Dangers of the Dark Web: 12 Tips for Avoiding Dark Web Dangers

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Dangers of the Dark Web: 12 Tips for Avoiding Dark Web Dangers - A Quick Guide

Curious about the dark web? It seems all mysterious and foreboding, but it’s definitely risky. There are quite a few dark web dangers that you should know about if you intend to access it.

On the dark web, you’re exposed to much greater risk than usual when compared to your normal day-to-day internet browsing. In this article, we highlight the top 12 tips for avoiding dark web dangers:

  1. Use the correct web browser and tools.
  2. Make sure that you’re using a VPN.
  3. Consider using a Mac.
  4. Don’t visit unsecured websites.
  5. Keep your device up to date.
  6. Disable Javascript in the Tor browser.
  7. Navigate using dark web directories.
  8. Install a robust antivirus.
  9. Don’t disclose your identity, intentionally or accidentally.
  10. Beware of financial and phishing scams.
  11. Use cryptocurrency instead of cards.
  12. Steer clear of illegal content.

NordVPN is the best choice if you want to access the dark web. It offers Onion over VPN servers, which you can use in tandem with Tor to establish a connection and protect your identity.

Read on to find out exactly what dangers lie on the dark web, and how you can protect yourself against them!

There’s a hidden part of the internet that you won’t stumble across in your regular browsing: the dark web. Here, you’ll find a whole host of sites that can’t be discovered through Google or any alternative search engine.

While this includes excellent resources, like communication channels for whistleblowers or those limited by internet restrictions, it’s also a hideaway for criminals.

Offering illegal access to drugs and weapons, the dark web is also a one-stop-shop for cybercriminals to trade stolen personal or financial information.

So, as you’d expect, there are many dangers of using the dark web that can compromise your security if you’re not sure about how to protect yourself.

That’s why in this article, we’ve provided a list of the most common dark web dangers for beginners.

What is the Dark Web?

Broadly speaking, there are three layers to the internet as we know it: the surface web, the deep web, and the dark web. The surface web is everything you use on a day-to-day basis, such as Google, Amazon, news websites, and any other site you just type in your browser.

The deep web contains content that isn’t indexed by search engines, such as your password-protected email inbox, areas of Netflix or Amazon Prime that are only available to subscribers, and such.

The dark web isn’t crawled by Google or other search engines either. However, there’s a vast difference between the dark and the deep web. On the dark web, you’ll find unregulated websites that operate without restrictions.

They are not overseen by any government, regulatory body, or other organization. Without a specialized web browser, you won’t even be able to access these sites.

Types of Web Infographic, Iceberg in the sea

It’s just inaccessible through regular network routing, which is why you need a browser that supports encrypted routing. We have a detailed guide on how you can access the dark web.

However, you should make sure that you’re educated on the true dangers of the dark web before you decide to venture into these deep, dark corners of the web. We’ve covered these below.

The Top 12 Tips to Help You Avoid Dark Web Dangers

Below, we’d like to give you our top 12 tips for avoiding dark web dangers. If you’re thinking about wading into the unregulated side of the internet, you should carefully read everything listed below. This will help prepare you for the many dark web dangers and the risks they pose.

1. Use the Correct Web Browser and Tools

Use Tor browser iconIf you’re planning to access the dark web, you’re going to need to download the Tor browser, the dark web browser of choice for most users.

Short for “The Onion Router,” this specialized tool allows you to connect to the Tor network, which anonymizes your connection and allows access to dark websites. Normal internet browsers, like Google Chrome, Firefox, and Edge, won’t let you find these unregulated sites.

However, Tor does more than just open the gateway to the dark web. This browser uses three encryption layers while routing your data through multiple relays.

This makes it far, far harder for third parties to track what you’re doing online or try to snoop on your identity. Use Tor in conjunction with a VPN for maximum security, but know that it doesn’t give you immunity from prosecution. Steer clear of websites providing outright illegal or immoral services.

2. Use a VPN

Connect to the Dark Web with a VPN iconA VPN, or virtual private network, protects your privacy when browsing online. We recommend using a VPN for all internet browsing, as you’ll enjoy greater online privacy and security.

However, the importance of a VPN for dark web browsing can’t be understated. Since you’re accessing unregulated web pages, you’re at a greater risk of being targeted by cybercriminals.

When you connect to a VPN, you anonymize your IP address so that it’s harder for third parties to track your activity online. Your internet traffic is also encrypted with the same kind of encryption used by many governments and militaries around the world.

The best VPNs, such as NordVPN or Surfshark, offer a range of other features that are designed to enhance your online security and privacy. These can give you the best VPN experience on the dark web, as well.

While there are some good free VPN options for the dark web, we generally recommend going for a premium provider, since they come with unlimited access and top-of-the-shelf safety features.

Our choice for accessing the dark web is NordVPN. NordVPN is one of the best VPNs for security and privacy, offering a range of improved security features.

