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How to Access the Dark Web Safely

Simon Migliano

Simon Migliano is a recognized world expert in VPNs. He's tested hundreds of VPN services and his research has featured on the BBC, The New York Times and more.

Additional Research by Alyx Morley

Our Verdict

The safest way to access the dark web on a computer is to combine the Tor Browser with Tails OS or a no-logs VPN. If you’re using a mobile device, the safest way to access the dark web is to use a VPN and the Tor Browser on Android, or Orbot and the Onion Browser on iOS. However, phones are much less secure and private than computers, and we don’t recommend using them to access the dark web if you’re concerned about safety.

In the following guide, we’ll explain the safest way to access the dark web in November 2023. You’ll learn how to use privacy-enhancing tools like VPNs, the Tor Browser, Tails, PGP verification, and more.

SUMMARY: The Easiest Way to Access the Dark Web Safely

  1. Subscribe to a secure, no-logs VPN. We recommend Private Internet Access.
  2. Install the VPN app onto your computer and log in to your account.
  3. Change VPN protocols to OpenVPN or WireGuard, enable the kill switch, and ensure any leak protection features are switched on.
  4. Connect to a nearby VPN server for the fastest speeds.
  5. Download the Tor Browser from the Tor Project website.
  6. Once installed, launch the Tor Browser and click Configure Connection.
  7. In Settings > Search, change your default search engine to DuckDuckGoOnion.
  8. Under Privacy & Security:
    1. Tick “Always prioritize.Onion sites”.
    2. Tick “Delete cookies and site data when Tor Browser is closed”.
    3. In Permissions, tick “Block pop-up windows” and “Warn you when websites try to install add-ons”.
    4. In Security, select the “Safest” mode. This will disable all Javascript, block certain images, and make sure all video files are click-to-play.
    5. Tick “Enable HTTPS-Only Mode in all windows”.
  9. Click on the purple Connect button in the top right-hand corner. You’re now connected to the Tor network and can safely browse the Dark Web.

In the video below, we demonstrate how to access the dark web safely by following these same step-by-step instructions:

To access the dark web on a mobile device, we recommend using a VPN with the Tor Browser on Android, or using the Onion Browser and Orbot on iOS.

Once you’ve connected, we also explain how to navigate the dark web safely later on in this guide.

Keep reading for a more detailed walkthrough, and for step-by-step instructions for getting on the dark web on different devices.

How to Safely Access the Dark Web on Your Computer (PC & macOS)

The safest way to access the dark web is to use a desktop computer and the Tor Browser. Tor (The Onion Router) is a free, open-source system designed to enable anonymous communication across the internet.

It does this by routing your traffic through three random servers, encrypting your traffic and hiding your IP address in the process.

Unlike other web browsers such as Google Chrome or Safari, the Tor Browser is designed to access hidden .onion sites which are blocked on the surface web. As a result, it has built-in security and privacy features to protect your identity.

There are two main methods for accessing the dark web on a computer:

  1. Using a VPN with the Tor Browser
  2. Using Tails OS with the Tor Browser

The best method for you will depend on your own personal threat level and how deeply you want to go into the dark web.

If you’re just curious about what the dark web looks like, you can choose the easiest setup: antivirus software, VPN software, and the Tor Browser (method 1).

If you plan to spend longer on the dark web, we recommend using Tails OS with the Tor Browser (method 2). It’s more complicated to set up, but it offers a higher level of protection.

Method 1: Use a VPN & the Tor Browser

Safety Level: Moderate
Setup Difficulty: Easy
What You’ll Need: Computer, VPN Subscription

To safely access the dark web on Windows and macOS, you can combine the Tor Browser with a VPN to hide your identity.

The only equipment you’ll need for this method is your computer and a no-logs VPN subscription. It’s a relatively easy process that still maintains a high security level. In fact, our research team uses this method to gather information on darknet marketplaces.

Screenshot of Incognito marketplace on the Tor browser.

We used a VPN and the Tor Browser to access Incognito, a dark web marketplace, on Windows.

EXPERT ADVICE: When using this method, we recommend taking some basic precautions to protect your device and personal files.

Crucially, you should complete these steps before you access the Tor network. Once completed, you’ll be ready to continue the process.

Before you continue, follow these steps:

  1. Install trustworthy antivirus software. Scan your device for existing malware and make sure it is clean. Keep the software on to avoid downloading malware while browsing the dark web.
  2. Backup any important documents, images, or videos to an external hard drive. This gives you a failsafe in case something happens to your device.
  3. Cover up your webcam, disable your device’s microphone, and turn off location services on your computer.
  4. Close all unnecessary programs you have running in the background.

