VPNMentor wrote an interesting article about using .onion websites in 2020. This compliments articles I wrote about Torr in the past. The original post can be found HERE.
Put on your scuba mask because we’re about to dive way down into the deep web.
All of the websites we are about to discuss can only be accessed through Tor. Your regular browser won’t be able to open any links that end in.onion.
If you’re not already familiar with.onion sites, don’t worry. We are going to walk you through everything you need to know to safely explore these hidden parts of the internet.
Best.onion Sites – Quick Guide
ProPublic was the first major news organization to take a stand for online privacy and create a.onion version of their site.
Manage your cryptocurrency anonymously on Blockchain’s secure.onion website.
Sci-Hub is a goldmine of scientific research. You can browse this huge database of research papers and academic articles for free.
Surprising as it may seem, Facebook created a.onion version of their popular social media platform.
- Hidden Answers
Hidden Answers is a Q&A forum kind of like Yahoo Answers, but entirely unregulated.
SecureDrop allows you to securely and anonymously submit tips and documents to major news organizations.
What is the Deep Web?
If you want to visit a website like Amazon or Wikipedia, you won’t have any trouble finding it even if you don’t remember the exact URL. You can just type what you’re looking for into Google or Bing and a link will show up in the search results.
However, not every website can be found this way. The deep web is a term for any part of the internet that isn’t indexed by search engines and so can’t be found through search results.
Even though the deep web sounds intimidating, it includes lots of mundane, everyday websites like company intranets, webmail platforms, and private databases.
Even the contents of your personal Google Drive are part of the deep web because they are hidden behind an authentication process.
Within the deep web is another part of the internet called the dark web. These websites are so well-hidden that they can’t be accessed at all with a normal browser. Most of the dark web can only be accessed using Tor.
What is Tor?
Tor, short for The Onion Router, is a free, open-source software combined with a global network of servers that helps you stay anonymous online.
When you connect to the internet using Tor, your data is wrapped in multiple layers of secure encryption. Your encrypted data is then directed through a random series of volunteer-operated servers called nodes.
Each node that you pass through decrypts a single layer of encryption to learn where to direct your traffic next. The next node decrypts the next layer of encryption, and so on. The “onion” part of The Onion Router comes from this process of peeling off layers of encryption like the layers of an onion.
Tor’s system of multi-layer encryption ensures that each volunteer server knows which node you come from and which node to send you to, but nothing else. This makes your internet activity extremely difficult to track.
Tor is used not only to browse the internet anonymously but also to host websites hidden behind multiple layers of encryption.
You can read more about Tor here.
What Are.onion Sites?
Any website that is part of the Tor network has a URL that ends in.onion and can only be accessed using Tor. Your regular browser won’t be able to view these websites.
.onion URLs usually look different from the URLs you’re used to. They are usually long, complex, and hard to remember. Some.onion websites also change their URLs regularly to maximize their privacy.
Are.onion Sites Safe?
Although Tor is designed to protect your anonymity, it doesn’t completely guarantee your safety or privacy. For one thing, your ISP knows when you are using Tor to access the internet. If your ISP knows, then it’s entirely possible that the government knows as well.
In most countries, it’s not illegal to browse with Tor or access.onion websites. However, you can still attract unwanted attention to yourself by making it obvious that you are hiding your activity.
In addition, the series of nodes that your traffic is directed through when you use Tor are all volunteer operated. You have no idea who is controlling each of those servers. Even though Tor’s multi-layer encryption system is strong, it isn’t perfect and lacks the additional security features of a VPN.
That’s why we strongly recommend that you use a VPN alongside Tor when you explore.onion sites.
How to Safely Access.onion Sites
The best way to safely access.onion sites is to use a combination of Tor and a top-rated VPN.
One way to do this is to simply connect to your VPN first and then use the Tor browser to connect to Tor. You can download the Tor browser on the official Tor website if you don’t already have it.
This method is known as “Tor over VPN”. Since your VPN will immediately hide your IP address and encrypt your traffic, you never have to reveal any of your information to the Tor network.
