Tall tales and hushed whispers of horrific sights abound in the Dark Web got you curious? Well, don’t venture into the seedy underbelly of the internet without proper protection. While it’s not all hackers, hitmen, drug dealers, and messed-up porn, it’s not a place you should visit metaphorically naked.
The Dark Web consists of pages upon pages of unindexed websites that can only be accessed by one of the most secure web browsers – Tor. And although it does make you almost truly anonymous, it doesn’t strictly protect you from other dangers lurking in this hidden frontier. This is where the best VPNs for the Dark Web come to aid you.
Best VPN for Dark Web: shortlist
- The best VPN for the Dark Web9.7
- A Dark Web VPN with extra features9.3
- VPN for Dark Web with a free version9.1
- Top-notch security Dark Web VPN8.8
- A VPN for Dark Web with malware protection8.4
How to access the Dark Web with a VPN
What is the Dark Web?
Before we dive into this whole VPN business, let’s make one thing clear – the Deep Web and the Dark Web are separate things. A lot of people tend to use these terms interchangeably even though they refer to vastly different parts of the web:
- The Deep Web is the part of the internet not indexed by search engines, and the pages require some sort of access method. You can still view them from your regular ‘ol browser, but you just need the correct login credentials. It’s completely legitimate and includes such things as chat & email messages, banking records, private social media content, and so on.
- The Dark Web also consists of websites that aren’t indexed by search engines, but you can only access them via special software like Tor, I2P, Freenet, and Riffle. You have to know the exact links to pages; this is where most illegal activities occur.
Many internet frequenters have heard about the Dark Web through various rumors surrounding this place. And while most of it is exaggerated, the whole crime aspect is true – you’ll find marketplaces to buy drugs, stolen credit cards, and personal information. Then there are forums full of self-proclaimed hitmen, sex trafficking rings, hackers offering their services, etc.
Of course, not everything on the Dark Web revolves around crime. Government whistleblowers, political activists, and various journalists have also found refuge here. Being an utterly unregulated place makes it the perfect spot to spill secrets, highlight human rights violations, and contact sources anonymously for intel.
Doing all this stuff without the extra security of VPNs isn’t smart, though. Let’s get into reasons why.
Why do you need a VPN for the Dark Web?
Due to the people who tend to lurk here and how it works, the Dark Web isn’t exactly a safe place to wander around aimlessly. Your safety is entirely up to you; you aren’t immune to fraud, malware-ridden websites, fishy downloads, black-hat hackers, etc. The Tor Browser just can’t 100% protect you from these risks.
But you can at least make yourself less likely to be compromised if you utilize a trusted VPN while browsing. These tools hide your actual IP address and encrypt all internet traffic, which is beneficial in several ways:
- Hide Tor usage. Because of the Dark Web’s infamous reputation, some governments deem accessing it suspicious. In the US, for example, if your Internet Service Provider (ISP) catches you using Tor, you’re likely to get hit with a search warrant, and your devices might also get seized.
- Bypass restrictions. Other countries like China go as far as banning Tor altogether to curb dissenting opinions and potential whistleblowers. And the problem is the Great Firewall of China blocks not only access to the browser but the Entry/Guard relays you need to connect to an unindexed page.
- Block malware. As mentioned above, the place is ripe with danger, especially if you’re bumbling about and using any random Tor links you find on the web. Since many Dark Web VPNs have some form of malware blockers, they minimize the chance of your device getting infected with a nasty surprise.
The best VPNs for accessing the Dark Web: detailed list
- NordVPN – the best VPN for the Dark Web
- Surfshark VPN – a Dark Web VPN with top-notch privacy
- Atlas VPN – VPN for Dark Web with a free version
- Proton VPN – top-notch security Dark Web VPN
- IPVanish – a VPN for Dark Web with malware protection
You need a complete tool package to remain hidden under wraps, so the Dark Web VPN has to include the essentials. AES-256 encryption, leak protection, and a kill switch ensure you’re unseen at all times. Some form of virus and malware protection is also nice if you don’t have separate software for that.
Since it’s dangerous even to use the Tor Browser in some countries, you might want to look into providers with zero-logs policies. These indicate they don’t collect any data about you, meaning nothing can be turned over to the authorities if they come knockin’. Of course, anonymous payment methods are a given – complete untraceablity from the start.