Here’s how to access the dark web safely using VPN and the Tor Browser:

  1. Sign up for a secure, no-logs VPN like Private Internet Access (PIA).
  2. Install the VPN app onto your computer and log in to your account.
  3. Change VPN protocols to OpenVPN or WireGuard, enable the VPN kill switch, and ensure any leak protection features are switched on.
  4. PIA settings page

    PIA also lets you choose the level of AES encryption on your connection.

  5. Connect to a nearby VPN server for the fastest speeds.
  6. PIA's server list

    Tor can be slow, so choose a nearby VPN server for the fastest speeds.

  7. With the VPN connected, open your preferred web browser and head to the Tor Project’s download page.
  8. Tor project website

    The Tor Browser is available on Windows, macOS, Linux, and Android.

  9. Click on Download for Windows or Download for Mac, depending on your device.
  10. Once installed, launch the Tor Browser and click Configure Connection.
  11. We suggest tweaking the security settings in the Tor browser before connecting.

  12. In Settings > Search, change your default search engine to DuckDuckGoOnion.
  13. We discovered DuckDuckGoOnion has the most reliable and useful search results on the dark web.

  14. In the Privacy & Security menu, choose the following settings:
    1. Tick “Always” under “Prioritize .Onion sites”.
    2. Tick “Delete cookies and site data when Tor Browser is closed”.
    3. In Permissions, tick “Block pop-up windows and “Warn you when websites try to install add-ons”.
    4. In Security, select the “Safest” mode. This will disable Javascript, block certain images, and make all video files click-to-play.
    5. Select the safest security setting.

    6. Tick “Enable HTTPS-Only Mode in all windows”.
  15. In the top right-hand corner of the browser, click on the purple Connect button. You’re now connected to the Tor network and can browse the Dark Web safely.

Method 2: Use Tails & the Tor Browser

Safety Level: High
Setup Difficulty: Moderate
What You’ll Need: Computer, 8GB USB Flash Drive, Mobile Device

You can also access the dark web on a computer using Tails OS and the Tor Browser. This is the safest method as it completely isolates your dark web activity from your main hard drive.

Despite its safety benefits, this method is also the most complicated. We only recommend using this method if your activities require the highest level of security.

Tails is a unique OS that works totally differently to ones you might be used to. By design, it removes the risk of third-parties accessing files on your hard drive (like your pictures, videos, and sensitive documents).

In addition, if anyone were to physically seize your computer, you can quickly unplug the USB to eradicate all evidence of your activity.

We used Tails and the Tor Browser on an iMac to access Dread, a dark web forum similar to Reddit.

We used Tails and the Tor Browser on an iMac to access Dread, a dark web forum similar to Reddit.

Tails is an alternative operating system to Windows and macOS. Here are some of its unique features:

  1. It’s portable. You install Tails onto a flash drive and then plug that into your computer’s USB port. This means all of your Tor activity is automatically compartmentalized and separate from your day-to-day system.
  2. Tails is an amnesic OS, which means it deletes all files, cache, and saved data every time the USB drive it’s running from is disconnected.
  3. Tails automatically routes all internet traffic via the Tor network.

Here’s how to access the dark web safely using Tails and the Tor Browser:

Download & Install Tails

  1. Plug the USB flash drive into your computer.
  2. Rename the USB “Tails OS” and make sure to only use it for Tails.
  3. Head to the Tails official website and select your chosen device. The Tails website also has detailed instructions on how to properly install Tails onto a USB drive.
  4. Download the latest version of Tails onto your computer. It’s a large file, so it might take a little while to complete.
  5. Verify your Tails download to make sure it’s safe and hasn’t been corrupted. There are some copycat files on the internet posing as Tails.
  6. Verifying Tails download

    Verify your Tails download.

  7. Once your Tails download is verified, download balenaEtcher from the Tails website.
  8. Navigate to the balenaEtcher application and start it.
  9. Click on the “Flash from File” button and select Tails. Make sure the Tails file ends with .img and not .iso.
  10. Choose the option to Flash from File.

    Choose the option to Flash from File.

  11. Click the “Select target” button to select your chosen USB drive.
  12. Click “Flash!” and enter your device’s password if you are asked for it.
  13. Screenshot of balenaEtcher

    The file and USB stick should look like this.

  14. Wait for the installation to finish. It should take just a few minutes, then balenaEtcher should verify the installation.
  15. Close balenaEtcher and eject the USB flash drive you installed it to, but do not physically remove it.
  16. You’ve successfully installed Tails onto a USB drive. Now open the Tails installation instructions on your mobile device.

