How to Access the Deep Web: A Dark Net Primer on Web Privacy and Anonymity

Stealth mode activated.

Think of the Internet like an onion: Both are composed of different layers that serve unqiue functions. Online, there is the standard “clear,” or surface, web. The clear web is the one you likely use to stream television shows, and read your daily news, and connect with your old friends on Facebook. But “underneath” the mainstream Internet is the “Deep Web,” (Dark Net, etc…)

This somewhat less-easily accessed means of peer-to-peer web communication is often sensationalized in media and popular culture as an online arena for criminals, drug dealers, libertarian idealists, and pedophiles.

From Vanity Fair:

“White fades quickly through gray and then to black in the Dark Net. Furtive sites there offer all manner of contraband for sale—narcotics, automatic weapons, contract killings, child pornography. The most famous of these sites was Silk Road—the brainchild of Ross Ulbricht, a libertarian entrepreneur who was arrested by the F.B.I. in San Francisco in 2013 and sentenced last year to life in prison without parole.”

Sure, such nefarious characters exist in this deep digital ether where information is currency, but so do journalists, researchers, citizens of nations under tyrannical rule, whistleblowers, and anyone else seeking privacy online.

A popular entry-point to the deep web is via Tor browser, which has a user interface not so dissimilar to mainstream browsers such as Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox. For guidance, take an hour or so to scan various subreddits to find dedicated threads featuring lists and names of deep web markets, and other site addresses accessible via Tor browser.

The New York Times defines Tor as

“The Tor Project promotes the use of [browser] software that helps internet users mask their online identities and whereabouts; the software was developed by the United States Naval Research Laboratory nearly 20 years ago. The group has become better known in the last few years, as Tor is regarded as a useful tool to evade online tracking and government surveillance.”

Deep web networks and the surface Internet, respectively, are indexes. For example, if you can search for a website’s URL on Google, and visit that site simply by clicking on the search results, the site has been previously indexed with Google. Though you technically can’t access sites within the Tor network via Google or Bing searches, you can indeed find the route to underground Internet using mainstream search engines.

Explaining the allure of dark net markets to members of the international drug trade, researcher, psychiatrist, and founder of the Global Drug Survey, Dr. Adam Winstock told KINDLAND: 

“GDS understands that the internet and drugs share a special relationship. In the deep web, site owners, vendors and buyers are able to remain relatively anonymous as their IP addresses are masked. Purchases are made using the decentralized virtual currency Bitcoin."

Pulling an all-encompassing invisibility cloak over your Internet activity, unless you possess highly advanced programming or hacking skills, is probably a pipe-dream. But technology such as Tor, which actively distances itself from the negative "criminal haven" stigma, certainly offers users more privacy than the commonly used Google Chrome, or any other mainstream platform. 

Regardless of any IP address masks, or deep web browsers and privacy safeguards, always assume that Big Brother, and likely the ghost of Steve Jobs, are watching your every move, online or otherwise. If you're doing something online that you wouldn't want a law-enforcement agency to know about, remember, there is always a chance they will find out—if they really want to.