Some VPN providers also offer built-in Tor services that make it even easier to use a VPN and Tor together. For example, NordVPN offers an Onion over VPN service that allows you to connect to Tor through special NordVPN servers instead of having to use the Tor browser.
There is another method known as “VPN over Tor”, but it’s a little trickier to set up. You can read more about the different methods here.
Whichever method you choose, the final step is the same. Once you’re securely connected to your VPN and Tor, you simply type or copy and paste the.onion URL into your browser and go.
Here are a few more tips that will help you stay safe while browsing.onion sites:
- Make sure you get the URL correct. Although.onion websites aren’t going to hurt you if you’re securely connected, you can still find some pretty dark things that may be upsetting. It’s a good idea to check multiple sources before visiting a.onion site.
- Be careful what you share and who you interact with. The dark web is unregulated, which is great for fighting censorship and sharing information, but also means that many areas are used to carry out illegal activity. Make sure you know where you are going and be extra cautious about scammers and others with malicious intent.
- Don’t download any files or enable any scripts on unknown.onion sites. They could contain malware.
- Avoid proxy services like Tor2Web that allow you to access.onion websites through your normal browser. They are not secure and may even steal or give away your data.
Here are some popular and trustworthy.onion sites that you can visit to experience what the deepest part of the web has to offer.
ProPublic was the first major news organization to launch a.onion version of their website. It was also the first online news publication to win a Pulitzer prize.
This non-profit organization is a big advocate of privacy and free speech. The great thing about news organizations offering a.onion version of their site is that it makes it easier for people in countries with heavy censorship to access real information.
You should be very cautious about purchasing anything on a.onion site, but if you do plan on making any purchases you will need to use cryptocurrency.
The popular cryptocurrency service Blockchain helps you to send and receive bitcoins anonymously. The.onion version of their website gives you an extra layer of anonymity.
This is also one of the few.onion websites that are protected with HTTPS certification, so you can manage your cryptocurrency without compromising your security.
Sci-Hub was created with the belief that everyone should have free, open access to scientific knowledge. This platform hosts millions of research papers and academic articles on a wide variety of topics.
Surprised to see Facebook on this list? It’s true that the social media platform doesn’t have the best reputation when it comes to privacy.
Although this official.onion version of Facebook won’t do anything to protect your privacy from Facebook, it will help protect you from government spying and censorship.
Facebook launched this version mainly to help people in countries that restrict free speech still be able to communicate and collaborate securely and without barriers.
5. Hidden Answers:
Hidden Answers is a question and answer forum that allows people to connect and exchange information, kind of like Reddit or Yahoo Answers.
The difference is that it is much more anonymous and entirely unregulated. This frees people to be totally honest and ask questions that they might be afraid to share otherwise.
Like many things on the deep web, this is great for the free exchange of information and lack of censorship that it provides but be warned that you may find some topics offensive or disturbing.
SecureDrop is an open-source submission system that allows whistleblowers to securely submit tips and sensitive information to news and media organizations. The project was created by the Freedom of the Press Foundation.
On the SecureDrop website, you can find links to the.onion submission sites of major news organizations. Each of these sites allows you to securely and anonymously submit tips and documents through Tor.
Here are a few examples:
- The Guardian: http://33y6fjyhs3phzfjj.onion/
- The Washington Post:http://jcw5q6uyjioupxcc.onion/
- NPR: http://5ha7oig7du2jeyer.onion/
- Associated Press: http://3expgpdnrrzezf7r.onion/
- Buzzfeed: http://ndg43ilvrrj465ix.onion/
You can also find other links to news and media outlets’.onion SecureDrop sites here:
Although you should always exercise caution when exploring the deep web, there are many legitimate reasons to visit.onion sites. Many of these sites offer valuable services and encourage the free exchange of information without fear of censorship.
It is a lot safer to visit these sites with the protection of a trustworthy VPN provider that offers strong security and anonymity. Take a look at our top recommended VPNs to use with Tor.