Reboot on Your Tails USB Drive

Now you’ve downloaded Tails, you’ll need to restart your computer to use it to browse the dark web. Here’s how:

  1. Insert your USB drive into your computer.
  2. On macOS, restart your device, immediately press and hold down the Option key until a list of possible startup disks appear. On Windows, go to Start > Power > Restart. In the Choose an option screen, choose Use a device > Boot Menu.
  3. Choose EFI Boot on macOS and press enter. On Windows, select your USB drive and press enter. Do not select your usual startup disk. If you do accidentally select your original OS, you can simply restart your device and try again.
  4. Once selected, Tails will start up automatically and you’ll see a dark screen.
  5. Black startup screen for Tails

    You can see the Tails logo in the middle of the screen.

Set Up Tails

At this point, Tails is downloaded, installed, and started. You now need to configure it for browsing the dark web safely. Here’s how:

  1. After one to two minutes, the welcome screen will appear, and you can select your Language & Region, as well as your Keyboard Layout. We recommend ignoring the Persistent Storage setting, which allows you to save files, bookmarks, and Wi-Fi passwords on your USB.
  2. Click on the blue “Start Tails” button.
  3. After 30 seconds, you’ll see the Tails desktop screen. Click on the drop-down menu in the top-right corner and click on WiFi > Select Network. Select your home WiFi network.
  4. Once connected to the internet, a pop-up window will automatically appear. Select “Connect to Tor” automatically if you’re in the US, UK, or any other country that doesn’t block Tor connections. If you’re based in a country that blocks Tor, connect to a Tor bridge by selecting “Hide to my local network that I’m connecting to Tor“.
  5. Image of Tails desktop prompting you to start a Tor connection
  6. You’re now connected to the Tor network on Tails, and can browse the dark web.
  7. Welcome to Tails page

    Can You Use a VPN with Tails?

    Many users want to use a combination of a VPN and Tails to protect themselves on the dark web.

    The Tails official website currently states the Tails system isn’t compatible with VPNs. It uses a firewall to block all VPN connections within Tails OS, and there isn’t a way to configure a VPN connection within Tails.

    However, in April 2023, the Tails project started researching new ways to incorporate VPNs into the Tails OS. One possible solution is a new version of Tails that uses a VPN connection (instead of Tor) for the whole system and offers a Tor browser for accessing the dark web.

How to Safely Access the Dark Web on Mobile Devices (iPhone & Android)

On mobile devices, you’ll need to download specific software to access the dark web safely.

However, bear in mind that browsing the dark web on mobile is much more dangerous than on a computer. We only suggest accessing the dark web on mobile if you’re using a burner phone, as smartphones are often full of sensitive, identifying, and personal information.

Android and iOS phones are also much less customizable than their desktop counterparts. They don’t have access to the same software used for browsing the dark web safely. For example, iOS isn’t even compatible with the official Tor Browser.

The Apple App Store and the Google Play Store are also filled with fake apps that are not safe to use. For these reasons, you should use a computer to access the dark web if you have the option to.

How to Access the Dark Web on Android

SUMMARY: The Easiest Way to Access the Dark Web Safely on Android

  1. Install a no-logs VPN like Private Internet Access.
  2. In your VPN’s settings, select either OpenVPN or WireGuard and enable the VPN kill switch.
  3. Connect to a nearby VPN server.
  4. Go to the official Tor Project website and download the Tor Browser .APK.
  5. Launch the Tor Browser on your Android device.
  6. Set your security level to “Safest” and tap Start browsing.
  7. Use the DuckDuckGo.onion website to navigate and start browsing the dark web.

Here’s how to access the dark web safely on Android:

  1. Sign up for a secure, no-logs VPN. We recommend Private Internet Access.
  2. Find your VPN provider’s Android app on the Google Play Store, install it, then launch it. If you live in a country where you can’t access the Google Play Store, download a .APK file from the VPN provider’s official website instead.
  3. Once launched, sign in to the VPN application using your account details.
  4. Go to VPN Settings and choose either the OpenVPN or WireGuard protocol. Enable the VPN kill switch and any leak protection options.
  5. Choose WireGuard or OpenVPN when browsing the dark web on Android.

    Choose WireGuard or OpenVPN when browsing the dark web on Android.

  6. Select a nearby VPN server and click the Connect button.
  7. PIA's server list on Android

    Choose a server close to your location.

  8. Once connected, go to the official Tor Project website on your Android phone and download the Tor Browser via .APK or the Google Play Store. When prompted, confirm the app installation and launch the app.
  9. Google Play Store features the Tor Browser

    We downloaded the app from the Google Play Store, though .APK is also available.

  10. After launching the app, tap the Connect button. You will then be connected to the Tor network.
  11. Tor Browser on Android.

    Tor Browser on Android.

  12. You will be prompted to set your security level. We recommend selecting the “Safest” option.
  13. Tor Browser on Android

    DuckDuckGo is the default search engine on Tor’s Android app.

  14. You now have access to the dark web and can visit .onion websites on your Android device.

EXPERT ADVICE: The Tor Browser on mobile is extremely slow, and can be unsafe. Laptops and computers are a much better option for browsing the dark web safely.

