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The Dark Web is called dark for a reason. Like a cavernous dungeon, it’s almost impossible to navigate without a torch or beacon – and the information it contains can be very difficult to discover.
However, that’s all changing. If you need to search the Dark Web search engine tools now exist, which provide an equivalent to Google for the Web’s darkest corners.
This is proving invaluable for a host of reasons – stretching well beyond the notorious purposes of the Dark Web. So which engines should you look for when firing up Tor? This blog will introduce some of the leading options. But first, let’s take a quick look at the Dark Web, and why it’s such a big deal.
What is the Dark Web, and why would you need to use it?
When we browse the web with Firefox or Chrome, what we see is like the tip of an iceberg. The visible web actually sits upon a vast archive of material, which could be 500 times as large as the surface layer.
Much of this makes up the so-called “deep web,” which includes all of the material not indexed by search engines. But there’s another form of online content hidden beneath the surface.
This “Dark Web” is also concealed from ordinary search engines, but it’s much more private and much smaller than the Deep Web. Made up of a worldwide P2P network of users, it tends to be accessible only via The Onion Router (Tor) or compatible browsers.
When you log onto Tor, traffic is routed through multiple nodes across the world, which has the effect of “wrapping” your data like the skin of an onion. This makes it very hard for outsiders to see who you are, and what you are doing.
That’s why Tor and the Dark Web are so useful for dissidents in repressive countries. And it’s also why the system has attracted criminals like identity thieves, drug smugglers, and gun runners.
But let’s say you have a legitimate use for the Dark Web, such as researching data leaks. How do you actually use the network to find what you want?
What are the best Dark Web search engines?
None of these tools are well known, and there’s always a slight chance that they may harbor malware or other surprises. But they do have a proven track record of serving Tor users. So among this list, you should find the Dark Web search engine you’ve been looking for.
Taking the form of a very stripped-down form of Google (hence the humorous name which riffs on the search giant’s questionable ethics), Not Evil is usually the place to start when searching the Dark Web.
It simply features a search field and a list of results that have been harvested from Tor servers. But there’s a bit more going on here than you might think.
Search results are monitored by users, who can report incorrect and misleading results or log sites as “abusive.” And the search engine actively tries to combat content like child pornography, which is good to see (and suggests that it lives up to its name).
With an archive of over 400,000 pages, Torch does a pretty good job of sifting through the Dark Web’s content and returns a batch of relevant results for almost any search query.
The interface will be instantly familiar to Google or DuckDuckGo users, and the performance is comparable to Not Evil. So if you’re investigating the Dark Web search engine tools don’t come much better.
Another very useful portal to the recesses of the Dark Web, Ahmia was developed with the support of the Tor project back in 2014.
As with Not Evil, it explicitly sets out to sanitize search results from Tor, which is probably a good thing from most users’ perspective. So don’t expect to have your searches contaminated with child pornography. Ahmia has the best filters around.
Ahmia also does a good job of separating fake websites from legitimate sites. This can be a problem at all levels of the web, and the coders of Ahmia have created a novel set of tools for avoiding malicious sites.
Few search engines have penetrated as far into the Dark Web as Haystak, which claims to use an archive of over 1.5 billion pages. That probably features a broad overlap with the more conventional Deep Web, but there’s no doubt that Haystak reaches part of the Tor network that other searches can’t.
However, Haystak’s search infrastructure is a little less reliable than alternatives like Not Evil or Torch, so you may find yourself fiddling around with keywords to find relevant content.
Even so, the size of the archive means that it’s a Tor search engine that needs to be taken into account.
Another popular, but sparsely updated Tor search engine, Candle closely resembles Google in terms of its aesthetic – even if the actual crawler offers far less material.
Candle keeps everything as simple as possible, so there are no Boolean operators to contend with here. Just type in a few keywords, and the search engine will deliver a batch of 20 results.
If you don’t expect miracles, and your queries are relatively simple, this is an excellent little search tool. It’s quick, easy, convenient, and generally works well.
One of the newest contenders in the Tor search community, Beacon has attracted a lot of coverage in the tech press, and it could well be the option you need.
Developed by Canadian company Echosec, Beacon seeks to shed light in the Dark Web and has some highly innovative features which set it apart.
For one thing, Beacon doesn’t rely on the Tor browser. Instead, it reaches into the Dark Web remotely and indexes the diverse array of material there. The result is something very similar to Google. So it’s no surprise to see tech commentators labeling Beacon a “Google for the Dark Web.”
While it’s not designed for individuals who want to use the Dark Web for illicit activities, Beacon is ideal for companies who want to research what’s out there.
It markets itself as a security tool, which makes it easy to see if customer or financial records have leaked onto the Dark Web, and it’s probably the first app to do so effectively. So if you are worried about data breaches and want a full picture of the information environment, using Beacon is a great idea.
Should you use services like Web2Tor?
When you surf the web looking for ways to get the most out of Tor, you may well run into services with names like “Web2Tor” or “Tor2Web.” These sites seem really useful on the surface, promising to create an interface between the ordinary web and Tor nodes.
In theory, this would let you use search engines like DuckDuckGo to search Tor, and it would do away with the need for the standalone Tor browser.
However, don’t be fooled. These tools (when they work) are inherently insecure. Users run the risk of betraying their DNS and IP information when they create a bridge between the surface web and Tor, giving away plenty of data about the sites you are visiting.
So when you navigate the Dark Web search engine tools are your friend. Just stick to specialist Tor-based services, instead of apps and sites which promise more than they can deliver.
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Mikaela is an investigative journalist that likes to cover the ever-changing world of technology. She tries to keep her finger on the pulse of digital trends and share her insights on the most relevant topics, including big tech, security, privacy, and data breaches.