Intro to the Dark Web
Have you ever wanted to visit the bad part of a nearby large city, park your new SUV on a side street with the keys conveniently hidden under the front seat, dress like you live in a penthouse on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, and then, just to be sociable, start knocking on random doors so you can meet the interesting locals and make some new friends? If the answer to that question is “Yes!” then a lot of people on the dark internet would love to be your new friend.
Here’s how to get there. Thank me later.
Seriously, the dark internet is said to be a haven for the worst elements of society. It’s also where you go if you need to communicate anonymously for legitimate and, possibly, life enriching purposes.
Imagine you live in a country where a government with an unlimited budget listens in on all internet traffic without fear of consequences, keeping logs of who sent something to someone forever. Imagine having to explain yourself to a legion of government employees who honestly couldn’t care less about you and only want to carry out their assignment, keep their job, and maybe get a promotion for following orders competently.
Does that anonymous stuff sounds a little better now?
How to Browse Anonymously
The standard tool to browse anonymously is the Tor Browser, available as a free download from the Tor Project.
If you click “Learn more about Tor,” you are taken to a well written page that describes the origins of Tor, how it works, and are shown simple diagrams of how anonymous traffic is routed from your browser to its destination. Simply put, your IP address is hidden. To your destination, the browser request looks like it originated from a completely different place than your actual IP address. All hops are encrypted as HTTPS except for the last one.
[Update 7-25-2014: Tor is apparently not completely anonymous anymore, but this deficiency is being worked on and may be fixed shortly. A couple of researchers found a vulnerability in Tor. The details have been kept secret, although they might be revealed at a black hat hacker conference next month in Las Vegas. The researchers have been prohibited from presenting, but the cat may still be out of the bag. Tor developers have stated they know of the specific problems and are planning to fix them in subsequent releases. There’s no law to prevent them from describing their work. ]
It’s said that nosy governments maintain Tor nodes and traffic may hop through them from time to time. Supposedly, their snooping efforts are not highly successful. Having unlimited budgets, that probably makes them try harder. Active criminal enterprises are probably relatively easy to snare due to eventual carelessness of the participants. The fact they used the Tor network is incidental.
[Update 7-25-2014: Smile, you’re being tracked by the NSA. They know who you are and they know what you do on the internet … and they’re not dead from boredom yet. I’m glad they are on top of my hunt for a good pair of hiking boots and will spare no expense to follow me around as I look for a bargain. Seriously, tens of $Billions are being spent annually just to keep on top of spam email, home shopping, and thorough analysis of teenager Facebook pages. At least our overseers manage to break up the day with a little fun. The NSA likes amateur porn, according to recent reports.]
The Tor Browser
After you download and install the Tor browser, you start it by clicking on a file in the Tor folder.
By default, the Tor browser provides a lot of anonymity. Theoretically, nobody knows who is browsing. Realistically, if you sign into anywhere with your own user ID, then your user ID will be logged at that site with that IP address. The Tor browser has configuration settings that can change your privacy levels. Experienced users recommend that you keep your Tor browsing separate from your everyday browsing to minimize the chance of doing something identifiable.
The Tor browser search screen is your initial home screen. The browser is a derivative of Firefox. The icons on the top bar allow user configuration. Privacy settings can be adjusted.
Where’s the Dark Internet?
You can’t get there from here. If you want to browse the Dark Internet, you need a Tor browser. I’ll get you started by slightly scratching the surface. Everyone who wants to remain hidden uses a .onion address. It’s not a registered top level domain name. It’s something that evolved for use on the Tor network. It’s described as “a Tor hidden services gateway.”
My suggestion is to use the Tor browser search engine and try phrases such as .onion, dark internet, and whatever else your creativity can muster up. There’s no telling how many colorful characters you will find.
By the way, this is officially regarded as Really Risky Internet Behavior and if anything bad happens, such as a virus attack, identity theft, or the complete loss of your savings, it’s your own fault.
Is Anything There Safe?
Sure. If you want to leave an anonymous comment on your favorite website, then Tor is made to order for you. It will never be tracked back to your real IP address unless you did something really bad and you were careless about it. If you live in a country where available information is controlled, Tor is a way to get a look at the outside world with far less risk to your well being.
Many users, Tor and otherwise, use a search engine called DuckDuckGo to assist with anonymous searches. Tor and DuckDuckGo are configured to work well together and retain anonymity, but you can use DuckDuckGo with any browser.
DuckDuckGo aggregates searches from numerous sites and gives results back to you without saving search criteria. They also don’t pass search terms to any site you click on.
DuckDuckGo permits you to alter settings for your searches. the Web Of Trust setting can provide insights into the safety of the web sites you are shown, but it’s not foolproof. WOT is an add-on feature you can load into most, if not all, browsers. A green icon signifies a safe site. I have clicked on sites with a green safety icon and watched my internet security suite (Norton Comcast version) go into high alert. Browsing in a Sandboxie sandbox adds another of security.
The Dark Web is a good place for anonymous email. There are several sites. While most retains the IP address of the sender, an anonymous email sent using the Tor browser will retain an anonymous Tor IP address.
I’ve always been a plan-ahead-belt-and-suspenders kind of person when it comes to certain things. If you really want to play around with tools you don’t understand and visit places most people avoid, then you need physical protection. You should consider using a PC that’s completely isolated from all other devices on the physical network. On that PC, you should install a hypervisor such as VMware or VirtualBox or Hyper-V. From your selected hypervisor, you should load an available operating system and isolate it completely from the host PC. Just for grins, you might load an Internet Security Suite, Microsoft EMET, and anything else that comes to mind. Then take liberal snapshots of your virtual environment so you can restore your original settings more easily. Of course, even the best physical protection won’t help you one little bit if you goof up and reveal personally identifiable information.