1. NordVPN – the best VPN for the Dark Web
24/7 live chat, Email
- Threat Protection for battling malware
- Obfuscated servers to bypass censorship
- Independently-audited and secure
- No router app
Regarding privacy and security, NordVPN is hard to beat and is currently the best Dark Web VPN. Hailing from privacy-friendly Panama and operating under a PwC verified no-logs policy, it’s a go-to service for many internet lurkers who wish for utmost anonymity. You’ll be ready for everything with RAM-only standard servers, plus internet and app-level kill switches.
Finding the best connection point won’t be a problem with the massive network of 5800+ servers across 60+ countries. And the proprietary NordLynx protocol ensures loading times aren’t slowing to a frustrating crawl. Then there are obfuscated servers that hide all VPN usage, allowing you to use NordVPN in countries with strict internet censorship.
Feature-wise, NordVPN isn’t lacking. Threat Protection makes sure you don’t land on dangerous pages while the Onion Over VPN routes your traffic through the Tor Network for extra encryption. The cherry on top is that you can use various cryptocurrencies to pay for the subscription.
This robust VPN (+ 6 simultaneous connections) can be yours for only $2.99/month if you input a NordVPN code during checkout. Of course, you don’t have to commit right away – take advantage of the 7-day free trial. And if it doesn’t live up to the hype, get a refund with the 30-day money-back guarantee.
For a deeper investigation of NordVPN, read our NordVPN review.
2. Surfshark VPN – a Dark Web VPN with extra features
24/7 live chat, FAQ
- Infinite connections
- Infinite connections
- Software Defined Networking
- Unaudited no-logs policy
Those looking for a service with extra features will find Surfshark VPN an excellent VPN for Dark Web browsing. It includes the necessary VPN tools, plus its reliability is boosted by the data-friendly jurisdiction – the Netherlands – and the zero-logs policy. Adding to the last point, all hardware is RAM-only, meaning no data can be collected or stored for later.
3200+ servers in 100+ countries make Surfshark the VPN with the largest country coverage. Since the next-gen WireGuard protocol is available, great speeds and stable connections are guaranteed. And if you need to hide your VPN tracks while doing so, the Camouflage and NoBorders modes are at your disposal.
There’s CleanWeb to ensure you’re less likely to be hit with malware and phishing attempts. As for an additional layer of security, MultiHop routes your traffic via two different VPN servers for double the encryption. And to make it all come full circle, cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Litecoin, Ether, etc., are on the metaphorical payment options table.
Snatch a subscription for only $2.21/month with a Surfshark VPN coupon and benefit from no device limit to boot. You can attempt surfing the Dark Web with the 7-day free trial version or dive into its recesses from the get-go. The 30-day money-back guarantee has you covered.
For a deeper investigation of Surfshark VPN, read our Surfshark VPN review.
3. Atlas VPN – VPN for Dark Web with a free version
Email, tickets, FAQ
- Excellent free version
- No device limit
- Solid security features
- No router configuration
Dirt-cheap doesn’t always mean subpar, as is the case with Atlas VPN. As a Dark Web VPN, it gets the job done and then some. While the base of operations, the US, isn’t exactly favorable, the provider isn’t inclined to do wrong by its users, as the strict no-logs policy indicates. They also offer a neat free version, albeit with limited bandwidth and only 3 locations.
The sizable network of 1000+ servers in 49+ countries is enough to work with. For guaranteed low latency and fast loading times, using the WireGuard tunneling protocol is recommended. Now, if you think encrypted traffic is not enough, connect to the SafeSwap servers that periodically change your IP address while browsing.
Malicious-software-wary folk will rest easy with the SafeBrowse feature. It takes care of malware, intrusive ads, and even user trackers. Then the Data Breach Monitor alerts you if your personal data has been compromised and posted online. As for anonymous payments – complete your purchase with Ripple, Monero, Ether, Litecoin, or Bitcoin.
With unlimited simultaneous connections, it’s a great and lightweight Dark Web VPN. Get it for just $1.64/month by utilizing an Atlas VPN discount code. You can try the free Atlas VPN version but be prepared to have fewer features. Or you can go premium risk-free with the 30-day money-back guarantee.