How to Access the Dark Web on iPhone & iOS

Unlike Android, Windows, and macOS, the Tor Browser doesn’t have an official app for iOS devices. However, the Tor Project has endorsed “Onion Browser” and “Orbot”, two apps that imitate using the Tor Browser and a VPN.

Onion Browser is a browser similar to Tor, while Orbot is a free and open-source proxy that changes your IP address.

Unfortunately, you can’t use a VPN service at the same time as Orbot, so you won’t be able to use an existing VPN subscription for this method.

SUMMARY: The Easiest Way to Access the Dark Web Safely on iPhone & iOS

  1. Find and install Onion Browser from the App Store. The official app developer is Mike Tigas.
  2. Install Orbot from the App Store.
  3. Complete Orbot setup and click “Connect”.
  4. Grant the Onion Browser access to Orbot.
  5. Reopen the Onion Browser and start browsing the dark web.

Here’s how to access the dark web safely on iOS:

  1. Install the Onion Browser on the App Store. Make sure you download the official version of the app — the developer is called Mike Tigas.
  2. Onion Browser on the App Store

    The official Onion Browser icon on iOS is a purple circle.

  3. Open the Onion Browser app and tap “Get Orbot”.
  4. Why onion browser needs orbot page on iOS.

    The Onion Browser needs Orbot to function properly.

  5. Install Orbot from the App Store. The official developer of Orbot is The Tor Project.
  6. Install Orbot from App Store

    Make sure the official app developer is The Tor Project.

  7. Open Orbot and tap “Allow” so Orbot can add VPN configurations.
  8. Orbot VPN configurations

    Allow Orbot to add VPN configurations.

  9. Tap “Start” and make sure “Run Smart Connect” is enabled. Your iPhone is then connected to the Orbot VPN, and you have the option to stop the connection.
  10. iOS device is connected to Orbot

    Once connected, you’ll see a VPN logo in the top-right corner of your iPhone screen.

  11. Open the Onion Browser and tap “Grant” to allow the Onion Browser to access Orbot.
  12. Grant access to Orbot

    You have to grant permission for Orbot to access the dark web on iPhone.

  13. Once granted, you are now connected to the Tor network and can browse the dark web. The Onion Browser homepage is a bit awkward-looking, but you can click through to essential .onion sites from it.
  14. Onion browser on iOS

    Select the shield icon to change security settings.

  15. In the top left-hand corner, tap the Shield > Learn More to access the Onion Browser’s privacy settings. Tap on “Gold Security Level” and make sure Javascript is not allowed.
  16. Onion Browser security settings

    Gold is the highest-level security in the Onion Browser.

How to Use & Navigate the Dark Web Safely

Once you’ve got access to the dark web, there are several tools and strategies you’ll need to follow to stay safe while browsing it.

Following these steps will greatly reduce the possibility of exposing your data and important files to criminals online.

Here’s a more detailed overview of how to stay safe on the dark web:

VPN Settings for the Dark Web

You do not need a VPN to access the dark web. However, it can help prevent your ISP from seeing your online activity and marking it as suspicious.

To access the dark web using a VPN, we recommend using the Onion over VPN method, which involves connecting to a VPN server before connecting to the Tor Browser.

You only need to use a VPN if you’re accessing the dark web without Tails, or if you’re on an Android device. On Tails OS and iOS devices, using a VPN isn’t necessary.

Follow these steps to optimize your VPN for the dark web:

  1. Enable the VPN Kill Switch: This protects your real IP address from leaking if your internet connection suddenly drops.
  2. AES Encryption: Strong AES-256 or AES-128 encryption is functionally unbreakable and almost guarantees your online traffic cannot be decrypted.
  3. VPN Leak Protection: Turn on any IP, DNS, or WebRTC leak protection your VPN provides. The best VPNs have leak protection built into their apps.
  4. Do not use Onion over VPN Servers: These servers encourage users to browse the dark web using alternative browsers to the Tor Browser, like Chrome. This can actually be a security risk as other browsers aren’t designed for anonymity. Instead, use a normal VPN server with the Tor Browser.

What Is the Best VPN for the Dark Web?

The absolute best VPN for the dark web is Private Internet Access, because its zero-logs policy has been proven multiple times by subpoenas and real-world cases. Each time, PIA has been unable to hand over any user data to the authorities.

We used PIA and the Tor browser to access Ahmia.onion.

We used PIA and the Tor browser to access Ahmia.onion.

To prove its commitment to privacy, PIA has implemented RAM-only servers, regular third-party audits, AES-256 encryption, and effective VPN kill switches in its apps. Furthermore, the VPN service accepts gift card and Bitcoin payments for full anonymity.

