The dark web has an entirely justifiable reputation for being a place where bad things happen. However, the fact that it’s almost impossible to censor the dark web also makes it invaluable for accessing legitimate content that might otherwise be censored.
In this article, we look at some of the best legitimate Tor websites on the dark web.
- The Guardian (and other news outlets)
- Facebook (for keeping in contact with friends and family)
- The Hidden Wiki
What is Tor?
Tor is a free and open-source anonymity tool consisting of thousands of volunteer-run “nodes” around the world. When you connect to the internet through the Tor network, your connection is routed through at least three random nodes, with your data being re-encrypted each time it passes through a node.
The “entry node” can see your real IP address but has no access to the content of your data or what you do on the internet, while the “exit” node” onto the internet decrypts and encrypts your data (and can therefore see it) and can see which websites you visit. But it has no idea what your real IP address is.
Despite multiple attempts to break Tor (some of which have had some partial success), it remains by far the best way to achieve true anonymity on the internet.
What is the dark web?
The dark web is World Wide Web content that can only be accessed using special software, configurations, or authorization. A number of dark webs exist, including Freenet and I2P, but the best known and most popular is Tor Onion Services. Typically, when people talk about the “dark web”, they almost always mean Tor websites.
The dark web is often confused with the deep web, but they are not the same. The deep web, also known as the invisible web or hidden web, is simply every web page not indexed by standard search engines.
It includes everything you need to go through a login page to access, such as webmail accounts, social media pages with restricted access, online banking sites, web forums, and much more.
Dark websites, on the other hand, can only be accessed with Tor (or something similar).
What are Tor Onion Services?
The weakest point in the regular Tor network is the exit node. While it can’t know your real IP address, it can see your unencrypted data, which may reveal your true identity (although HTTPS still protects you).
And if a powerful adversary was able to take over a very large number of Tor nodes, it might be possible for them to de-anonymize you by performing a timing attack (matching your connection time to the Tor network with known activity from a compromised Tor exit node).
Another problem is that Tor makes the IP addresses of all public Tor exit nodes public, which makes them very easy for governments to block.
Tor developed Onion Services to overcome this problem. Onion Services are websites that exist within the Tor network and can only be accessed from the Tor network. Since these websites are themselves Tor nodes, there’s no need to use an exit node that could be blocked or monitored.
It’s worth noting that another solution to blocked exit nodes is to use bridges, but these have nothing to do with the dark web.
What are Tor websites or onion websites?
Tor websites are simply websites that can only be accessed when you’re connected to the Tor network. Instead of the more familiar top-level domains (TLD), such as .com, .org, or country-specific TLDs (like .co.uk or .fr), Tor websites use the special .onion TLD.
Tor websites otherwise behave just like regular websites. Because Tor is very slow, many dark web-only websites avoid complex designs and fancy graphics to deliver a faster experience.
Onion websites are simply another name for Tor dark web websites. Tor was originally an acronym for The Onion Router, which references Tor’s multiple layers of security.
How do I access onion sites?
The only way to access Tor sites that the Tor Project recommends is to use Tor Browser, a modified version of Firefox that routes all connections through the Tor network by default. It also has a number of other security improvements over Firefox.
For maximum anonymity, you should never install additional Firefox add-ons, and should use the default browser window size. By doing these things, you make your Tor Browser look like every other Tor Browser, minimizing websites’ ability to fingerprint you.
Proton VPN offers a Tor over VPN feature on our premium plans. This provides convenience, as it allows you to access onion websites using your regular browser. However, you should use Tor Browser if anonymity is a high priority.
To access an onion website, simply open its onion link in the Tor Browser or, if using one of Proton VPN’s Tor special servers, inside your regular browser. You will first need to configure your browser to resolve .onion links, but you only need to do this once.
Learn more about how to access the Tor network with Proton VPN
Best onion sites on the dark web
The following list of Tor sites showcases some of the best and most useful legitimate content available on the dark web. Please exercise extreme caution following onion links from these websites, though, as the dark web can be very dark indeed.
