When the internet was first created, there weren’t any platforms such as Google, Amazon, or Netflix where you could easily access content. So instead, people would host content from their houses or offices, and those who wanted access to the content would connect directly to them. This is essentially what people do to connect to the dark web today. But instead of connecting over a phone line, the dark web is accessed through encrypted tunnels of VPNs.
The dark web is a hidden section of the internet that can only be accessed by a system of VPNs. This means that the dark web has a high level of anonymity. No one knows where the sites are hosted or who is accessing them. People commonly associate the dark web with illegal activity because of this anonymity and the ability to access and purchase dark content. The dark web is somewhat tricky to navigate since all the information is not well organized.
Let’s start with the basics. In order to access the dark web, you need a network of VPNs (a virtual private network) called the Tor network. You have likely heard of VPNs or seen advertising for VPNs at the end of Youtube videos such as NordVPN, ExpressVPN, Surfshark, etc. But to break it down, VPNs essentially give internet users online privacy. They do this by placing the user’s internet protocol (IP) addresses in a different location and creating a private network from a public internet connection.
Cybercriminals who access the dark web are typically paranoid about getting caught conducting illegal activity. That’s why they use VPNs connected to other VPNs, which are connected to even more VPNs through the Tor network. The Tor network is essential to being completely anonymous and accessing the dark web.
Accessing the dark web is not too difficult. The starting point is to download the Tor browser, turn on a VPN and visit a hidden website with a list of links to other websites. Dark websites look similar to regular websites, so it is important to note that the endings of the websites are different. Regular, ‘open web’ websites end in ‘.com’ such as wikipedia.com or google.com. But the darknet websites end in ‘.onion.’
There isn’t an easy search engine on the dark web to make navigating the dark web easy. Those who use the darknet find what websites they want to explore by getting recommended links or typing a .onion address into their browser. Most dark websites use names that are difficult to remember and are often a scramble of letters and numbers. Navigating the dark web is similar to getting referred websites and links from Reddit. Because people who use the darknet are anonymous and no one knows where the websites are, there is plenty of illegal activity.