Safety Settings for the Tor Browser

The Tor Browser’s default privacy and security settings are optimized to preserve your anonymity online.

We advise not changing too much, for this reason. The less you change, the more you blend in with other users’ traffic. However, there are some non-negotiable settings we suggest you enable.

Screenshot of Tor Browser settings

Enter about:preferences#privacy into Tor’s URL bar to change its privacy and security settings.

Follow these safety tips to optimize the Tor Browser for the dark web:

  1. Onion Services: Always prioritize .onion websites when browsing the dark web. An onion server’s location and IP is hidden, making it difficult for governments to censor them. All Tor traffic is also end-to-end encrypted, so you don’t have to worry about HTTPS.
  2. Cookies and Site Data: Tor automatically deletes all cookies and site data upon closing the browser. Make sure this feature is enabled before browsing the dark web.
  3. Permissions: The Tor Browser rejects all permissions to your computer’s webcam, microphone, location, and notifications. It also automatically blocks pop-up windows and warns you when a website tries to install add-ons. Make sure permissions are kept to the default setting.
  4. Security: The Tor Browser disables certain web features that can be used to attack your security and anonymity. These include Javascript, certain fonts, icons, and symbols. Audio and video files are also click-to-play. We strongly recommend opting for the “Safest” security level.

Be Careful How You Share Your Data on the Dark Web

You should be extremely careful on the dark web. There’s an abundance of phishing websites, scams, and criminals actively searching for new users vulnerable to exposure.

To stay as safe as possible on the dark web, we recommend following these steps:

  1. To avoid compromising any files on your hard drive, use Tails to access the dark web, which wipes all data upon removing the USB stick.
  2. Monero is the best cryptocurrency to use to purchase anything on the dark web. It has built-in anonymity features that are lacking in other cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. If needed, you can buy Bitcoin and exchange it into Monero before making a purchase.
  3. Don’t click on anything suspicious.
  4. Be wary of publicly-shared onion URLs. Some of them might be phishing websites designed to collect information.
  5. Make sure to close your Tor Browser session after you’ve finished browsing the dark web.

Use a Dark Web Search Engine

When navigating the dark web, we suggest using a trusted search engine like DuckDuckGo.onion.

With Javascript disabled for security, DuckDuckGo.onion can look very plain.

With Javascript disabled for security, DuckDuckGo.onion can look very plain.

There are other options like Torch, Ahmia, and DarkSearch. However, these search engines have a lot of links to websites that are either no longer available or scams. They also feature a lot of intrusive ads with explicit content.

Alternative dark web search engines might be fine if you’re curious, but they shouldn’t be relied on for reputable links. In addition, these other search engines haven’t been endorsed by the Tor Project or Tails, like DuckDuckGo has been.

How to Access Dark Web Sites Safely

Once you’ve entered the dark web, it can be incredibly difficult to find your way around. You might be put off by the seemingly random .onion addresses and rudimentary website layouts. There are also lots of CAPTCHAs to solve before you can access websites.

Websites to Use

In our research on the dark web, we found some websites to be more trustworthy than others. We’ve compiled a list of trustworthy websites to get you started below:

EXPERT ADVICE: Do not rely solely on bookmarks for .onion websites. These webpages are frequently shut down or migrated.

This site is created for researchers to navigate the dark web. Our research team uses this site to find trustworthy .onion links to dark web forums, marketplaces, cryptocurrency exchanges, and more.

We used PIA and the Tor Browser to access and the Incognito Market.

We used PIA and the Tor Browser to access and the Incognito Market.

To access the full list of .onion links for each website, you’ll have to complete a CAPTCHA which proves you’re a human. We recommend using to navigate the dark web and source safe .onion addresses. The website is built for researchers and has useful links (for now). is a site is hosted by a journalist and privacy activist researching Tor. It features links to marketplaces, cryptocurrency exchanges, forums, and other directories (like Tor.Taxi).

Screenshots of and the SmokersCo market.

We used and the Tor Browser to view SmokersCo Market.

There’s even links to other useful resources, like the Darknet Bible and a guide on PGP encryption. You can also access ProtonMail or Dread from


This .onion link directory comes highly recommended by users on Reddit and Daunt. Tor.Taxi has links across the dark web to different markets, news sites, forums, and services.

Screenshots of Tor.Taxi on the dark web.

Tor.Taxi has a color-code system indicating which sites are live and which are currently down.

We tried out the website ourselves and found it had functioning links to .onion news sites and marketplaces. However, it’s important to note that these links are always changing and might become defunct or compromised at any time.


This website is an online forum similar to Reddit, but can only be accessed with Tor. The site features a lot of information and guides on illegal activity. Recently, we found trending topics on Dread to be: darknet marketplaces, how to navigate the dark web, and how to pay for goods and services using Monero.

We used Tails and the Tor browser to access Dread on the dark web.