For a deeper investigation of Atlas VPN, read our Atlas VPN review.
4. Proton VPN – top-notch security Dark Web VPN
Email, knowledge base
- VPN Accelerator for best connectivity
- Extra protection features against attacks
- Independently-audited no-logs policy
- Best plan is quite expensive
Looking for a privacy-first Dark Web VPN? Don’t pass up on the brainchild of the people behind ProtonMail – Proton VPN. It has a lot of things going for it: an independently-audited no-logs policy, being based in Switzerland, open-source software, and more. Let’s see what else is great about this provider.
Well, Proton VPN’s fleet consists of 3000+ servers across 69+ countries. And while WireGuard keeps the performance as great as you’d expect, the show’s true star is VPN Accelerator. This technology boosts your speeds and improves stability even while connecting to countries on the other side of the globe.
When it comes to protection, there are two nifty features. NetShield diminishes the threat of user trackers, malware, and ads. On the other hand, Secure Core goes a bit further by defending you against network-based attacks. As for complete anonymity, pay with Bitcoin or send cash via mail.
Every subscription comes with 10 simultaneous connections; you can get one for as cheap as $3.99/month. Just utilize a Proton VPN coupon to get the best deal for this Dark Web VPN. There is a free version, albeit limited server and feature-wise, but committing straight away is also an option with the 30-day money-back guarantee.
For a deeper investigation of Proton VPN, read our Proton VPN review.
5. IPVanish – a VPN for Dark Web with malware protection
24/7 live chat, email, knowledge base
- Limitless connections
- VIPRE antivirus software
- Independently-audited zero-logs policy
- No anonymous payment methods
Don’t let the country of origin scare you off from trying IPVanish, a great VPN for Dark Web. The service operates under a zero-logs policy (certified by the highly-regarded Leviathan company) and gives you the tools you need to avoid monitoring. Plus, the provider owns every bit of hardware, meaning no third parties can access the servers.
Speaking of which, the network size is nothing to scoff at – 2200+ servers in 51+ countries are here for all your Dark Web needs. Speeds won’t be an issue, as WireGuard is among the available tunneling protocols. Lastly, you can remain sneaky thanks to the OpenVPN Scramble feature that hides VPN traffic.
Apart from robust security, the main selling point of IPVanish is the VIPRE antivirus software. This real-time protection tool defends against viruses, phishing, attacks done via network exploits, malware, and more. Sadly, you can’t complete your purchase anonymously as there are no crypto payment options.
Grab a plan for only $2.49/month by utilizing an IPVanish code and use this Dark Web VPN on every device you own. It’s one of the few services that doesn’t offer a trial version to test beforehand, unfortunately. You’re not bound to the commitment, though, with the 30-day money-back guarantee being an option.
For a deeper investigation of IPVanish, read our IPVanish review.
How we picked these VPNs for Dark Web
There are other vital criteria a Dark Web VPN must meet besides having the right tools and a zero-logs policy. You should also pay attention to:
- Global coverage. The more servers and countries you can connect to, the better. It ensures you have access to the ones closest to you, which plays a part in overall VPN performance and connection stability.
- Excellent speeds. Routing everything through an additional server naturally increases the loading times slightly. And since the Tor browser is already notorious for being on the slower side (due to multiple layers of encryption), you want to make the sluggishness barely noticeable. This is where the latest tunneling protocols, like WireGuard, come in place as they facilitate speeds good enough to accommodate comfortable browsing. You can also test the VPN speeds with the proper comparison tools.
- Extra features. If you live in a country where VPNs aren’t allowed, you’ll need tools to bypass these restrictions to continue your journey into the Dark Web. Protocols with Stealth VPN mask VPN traffic from Deep Packet Inspection (DPI), letting you do just that. Another handy feature is an adware and malware blocker, which will lower your chances of catching something nasty on the web.
- Anonymous payments. Of course, even using VPN technology can be deemed suspicious in the eyes of some authorities. Being able to pay with cryptocurrencies or cash can save your hide in this case, as the VPN purchase then can’t be traced back to you.