AHMIA is a search engine for onion sites. You can access it on the regular web or using its .onion website, but all links are .onion links. Only onion sites that opt in are crawled by AHMIA, and AHMIA maintains a blacklist of abusive and dangerous sites. This makes AHMIA a relatively safe way to access content on the dark net.
Proton offers an ecosystem of encrypted services. Proton VPN, in particular, is an invaluable tool for bypassing state censorship, which is why access to the Proton website is often blocked by repressive governments.
The Proton Tor website allows you to sign up for a Proton Account, access your emails, and download our apps when access to our regular website is blocked.
SecureDrop is an open-source tool that allows whistleblowers to submit confidential information to journalists and news outlets without revealing their identity.
Organizations can set up their own SecureDrop instance for whistleblowers to contact them. Notable news outlets that offer this service include:
- The Guardian – http://xp44cagis447k3lpb4wwhcqukix6cgqokbuys24vmxmbzmaq2gjvc2yd.onion/
- Forbes – http://t5pv5o4t6jyjilp6.onion/
- ProPublica – http://propublica.securedrop.tor.onion/
- The Intercept – http://theintercept.securedrop.tor.onion/
- Financial Times – http://nqu6crmtnzs2hs5abo2uqni53yqsnnwqnerdxuzyz5yxairxlzjzt6yd.onion/
There are many places in the world where access to international news sources is blocked. To serve these people, several independent news outlets offer onion mirrors, making them invaluable sources of information. The Guardian Tor site is a mirror of its regular Tor site, offering the same news, analysis, and opinion as its regular web portal.
Other notable news outlets with onion sites include:
- BBC News – https://www.bbcnewsd73hkzno2ini43t4gblxvycyac5aw4gnv7t2rccijh7745uqd.onion/
- ProPublica – http://p53lf57qovyuvwsc6xnrppyply3vtqm7l6pcobkmyqsiofyeznfu5uqd.onion/
- The Intercept – https://27m3p2uv7igmj6kvd4ql3cct5h3sdwrsajovkkndeufumzyfhlfev4qd.onion/
- The New York Times – https://open.nytimes.com/https-open-nytimes-com-the-new-york-times-as-a-tor-onion-service-e0d0b67b7482
- Deutsche Welle – https://dwnewsgngmhlplxy6o2twtfgjnrnjxbegbwqx6wnotdhkzt562tszfid.onion/en/top-stories/s-9097
- RadioFreeEurope – https://www.rferlo2zxgv23tct66v45s5mecftol5vod3hf4rqbipfp46fqu2q56ad.onion
At first glance, it might seem a little strange for a website that invades your privacy as comprehensively as Facebook does to offer a dark web mirror of its regular website.
But the reality is that millions of people rely on the social media platform to keep in contact with friends and family all around the world. It’s also a place for discussion and organization during political unrest.
This is why Facebook is often censored in restrictive countries, making its Tor website extremely useful.
The Hidden Wiki
The Hidden Wiki is a community-edited index for the dark web. It’s a great way to start exploring what the dark web has to offer, but be aware that its links may lead you to scam websites, websites offering highly illegal content… or worse. Please exercise extreme caution when visiting The Hidden Wiki.
It’s also worth noting that several versions of The Hidden Wiki exist, so you should be careful to use the link provided here to ensure you visit the original version.
It isn’t illegal to simply visit a website on the dark web, but many sites engage in illegal activity. If you participate in illegal activity in any way, you’re breaking the law.
Visiting legitimate onion sites like the ones listed above is no different than visiting legitimate websites on the regular internet (The Hidden Wiki excepted, as it contains links to harmful content). However, there are many websites engaged in highly illegal or harmful activity.
In addition to this, the anonymity provided by the dark web makes it very easy for a website to distribute malware or disappear with any payments you made to it without fear of consequence.
Tor was designed specifically to provide anonymity on the internet, and Tor Onion Services address one of the Tor network’s biggest weaknesses (Tor exit nodes). Using Tor Onion Services is the most anonymous way yet devised to access the world wide web. However, nothing online should ever be considered 100% secure or anonymous, so rely on the protections Tor provides at your own risk.