We used Tails and the Tor browser to access Dread on the dark web.

You will have to complete a CAPTCHA to enter the site. Like with many other CAPTCHAs, they can be frustrating to complete. We managed to get through to the site after a couple of attempts. is a new link directory owned by the Dread forum. With user data from Dread, it can verify accounts submitting .onion links, authenticating whether they are genuine site owners or scammers with more accuracy.

Screenshot of

Daunt features links to popular websites on the dark web.

We found easy to navigate. It shows when links were first imported. Some websites have multiple links available, which can all be verified using a PGP signature.


This clearnet site is a major directory of dark marketplaces, cryptocurrency exchanges, and guides for PGP key communication.

Screenshot of DarkNetOne.

You can use Chrome or Firefox to access DarkNetOne.

There’s information on live marketplaces and even includes some trustworthy links. We primarily use this website to research current websites on the dark web.

Websites to Avoid

In our research, we found a couple of popular websites that weren’t so useful when navigating the dark web. Here are the websites we suggest you avoid:


Other websites might recommend using The Hidden Wiki to navigate the dark web. However, in November 2023 we found a majority of links on the site to be outdated and defunct.


This popular search engine has started blocking sites with darknet market links from its search results.

It’s a great resource for searching on the clearnet, but it’s not a good resource for finding new and active .onion addresses for the dark web.

The dark web has an abundance of phishing websites that have been cloned from real sites. These sites intercept and save all the information and login credentials you input on the page.

A Kingdom Market notification warns users of phishing sites.

A Kingdom Market notification warns users of phishing sites.

To prevent phishing websites on the dark web from getting your information, we recommend using PGP decryption to verify sites before using them. Doing this makes sure the owner of the website has created the mirror link you’re using.

If the PGP cannot be verified, the original owner has not made the site you’re viewing, and it’s likely a scam site that’s built to capture user information.

Here’s how to verify .onion links on the dark web:

  1. Install Kleopatra. If you’re using Tails, the app is pre-downloaded onto the system.
  2. Run Kleopatra, accept permissions, and create your own PGP encryption key.
  3. Once setup, head to the Tor Browser and open up a dark web .onion link directory.
  4. Copy, paste, and enter a .onion link. We’re using Tor.Taxi as an example.
  5. Add /pgp.txt to the end of the URL and press Enter. If the site is live, you should see a page with plain text, with a string of randomly generated letters and numbers. This is a website’s public key and can be used to verify if the website is genuine or a phishing scam.
  6. Screenshot of Tor.Taxi's PGP pulic key.

    A PGP public key should like the page above.

    1. As an extra precaution, you can open other .onion links to the same website from other directories, find their PGP public key and cross-reference the public keys. If they’re the same, you know you’ve found the correct public key. If not, cross-reference again with other mirror links.
  7. Copy the public key, including — BEGIN PGP PUBLIC KEY BLOCK — to —END PGP PUBLIC KEY BLOCK —.
  8. Open Kleopatra.
  9. Paste the public key into the Notepad and click Import Notepad. When you get a pop-up asking you to import the key, click Certify. You can now use this key to verify if other mirror links are legitimate.
  10. Screenshot of Kleopatra.

    Certify the pasted PGP public key.

  11. Open the original site, remove /pgp.txt and replace it with /mirrors.txt to see a PGP signed message. This message will include alternative .onion links that are created by the site owner.
  12. Copy this message and open Kleopatra’s Notepad.
  13. Paste the message into the notepad and click Decrypt / Verify Notepad. Make sure you’ve selected the correct PGP public key. If successful, Kleopatra will show it as a Valid Signature.
  14. Screenshot of Kleopatra validating a PGP signature.

    Example of a valid PGP signature in Kleopatra.

  15. Over time, you will collect original PGP keys for websites and be able to save them to Kleopatra. Everytime the websites creates a new mirror link, you can verify whether the website has been created by the original owner or if it’s a phishing site.
    1. If you’re using Tails, you’ll have to enable Persistence to save the public keys in KeePassXC.
    Screenshot of Kleopatra with three saved PGP keys.

    Kleopatra can save certified PGP keys from dark web sites.

Alternatives to the Tor Browser

Tor is a safe and popular way to access the dark web, but there are still alternatives out there. I2P was created just one year later than Tor and runs on a similar type of network, routing your traffic through multiple nodes to obscure your activity.

Here are a couple of safe alternatives to the Tor network:

Invisible Internet Project (I2P)

I2P is a well-known alternative to Tor. It’s an anonymous overlay network. Similar to Tor, it bounces your traffic through multiple nodes. But with I2P, your traffic can be sent through any I2P user’s device.

Screenshot of I2P websites

You can see a list of .i2p websites on identiguy.i2p.