Free VPN for Dark Web
The temptation to use a free VPN for the Dark web is understandable, but hold your horses for a bit. The thing with costless services is that you usually end up paying in other ways, and these are no exception. Some of the well-known problems with free VPNs are:
- Extensive data logging and then selling that info to third parties
- Clients full of malicious software and user trackers
- Intrusive advertising that can also have viruses
- Subpar tools that offer weak protection (if there are any tools at all)
- Undisclosed encryption methods (if there are any at all)
- Stringent speed and data caps that bless you with infinite loading screens
Of course, we’re not saying that every single provider out there has these issues. You just have to thoroughly research your options and what features you’re getting. One trick is going for trusted companies that disclose their practices in privacy policies and terms of services. We’ve found that some of the best free VPNs for the Dark Web are:
- Atlas VPN – comes with 3 server locations: Los Angeles and New York in the US and the Netherlands. The free tier is optimized for torrenting but not for streaming, and users get 10GB/month along with 2 simultaneous connections.
- Proton VPN – comes with 3 server locations: the US, the Netherlands, and Japan. The free version isn’t optimized for torrenting or streaming, and users get no data caps along with 1 simultaneous connection and VPN Accelerator.
- Hide Me VPN – comes with 5 server locations: East and West Coasts of the US, the Netherlands, Canada, and Germany. The free app is optimized for torrenting but not for streaming, and users get 10GB/month along with 1 simultaneous connection and Stealth Guard.
You don’t exactly get much, but that’s the whole point – only premium users who keep the service afloat can access the complete toolset and server list. If you’re still unwilling to shell out some pocket change, you could also take advantage of a little workaround.
Most reputable VPNs offer free trials, and you get the same thing paid subscribers do, albeit for a limited time. No one’s stopping you from getting one and then jumping to another service once it ends. And theoretically, you can keep doing it ad infinitum (at least until you run out of providers).
How to access the Dark Web
No one ever stumbles upon a Dark Web website – you need to have the right tools to access it in the first place. And there are two ways you can do it: through Tor or I2P.
Accessing the Dark Web with Tor
Tor is an open-source browser that takes anonymity to the next level by utilizing the Tor network. As you browse, your traffic is passed along different encrypted nodes. First, it comes in via the Entry or Guard Node, then goes to the Relay Node, and finally leaves through the Exit Node. If someone tried to track you, they’d only see what happened on this last node.
This method is known as onion routing since everything gets encrypted with another layer with every different node. It has its downsides, of course, namely being relatively slow compared to regular browsing.
If you’ve got your Tor-suited VPN up and running, let’s go step by step on how to download the Tor browser:
- Boot up your regular browser and enter incognito mode
- Go to Tor’s official website – Tor Project – and download the installer
- Follow the setup instructions and open the Tor browser once you’re done
- Go to the settings menu and change the security level to the highest option
- Now you can browse the Dark Web – provided you have the URLs
Accessing the Dark Web with I2P
The Invisible Internet Project, or I2P for short, is an encrypted private network layer that uses a P2P network to operate. All traffic going through here does not interact with the internet, per se, so no one can see what’s happening. And the whole thing is entirely decentralized since volunteers power I2P.
It works a bit faster than Tor, but you won’t be able to access .onion sites since these tools are different. You still have to expect some sluggishness, though, as using a VPN in conjunction does that.
- Install Java on your device if you don’t have it already
- Go to I2P’s official website and download the installer
- Follow the setup instructions
- Now you’ll have to configure your browser and other relevant apps to use I2P – thankfully, the
- I2P website has detailed instructions on how to do that
- Access the Dark Web via eepsites
How a VPN complements the Tor Browser
Tor mostly keeps you anonymous with all that extra encryption, but it doesn’t really protect you from the threats that lurk within. We’re talking about viruses, malware, phishing scams, and all kinds of nasty threats that can be easy to fall for. Entering the wrong link can land you on:
- Botnets – essentially, this is a network of infected devices, and their owners usually don’t even know their devices are infiltrated. What these are used for depends on the hacker, and it varies from simply spreading viruses to launching Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks.
- Scams – the thing with Dark Web sites is that you can’t tell whether they are legitimate or not. And since they operate outside the boundaries of the surface web (and are illegal in nature), there are no special symbols to indicate trustworthiness. Be especially careful when accessing marketplaces, as you can easily be scammed, phished, or injected with malware.
