, the Tor browser can access regular internet sites as well, but one of its main purposes is to access the dark web. Tor will protect your location by running your internet traffic through several “Tor Relays” (virtual private networks) so Tor runs much slower than a regular browser. Such is the price for your privacy.

The Dark Web’s URLs

The Dark Web runs on its own URL format, namely the .onion format. So whereas a regular link might be http://www.website.com, a Dark Web link would be http://thg67klkk4ksl9s.onion.

As you can see, a Dark Web link does not use .com or .net, .org, or any of the other usual website domain endings. And a Dark Web link also does not have a proper name like “Google” or “Yahoo” or “eBay”.

Instead it is a random selection of characters which makes Dark Web sites hard to find and guess. This is part of what makes the Dark Web attractive to criminals and others who want to operate under the radar.

Since Dark Web sites go up and down all the time, and figuring out the URL is pretty much impossible, even Dark Web search engines are notoriously unreliable! But if you are a blogger in say Beijing, you wouldn’t want your Dark Web site indexed anyway by a search engine for the government to track you. You would instead rely on word of mouth from trusted supporters to find you.

Diving Into The Dark Web

Once you have the Tor browser installed and open (which is extremely easy and requires no special configurations), it’s time to look at some sites.

I should say before continuing that although Tor is a modified Firefox browser, you should NOT install any Firefox extensions. There are two extensions already pre-installed – NoScript and HTTPS Everywhere. They are there for your security – do not install any others.

With that in mind, also remember that the Dark Web is the Wild West of the Internet. There are no rules and you are going to encounter some seriously creepy and dangerous individuals if you venture onto forums and chat rooms.

Therefore do not reveal any personally identifying information about yourself and be extremely cautious about what links you click on. If you click on child pornography, for example, you will be putting yourself in serious legal jeopardy if the police is monitoring the site. Ignorance is not a defence.

Search Engines & Directories

Almost everyone universally agrees that the best place to start with the Dark Web is Ahmia.fi . This is a Dark Web search engine which can be accessed on the regular Internet too.

Making your way around the Dark Web involves just looking at search engines and directories and basically browsing until you find what you want. Each of you will have your own different interests so it would be pointless to send you in one particular direction.

So here are a list of some search directories and pages that will send you off scurrying down the Dark Web rabbithole. Let us know in the comments what you find. Some of these links may not be available when you try to visit, but they will come back later.

If the site is continuously down, use Ahmia to search for the site’s new location.

There are SO MANY pages to look at in the Dark Web, but we’re obviously not going to show you where to buy a gun or a fake passport. So the links above are a good starting point and from there you will immediately go off in a dozen different directions all at once.

Have fun and be safe.