I2P is actually more secure than Tor. I2P doesn’t rely on potentially compromised exit nodes that might record user activity. I2P also uses “garlic routing” to encrypt information, which makes it more difficult for an attacker to analyze traffic.

It’s even faster than the Tor Browser, which is a common pain point for Tor Browser users.

However, Tor has a much larger user base than I2P, which might provide greater anonymity as you can blend in with a much bigger crowd. In this case, your internet traffic might also stand out more to your ISP if you’re using I2P compared to Tor.

In addition, the Tor project has received much more financial support, which means it can roll out updates faster and keep improving.

I2P is also more difficult to configure than Tor, as Tor comes with a browser out-of-the-box. Since there are less resources going towards I2P, bugs also take longer to resolve.

In short, I2P is a promising alternative to Tor, but it currently doesn’t have many users and doesn’t give you access to the same amount of websites and services as Tor does.


Hyphanet (previously Freenet) is very different to Tor and I2P. You can’t use it to access forums or other web pages that are often being updated.

Instead, Hyphanet is a decentralized data store, meaning you can upload data, which is then distributed among the Hyphanet community at large.

Hyphanet only hosts static content like basic HTML pages and file downloads. An advantage to Hyphanet is that all content stays uploaded, even if the original node is shut down.

However, it’s a whole different service to the Tor network and I2P.

The Risks of Accessing the Dark Web

There are a lot of risks associated with accessing the dark web. This section of the internet is highly unregulated and contains a lot of illegal activity and disturbing content.

The deeper you go into the dark web, the more links you click on, the more likely you are to come across disturbing text, pictures, or videos. That’s why we advise extreme caution before entering the dark web.

Here are a few of the main risks with accessing the dark web:

1. Scams

Many .onion websites are designed to steal your personal information. Scammers create websites, forums, or marketplaces designed to mimic real websites or services.

These fake websites often closely resemble real websites, so it’s incredibly hard to tell if they are legitimate sites or not. They will have a similar domain name, logo, login page, and layout to lure users into interacting with the phishing site.

When you try to log in or make a purchase, the site will collect your username, password, credit card details, cryptocurrency wallet details, personal address, or any other sort of personal information.

Once this information is stolen, the scammer might sell this information on a darknet marketplace for a profit. To avoid these scams, we recommend verifying each .onion site you visit before interacting with it.

2. Cybersecurity Threats

The dark web is full of cybercriminals purchasing and exchanging forms of malware. Here are some prominent forms of malware and spyware on the dark web:

  • Viruses: A malicious program that can replicate itself and can infect a computer without knowledge of the user. A virus might corrupt or delete data on a computer or even spread through emails.
  • Trojans: A fake version of an app that contains malware. Once installed, it might sit idly waiting for instructions from its host hacker to start deleting software or disabling antivirus software.
  • Keyloggers: A form of malware that keeps track of and records your keystrokes as you type on your computer. This information is sent back to the hacker, who now has whatever you have input on a website or your computer.
  • Crypto Ransomware or Encryptors: A form of ransomware that encrypts valuable files within your computer, making the content inaccessible without the decryption key. Criminals then demand victims pay a ransom to recover their files.
  • Locker Ransomware: This ransomware locks victims completely out of their device. Criminals will then demand victims to pay a ransom to regain access.

With almost all types of malware, users can be left with a device that’s been forever corrupted. That’s why it’s important to take extra precautions when browsing the dark web.

A listing for a remote-access-tool on Kingdom Market, commonly used by hackers and penetration testers.

A listing for a remote-access-tool on Kingdom Market, commonly used by hackers and penetration testers.

The safest way to browse the dark web is to use Tails and the Tor Browser to completely separate your main everyday computer from dark web activities.

3. Encountering Disturbing Content

The extent of crime on the dark web doesn’t just end with financial scams and drugs. This hidden part of the internet is also a place for organized crime to advertise and sell illegal images and videos, often involving human exploitation.

It’s possible to browse the dark web without ever stumbling upon disturbing content like this. However, the more time you spend on the dark web and the deeper you go into forum sites especially, the easier it is to unwillingly encounter it.

Before entering the dark web, it’s essential to assess whether accidentally viewing this disturbing content may have a negative impact on your mental health and wellbeing.

What Is Actually On the Dark Web?

The dark web is similar to the clearnet in that you’ll find news sites, forums, marketplaces, and other online services. The difference is that a lot of the goods and services advertised and sold on the dark web are illegal.

Screenshot of the Libre forum

The Libre forum is hosted by Incognite team, owners of the Incognito marketplace.

There are a lot of myths about what’s on the dark web. For instance, fictional ‘Red Rooms’ that livestream violence for money. In reality, the Tor Browser is so slow, the possibility of livestreaming on the dark web is very unlikely.