- Illegal porn – it’s not something you’d find on your average adult website. Many pages are filled with extreme violence and unsavory content in general. Not only can this be distressing to get a glimpse of, but it can also land you in trouble with the authorities if you accidentally end up downloading anything.
Besides the dangers of browsing, Tor itself isn’t perfect. There’s this well-known thing that the last Exit Node of this browser decrypts all your traffic. And since volunteers are responsible for these nodes, you gotta pray that the last player in the game isn’t out there to steal your information or inject any malicious code.
This is where VPNs come into play by providing extra tools to mitigate any potential damage. They keep everything encrypted with AES-256 encryption, from beginning to end, meaning the traffic coming through the Exit Node stays untraceable to you. Plus, you won’t be able to access suspicious websites as threat protection measures will block them.
How to explore the Dark Web
Your run-of-the-mill search engines like Google or Bing won’t work on the Dark Web as they don’t support .onion URLs. In order to navigate this vast unindexed place, you’ll have to rely on tools created specifically for it. Apart from DuckDuckGo, some of the more prevalent and easy-to-use Dark Web search engines are:
- notEvil – a stripped-down version of the ever-popular Google, it only features a search field. notEvil pulls the results from a database of over 32 million Dark Web websites harvested from various Tor servers. It offers a sanitized experience so you won’t stumble onto material that will give you psychic damage.
- Torch – similar to Google and DuckDuckGo, it’s also a simplified search engine with a search field. You can explore an archive of over four 400,000 pages, and all results are completely uncensored.
- Ahmia – while it’s available on the regular web, you’ll only be able to access .onion links via Tor. Ahmia filters out dangerous material and even manages to separate fake websites from legitimate ones.
We also have a more in-depth article about the best Dark Web search engines worth reading up on. Just remember to practice safe browsing and never use unvetted .onion links.
What is the safest way to go on the Dark Web
There are a lot of steps to cover here, so let’s start on what you have to do before even opening the Tor Browser:
- Close all non-essential apps and stop any unnecessary services running in the background
- Disconnect your webcam if it’s a separate device, or cover it up with a sticker if you have a laptop – it’s notoriously easy to hack into them. There are even websites where you can watch strangers through their unsecured cameras, and you don’t want to end up being one of them.
- Enable a trustworthy antivirus and anti-malware software
- Turn off your device’s location tracking
- Enable a Dark Web VPN – visiting the Dark Web usually raises eyebrows, especially if you live in the US, Russia, China, etc. Your ISP and network administrator can also see that you’re accessing, so it’s better to be safe than sorry. Activate the VPN before you even open the Tor Browser.
Okay, phase one is complete. After you boot up Tor, it’s also good practice to never change the browser window size, as the action can be used to track your unique fingerprint. Another thing is never typing directly there because hackers could also utilize your specific writing style to identify you. It’s better to do it in Notepad and copy-paste it in.
Now, onto the general safety precautions for browsing the Dark Web:
- Adjust the Tor browser’s security level to Safest. It will cause some elements on pages not to work correctly, like videos, music, fonts, icons, etc. But it helps keep you safe, so don’t skip this step.
- Always check for IP and DNS leaks. Stop everything you’re doing if any of these are visible. Close Tor and go through the security steps above again, and then perform the leak test a second time. Only when ipleak.net and dnsleaktest.com show your VPN’s IP and DNS are you good to go.
- Always go to the Dark Web with a goal. This way, you’re less likely to land on suspicious websites with god knows what kind of nasty content. You can get a better understanding of this place through The Hidden Wiki.
- Avoid fake websites. These aim to inject your device with malware, keyloggers, botnets, ransomware, etc. Because there are no clear distinctions between fakes and legitimate ones, getting your hands on verified URLs is a must. You can try going to /r/deepweb, /r/onions, and /r/Tor subreddits for them, but always exercise extreme caution. Save legitimate URLs in an encrypted note for future use.
- If you’re buying anything, set up a fake identity with encrypted emails and pseudonyms. Always use cryptocurrencies for payments as they are way harder to be traced back to you compared to traditional methods.
- Never reveal your personal information. This one is pretty self-explanatory, so moving on.
