The dark web can be a pretty dangerous place if you don't take the right precautions. You can stay relatively safe with a good antivirus and a decent VPN. However, if you want to be completely anonymous and protect your device, you'll need a little more than that.
Here there are 5 of the 15 steps that can help you visit the dark web safely. In the next article we will write about the other steps.
Keep in mind that everything changes quickly and hackers are getting smarter.
It may sound boring, but the dark web is a complex place where many things can go wrong. It is full of scammers, malware and phishing websites. Sometimes it is better to learn by doing. However, with the dark web, this would not be the best method...
You'd rather not infect your computer with malware or lose a lot of money before understanding how all this works. There are already many people on the dark web abusing the ignorance of others.
That's why it's important to know exactly what you want to achieve on the dark web before you download the software or start surfing.
If you know what you want to do or discover on the dark web, you can prepare yourself better:
If you are just looking for something exciting or unusual: make sure you know how to surf the dark web safely.
If you're trying to make a profit through Bitcoin or other crypto currencies: make sure you understand how crypto currencies work, what blockchain is, and what reliable platforms are out there for dealing with other users.
1. Uses a live mobile operating system (optional)
Anonymity is the most important thing to protect, in the dark web. Not because the dark web is illegal (it is not), but because the more anonymous you are, the safer you will be. Unfortunately, operating systems like Windows 10 are not very suitable for privacy on the dark web. Windows does the following, which does not help the anonymity:
Your data is continuously synchronized: browser history, open websites, application settings and wifi access points are tracked.
- Your device automatically links to a unique third-party ad ID
- Cortana collects data such as: keystrokes, search results, microphone audio messages, calendar information, music playlists and even your online purchases
- Microsoft may collect all types of personal data: your identity, passwords, habits and interests, user data, contacts and locations.
If a hacker manages to enter your system through the dark web, all that information can be used by that hacker. Many of these Windows settings can be easily deactivated (although not all!). You can do this by checking your Windows settings or by using clever software like W10Privacy.
A much better idea than going to the dark web using Windows 10 is to use a live mobile operating system like Tails, Whonix, ZuesGuard or Qubes.
Tails, Whonix, ZeusGuard or Qubes
Tails logoTails (The Amnesiac Incognito Live System) is a live version of the Linux operating system that will leave no trace of your activity or the operating system on your computer. This free operating system can be downloaded on a USB flash drive or DVD. You do not have to install it on your computer. Simply plug in the USB flash drive or insert the DVD when you want to browse without leaving a trace and load the operating system. It cannot store cookies on your hard drive unless you personally tell it to.
Tails also has the Tor browser installed as standard. The Tor browser is essential for entering the dark web, and installing Tails on a flash drive saves you the trouble of installing Tor on your PC or laptop.
Live operating systems are not compatible with VPN
However, it is very important to note that many live operating systems do not support VPN. This is for a good reason. These types of operating systems run in isolated virtual machines, which means there is little that can connect to your identity, or anything else on your computer. In this case, having a VPN subscription might make you more detectable than using just the Tor network. That's because VPNs, in this case, would introduce either a permanent ingress protection or a permanent egress node. This only means that, ironically, the VPN introduces a new method for detection.
- When you use a live operating system -> Use Tor, but not VPN
- When using Windows, Mac or Linux -> Use a VPN and then Tor
Of course, not everyone is comfortable downloading and using a completely new operating system. If you choose not to access the dark web through Tails, make sure you follow the next steps.
2. Use a VPN to encrypt your Internet traffic
Even if you use the Tor browser, anyone with enough time, resources, and knowledge can track your traffic. In fact, the Tor browser was found to have a vulnerability in 2017 that in some cases leaked actual IP addresses. This problem was especially severe for MacOS and Linux users. However, if these users had taken the precaution of also having a VPN running in the background, their real IP addresses would not have been compromised.
Therefore, it's highly recommended to use a VPN in addition to Tor while surfing the dark web. VPNs encrypt web traffic and make sure that your IP address is hidden from hackers or government surveillance, even if there is a leak in the Tor browser. For more information about VPNs, see our detailed explanation. However, keep in mind that not all VPN providers are equally reliable. Free versions often suffer from slow service, data limits, and security leaks. We recommend using NordVPN as a good VPN that works well with Tor.