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3. Consider Using a Mac

Avoid using Windows where possibleA whopping three-quarters of the world still use Windows as their operating system (OS) of choice. Of course, offices primarily choose Windows software as it offers greater customization and control.

As a result, it’s very likely that you’ll use a Windows device to access the dark web. That’s not entirely recommended, as there have been many cases of security breaches in Windows.

If you’re serious about security, you might consider using a Mac. Hackers and cybersecurity analysts often uncover vulnerabilities in Windows.

This operating system has been adapted to suit numerous hardware brands, so these variations can create more opportunities for a breach to occur. Since Apple controls the full ecosystem, from software to hardware, Macs are generally more secure.

That said, Macs are still very much susceptible to their own kinds of malware, which is why you should use a trusted antivirus for Mac. Install Tor on your Mac before you access the dark web.

Alternatively, you could use Linux to browse the dark web, which is arguably the safest option. It’s important to note that macOS is based on Linux too.

Some Tor users have turned to Linux for increased security. For example, Tails is a popular Debian-based distro that offers greater protection against rogue websites that try to modify your hard drive.

4. Avoid Unsecured Sites

Do not visit unsecure websites iconThis may seem a bit confusing, but sites on the dark web are incredibly secure. That’s the reason why they are so hard to trace. When going online using the surface web, you’ll want to avoid visiting websites that aren’t using a secure connection.

That means steering clear of those that have an HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) address rather than the more secure HTTPS protocol.

The latter shows that a website is using a security certificate that has been verified by a Certificate Authority (CA). But, the rules change slightly when you access the dark web.

For starters, sites on the Tor network can’t use conventional domain names. And, all connections within the Tor network are end-to-end encrypted. This negates the need for a discrete encryption layer altogether.

Instead, most dark sites have an onion icon instead of the padlock when you have a secure connection. This indicates that the sites are encrypted, so you’re secure.

5. Keep Your Device Up to Date

Operating system up to date iconWhile cybersecurity tools like a VPN and the Tor browser can help keep you safe on the dark web, they don’t offer complete protection. You should always keep your operating system up to date, in addition to updating the Tor software itself.

White hat hackers are always looking for new security holes, and downloading the latest OS updates means that you’ll plug any points of attack resulting from vulnerabilities.

Alongside your Tor browser, a VPN, and a good antivirus, it’s about putting as many barriers as possible between your device and cybercriminals.

6. Disable Javascript in the Tor Browser

Disable Javascript in the Tor browser iconJavascript is a useful background tool that helps the websites we visit come to life. Essentially, it’s responsible for running the interactive elements of the pages that we use.

However, we recommend that you disable Javascript in Tor if you’re going to be surfing the dark web. Back in 2013, Tor was found to be vulnerable to hackers that target Javascript vulnerabilities.

To disable Javascript in Tor, simply follow the steps below once you’ve installed Tor:

  1. Open the Settings menu.
  2. Locate the Security menu and then click Enable Javascript.

It’s that simple. Since Tor comes with Javascript enabled by default, clicking the above option should disable it. Bear in mind that some web pages may not display fully with this setting disabled.

If you want to view a specific website, you can follow the same steps to turn it back on. However, in general, it’s best to browse the dark web with JavaScript off.

7. Use Directories to Find Your Way

Navigate using Dark Web directories and not linksClicking on suspicious links is never a good idea. Many phishing scams rely on malicious links that can infect your computer with malware or direct you to websites that harvest your personal data.

This is very much the case with day-to-day web browsing and seemingly innocent emails, so imagine how much worse the dark web can be.

That’s all very good and well, but how do you find sites on the dark web? After all, they won’t appear on Google. This is where directories come into play.

One such example is The Hidden Wiki, which is essentially a dark web version of Wikipedia. From here, you can find links to genuine dark websites. Just bear in mind that this wiki also indexes shady, illegal websites.

There are many more useful dark websites and directories too, but we won’t list them all here. Instead, feel free to check out the best dark websites we’ve tried and tested for ourselves.

8. Avoid Downloads and Use Antivirus

Best antivirus iconEven on the surface web, you should only download files from trusted sources. Downloading files from the dark web is a great way to get your device infected with malware.

In fact, we can’t think of a single time you’d need to download any legitimate, legal software or data from the dark web. That said, you could still be infected with malware by visiting the wrong website or falling victim to phishing.

The dark web is one of the biggest phishing hotspots for anglers looking to land a victim. So, a the very least, you should be using antivirus software to ensure that your device is protected against malware.

We think that everybody should use antivirus software, but if you’re surfing the dark web, it’s a no-brainer. The best antivirus software isn’t free, but it’ll pay you back by keeping your files safe.

Some antivirus software even has a built-in VPN so that you can double your protection without paying twice the subscription fees.