- Generally avoid logins, plugins, subscriptions, or downloads of any kind. 99% of the time, these are attempts to steal your personal information and gain access to your device.
- Completely close everything after you’re done. Better yet, reboot the system and start regular browsing ‘fresh.’
What’s there to explore on the Dark Web
While the Dark Web is kind of the wild west of the internet, you can still somewhat categorize the content you’ll find there. Some of the more prominent examples are:
- Directory pages. These aggregate various .onion links and categorize them by the website’s purpose and such. Besides keeping your own file with saved Dark Web links, these will be your best friends in getting to know this place better and how to navigate it. The popular ones are The Hidden Wiki, Daniel, and OnionDir.
- Dark Web versions of websites. Popular media sites like Facebook, BBC, The New York Times, and such have Dark Web versions of themselves for people who live in countries where the regular ones are blocked due to internet censorship.
- Whistleblowing websites. The Dark Web is the perfect place to spill government and company secrets, expose illegal acts, human rights violations, and all kinds of confidential info. Some of the more popular pages for this are The Intercept, SecureDrop, and ProPublica.
- Email services. If you want to keep your correspondence private, there are many suitable places on the Dark Web for that. These are especially useful since they require all parties to use this particular browser for the emails to come through. The most used ones are ProtonMail, Mail2Tor, and CTemplar.
- Forums and chat boards. The topics on these range from seemingly innocent stuff like philosophy and politics to straight-up illegal activities like trading stolen information. Venture into forums at your own risk since you can stumble onto some really disturbing content. ZeroBin, the Dread Forum, and the Raid forums are the most known ones.
- File-sharing pages. These are used by journalists, whistleblowers, and regular users to safely pass on important information without the risk of files getting intercepted by malicious third parties. You can try MEGATor and BlackCloud – they are entirely anonymous and work similarly to Dropbox.
- Media libraries. Dark Web is home to several websites that act like databases for literature, scientific publications, research articles, and so on. They are free to use and contain vast amounts of information. The most popular ones are Library Genesis and Sci-Hub.
- Black markets. Arguably the main thing people even dive into the Dark Web for, these marketplaces operate illegally and offer all kinds of products. Drugs, weapons, stolen information, counterfeit currency, illegal pharmaceuticals, and hacking services are just the tip of the iceberg.
The Dark Web is a fascinating yet perilous place to visit, where entering the wrong link could expose your device to hacking attempts. So, the first rule would be following safe Dark Web browsing guidelines to avoid endangering yourself more than you already are by going there.
Another tool you can’t do without is a reliable VPN. You need services like NordVPN to cover the security holes of the Tor browser with additional encryption. They will not only make you virtually untraceable from beginning to end but also take care of any malicious software lurking on the Dark Web.
How was your Dark Web browsing experience? Was it similar to the typical horror stories or underwhelming? Let us know in the comments below!
What is the difference between the Dark Web and the Deep Web?
The difference between the Dark Web and the Deep Web is that the former requires special software to access. Pages are reachable via .onion links, and most material on them is illegal. The Deep Web only needs a special access method, and the content there is harmless, like private messages, emails, etc.
Is it legal to access the Dark Web?
Yes, it’s legal to access the Dark Web unless you live in a country like China, where it’s banned. The problem lies in the kind of content found there. Because it operates anonymously, criminal activities abound, and malicious people are free to plan cyber attacks, sell illegal goods, and so on.
Do you need a VPN for Dark Web?
You need a VPN for the Dark Web to keep yourself secure & anonymous. It’s not required to access the place, but it patches up well-known vulnerabilities of the Tor Browser and ensures you’re less likely to get injected with malware, viruses, and such.
Which VPN is best for the Dark Web?
NordVPN is the best VPN for the Dark Web. It includes all the necessary tools for keeping yourself completely anonymous, Threat Protection to battle malicious software, and obfuscated servers to hide all tracks of VPN usage.
Is a VPN better than Tor?
Yes, a VPN is better than Tor because it maintains utmost anonymity, fast connection speeds, and unblocks geo-restricted streaming, torrenting, etc. Tor is only good for anonymous browsing and has certain security issues that need to be resolved with tools like VPNs. It’s the only way to access the Dark Web, though.