However, keep in mind that many live mobile operating systems such as Tails do not support the use of a VPN. If you are using one of these live mobile operating systems, you can skip the step of installing a VPN and go straight to taking some additional security precautions.
3. Download Tor from its official website
A mobile live operating system like Tails and Whonix already has the Tor browser pre-installed, so you can skip to step 4 if you use them. However, for Windows, Mac, Linux or Android users, this is important.
The Tor browser is a very interesting target for hackers and government agencies. Fake versions of the Tor browser have been created to create loopholes for users even before they access the dark web, or to monitor a user's behavior while on the dark web. The latter approach is especially attractive to government agencies.
That's why you should always download the Tor browser from its official website: https://www.torproject.org/. Be sure to always download the latest version of the browser and keep it updated at all times. That way, you'll be sure to have the latest security measures up to date.
4. Taking safety precautions
Before you open the Tor browser, you must:
- Close all non-essential applications, e.g. Netflix, password managers
- Stop running unnecessary services, e.g. OneDrive.
- Cover your webcam with a piece of paper. It's surprisingly easy to access your webcam, even without realizing it.
- Have a reliable and fully updated antivirus program installed on your device.
- Install up-to-date, quality anti-malware software. For more general information about malware, check our section on malware.
- Turn off your location on your device. Your location can be found through your IP address, as well as through the device itself.
- In Windows 10, you can disable location in Settings > Privacy > Location > Disable location + delete location history
- For MacOS: System Preferences > Security & Privacy Panel > Privacy > disable "Enable Location Services
- For Tails or other live operating system: you won't have to worry about your location being filtered.
The dark web is full of hackers who will take advantage of any opportunity to exploit any detail you have overlooked. If a dark web hacker succeeds in hacking your system, all applications and services you run in the background will be open for attack.
Essentially, the best way to stay safe on the dark web is to make sure that a potential hacker has little or no information about it. This means that you should not randomly surf the dark web or provide personal information. Do not click on any suspicious links. Leave as few signs of your presence as possible. These precautions will reduce the chances of you becoming a target.
Once you have opened the Tor browser, do not change the screen size of the Tor browser. Strangely enough, this will keep you safer. Also, to be on the safe side, never type directly into the Tor browser. Instead, write your search in a notebook and copy it into the browser. Advanced tracking methods can identify your specific way of writing.
It also doesn't hurt to check how well protected your Tor browser is against tracking (or your everyday browser for when you're not on the dark web). Panopticlick allows you to check with a single click if your browser is protected against: advertising crawlers, invisible crawlers, so-called "acceptable ads" and your fingerprint.
5. Prevents the loading of scripts in the Tor browser
Web scripts can be used to keep track of what you're doing online: they become part of your fingerprint. Tor has included a great feature in your browser to ensure that no web site can run scripts. To activate it, go to the top right-hand corner of your browser and click on the symbol with the letter "S". Select the option Enable restrictions globally, and you're all set.
It is important to change this setting, as websites often run scripts without warning. This is particularly dangerous on the dark web, as .onion websites are not regulated and there is a large amount of malware. By blocking the scripts, you reduce the possibility of your computer becoming infected. However, even by blocking the scripts you are not protected from any damage. Therefore, you should exercise caution when surfing the dark web.
To check if you have successfully prevented scripts from loading in the Tor browser, look at the "S" in the upper right corner. When there's an exclamation point next to it, websites can still run unauthorized scripts. If there is no exclamation point, you are safe from any unwanted scripts.
If you want to disable scripts for everyday use in a different browser, it's best to do so through an extension.
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Web Developer, Blogger, Creative Thinker, Social media enthusiast, Italian expat in Spain, mom of little 6 years old geek, founder of @manoweb. A strong conceptual and creative thinker who has a keen interest in all things relate to the Internet. A technically savvy web developer, who has multiple years of website design expertise behind her. She turns conceptual ideas into highly creative visual digital products.
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