It’s much more likely that you come across links to download illegal videos, either for free or for sale. These might be real videos with disturbing content, or it could be malware or spyware that infects your computer. That’s why we strongly advise not downloading any sort of file from the dark web.

On dark web marketplaces, you might find these illegal items for sale:

  • Stolen credit card numbers
  • Stolen social security numbers
  • Stolen online account credentials (e.g. Netflix)
  • Stolen credentials for PayPal wallets
  • Illegal drugs
  • Illegal firearms
  • Illegal pornography
  • Counterfeit currency
  • Fake passports
  • Fake degrees
  • Hacking services
  • Cyberattack services

The dark web also hosts general services and information sites, including:

  • News websites
  • Blogs
  • Wikileaks documents
  • Private email clients
  • Private messaging clients
  • Cryptocurrency exchanges
  • VPN services
  • File sharing sites

Is It Legal to Visit Sites on the Dark Web?

Using Tor or visiting dark web sites is legal in most countries. However, the dark web can facilitate illegal acts, such as accessing illegal images or videos, money laundering, and selling illegal items like drugs, firearms, or stolen credentials.

A listing for a stolen credit card on Kingdom Market.

A listing for a stolen credit card on Kingdom Market.

Some countries that block Tor include Belarus, Turkey, Russia, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. China also blocks all Tor traffic to prevent users from bypassing the Great Firewall.

If you are a resident of a country where Tor is blocked, a Tor bridge can be used to access the Tor network. Tor bridges are relay nodes that aren’t publicly available, making it extremely difficult for governments to block the connections.

Dark Web vs Deep Web: What’s the Difference?

Imagine the internet as an iceberg – what you see on the surface is just a fraction of what lies beneath. The internet is divided into three layers: the surface web (or clearnet), the deep web, and the dark web (or darknet).

Everything on the surface web is easily crawled and indexed by search engines, which means you can access them via a Google search, for example. These websites are accessible with any sort of web browser, and don’t require extra anonymity software.

A layer underneath the surface web is the deep web, which is the largest part of the internet. It includes all webpages that are not indexed by search engines and often require some form of authentication to access it. These pages include your email inbox, online banking, Whatsapp messages, university portals, company intranets, government resources, medical records, financial records, and subscription information.

The dark web is a small subset of the deep web. It contains pages that are intentionally hidden from search engines, all of which require you to use anonymity software, like the Tor Browser, to access them.

A normal .com URL vs a .onion URL.

.onion URLs are much longer and are composed of randomly generated letters and numbers.

An easy way to figure out whether a website is on the dark web is to see if it ends in .onion. Normal websites on the surface and deep web usually end in .com, .org, or .co. Websites hosted on the Tor network end in .onion (to indicate the network’s multiple layers of encryption).

The need to use anonymity software makes the dark web an ideal environment for journalists, whistleblowers, and activists to communicate. But, at the same time, it attracts criminals who want to hide their identity and conduct illegal activity.


Can My ISP See That I’m Accessing the Dark Web?

Without a VPN, your ISP can see that you’re using Tor, but it can’t see exactly what you’re doing.

Your internet service provider and the websites you visit can detect when Tor is being used because Tor exit IP addresses are public.

However, internet service providers are unable to decrypt Tor traffic, so they cannot know exactly what you’re doing with Tor. Websites are also unable to identify you if you use the Tor Browser and optimize its security settings.

If you access the dark web without a VPN, your ISP is likely to pick up on the Tor activity, and it might mark you out for surveillance. Tor activity picked up by an ISP has been used in the past by law enforcement as incriminating behavior.

Do I Need a VPN if I Access the Dark Web on My Phone?

We advise against using your personal phone to access the dark web as it contains sensitive information, pictures, videos, and credentials that could be compromised. Cell phones are much less secure than computers, and sometimes don’t even have access to the same apps for the Tor Network.

However, if you decide to use a burner phone and intend to browse the dark web, we recommend using a no-logs VPN to conceal your Tor activity from your ISP and hide your real IP address.

Can the Police Track You on the Dark Web?

Accessing the dark web on Tor makes it much more difficult for police to track your online activity. However, Tor is not a foolproof way to avoid police detection. In the last few years, international crime agencies have successfully worked together to shut down dark web marketplaces and arrest criminals.

In 2021, international crime agencies in the US, Germany, Australia, the UK, and more countries worked together to shut down DarkMarket, the largest illegal dark web marketplace. The subsequent Operation HunTOR led to the arrest of 150 vendors, buyers, and site administrators.

Is the Dark Web Actually Anonymous?

The Tor network, used to access the dark web, provides a certain level of anonymity. It does this by routing your internet traffic through three random servers across the globe and encrypting it three times.

However, this doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be completely anonymous online. If you make mistakes while browsing the dark web, like sharing personal information online, your anonymity can be compromised.