9. Don’t Give Away Your Identity

Do not disclose your identity iconWhen you’re surfing the dark web, avoid entering your personal details into any forms or websites. Don’t give away your details to anybody who might contact you either.

In fact, some people have turned to adopting a new, fictitious identity on the dark web. This involves creating an entirely new name, email address, and even using a PO Box in case you need to use an address.

Be wary of the email address you’re using too; it’s a bad idea to use a personal email that contains your real name on the dark web.

10. Be Wary of Financial and Phishing Scams

Avoid financial and phishing scams iconHackers have a number of ways to steal your financial information. Credit card information, login credentials to bank accounts, and counterfeit currency can all be bought online.

Fall foul of a financial scam, and your information could be traded online for hackers to abuse. Here are just a few of the financial dangers of the dark web:

Phishing

Phishing is a serious problem on the dark web because it’s totally unregulated. Never give your financial information to anyone on the dark web. It’s why everyone uses untraceable cryptocurrencies like Monero to trade on the dark web.

Scampages

Scampages, or scam web pages, are sites that have been designed to steal your personal information. Templates can even be bought and sold through the dark web. Phishing links are commonly used for this.

Scampages have become incredibly convincing, so avoid clicking links within unsolicited emails or text messages. Never add your login information on any site on the dark web, especially banking or personal information.

Disguised malware

You should always download new software directly from a provider’s website or another trusted software repository. There’s no way of knowing what’s contained within a file on the dark web.

Get into the habit of avoiding any downloads that come from the dark web, as they could contain malware, keyloggers, or ransomware. Broadly speaking, avoid downloading anything off the dark web.

11. Use Cryptocurrency to Make a Purchase

Use cryptocurrency instead of cards iconIn general, it’s best to avoid purchasing anything on the dark web. In most cases, if you have to turn to the dark web to find a product or service, then chances are it’s illegal.

What’s more, the dark web offers that seem too good to be true, probably are. However, if you find yourself in a situation where you need to make a payment on the dark web, consider using cryptocurrency rather than a card linked to your bank account.

We recommend checking out our article on buying and selling cryptocurrency safely, as this decentralized type of currency comes with its own risks.

12. Don’t Look for Illegal Content

Steer clear of illegal content iconAccording to recent research that analyzed more than 5,000 websites on the dark web, around 30% were offering illegal services or resources. This includes the sale of illegal drugs and stolen data, illegal child pornography, and hacking for hire.

A second study by Kings College London found that a huge 57% of 2,500 surveyed websites were offering illegal services. Don’t go looking for illegal content or participate in such activities.

No matter what cybersecurity tools you’re using, you are not impossible to track down. With enough motivation and resources, government and law enforcement agencies can find you, even across borders in collaboration with international organizations.

Final Thoughts

If you’re confident that you sufficiently understand the dangers of the dark web, then proceed with caution and enjoy! Remember to stay out of trouble, protect your personal information, and avoid downloading anything off the dark web.

You could also check out our article on the best cybersecurity tools to protect yourself, whether you’re surfing the conventional web or diving deeper into the murky waters of the dark net. Generally, we recommend you stay safe when accessing dark web marketplaces and avoid buying anything from there.

Dangers of the Dark Web: Frequently Asked Questions

Do you have any questions about any of these tips about protecting yourself against dark web dangers? Here are some frequently asked questions!

There are a number of dangers of the dark web that you should be wary of. Here are just a few:

  • Financial and phishing scams
  • Malware disguised as software
  • Scampages that imitate real websites, but steal your data
  • Illegal products, services, and media
  • Shady downloads

You should treat illegal online activity in the same way that you treat real-life crimes. In short, steer clear of websites showing illegal content or offering illicit services.

Participating in illegal activity online, including ordering weapons or drugs, or viewing illegal pornography, could get you in trouble with law enforcement agencies.

The Tor browser, in conjunction with a VPN, can offer you a great deal of privacy. However, even these tools cannot protect you from the a law enforcement agency that has sufficient time, motivation, and resources to pursue you.

If you’ve decided to check out the dark web, you should exercise caution. This is an unregulated side of the internet where cybercriminals trade illegal substances, weapons, stolen personal information, and more. When browsing the dark net, make sure to avoid:

  • Connecting without a VPN
  • Visiting unsecure (HTTP) websites
  • Surfing with out-of-date operating system software
  • Clicking on links – use a directory instead
  • Surfing without antivirus protection
  • Disclosing your identity
  • Making payments with your usual credit or debit card

Above all, avoid breaking the law, as you are not untraceable to a law enforcement agency that has enough time, resources, and motivation to find you.

If the web scripts being used on the dark web site are the same as the ones being used on a surface site, there’s a risk that someone could track your user activity. However, if you use Tor and a VPN, this should be quite difficult.

Cybersecurity journalist
Chris is a tech journalist with many years' experience covering the latest news in online privacy and cybersecurity. He's also a published author and works as a Product Manager for some of the most innovative software development companies.