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Cybersecurity Consulting

How to Access the Dark Web Safely

September 12, 2023

9 minute read

A dark path leading into a shadowy and foggy forest

The internet is almost unfathomably large, and most of us are only actively engaging with between 4-5% of it. This is known as the surface web. The other 95-96% of the internet exists between what is called the “deep web” and “dark web.” This article will teach you the difference between the surface web, dark web, and deep web, and how to access the dark web safely.

When accessing the dark web, safety needs to be a top priority. There are a lot of dangers lurking in the corners of the dark web as it’s a well trafficked playground for cybercriminals and is riddled with criminal markets that span the imagination.

To say the least, DOT Security does not recommend going to the dark web unless absolutely necessary. However, if you’re going to venture into the dark web, you’ll need to be well–prepared, so keep reading to keep safe.

Cybercrime is getting more sophisticated, putting businesses at a serious disadvantage when it comes to protecting their networks. Learn everything you need for a strong cybersecurity strategy in DOT Security’s Infographic: What Makes a Good Cybersecurity Posture?

What Is The Surface Web?

The internet has three layers. The surface web, the deep web, and the dark web. The surface web is what the average daily internet user interacts with the most. Search engine results from Google, Bing, and Yahoo, public websites, social media, and anything else that’s indexed and publicly available is considered a part of the surface web.


Although the surface web only comprises about 4-5% of the entire internet, scope is important to keep in mind because this is still impressively expansive. Take YouTube for instance; it would take over 17,800 years to watch every single YouTube video in existence, and that’s just YouTube. That’s just a fraction of the surface web.

While there are some threats on the surface web, and users need to browse with some level of security awareness, it’s a lot easier to stay safe on the surface web than the dark web.

What Is The Deep Web?

The deep web is in between the surface web and the dark web, and it constitutes the large majority of the actual internet. The deep web makes up approximately 90-91% of the internet. Similar to the surface web, users don’t need any special software to access the deep web, and it’s a relatively quiet landscape in terms of cyberthreats.

The difference between the surface web and the deep web is that pages, websites, and content on the deep web are only accessible to authorized users with the appropriate credentials. In other words, these are pages that aren’t indexed and therefore can’t be found by a typical search engine.

Think about your email threads, for instance. It would be problematic if someone could open your private email chains through a simple Google search. An easy way to think about this is if you need a username and password to access it, it’s a part of the deep web.

Other examples of deep web content are academic journals, government resources, medical records, bank statements, subscription information, private social media content (like private messages), and other content that is accessible only to authorized users who provide the proper credentials.

What Is The Dark Web?

The surface web and the deep web make up between 94-95% of the entire internet. The last 5-6%, however, constitute the dark web. Originally used by the United States Department of Defense for anonymous communication, the dark web is now a place for those wishing to stay anonymous themselves.

While there is a lot of criminal activity on the dark web, there’s nothing actually illegal about accessing the dark web. In certain countries, the dark web facilitates political discourse and conversation that would otherwise be censored, outlawed, or eradicated in entirety.

That being said, the anonymity offered by the dark web is the perfect breeding ground for criminals from all walks of life and users are advised to browse with extreme caution. Again, it’s DOT Security’s advice to stay off the dark web entirely.

Why Would an Organization Access the Dark Web?

As mentioned throughout, DOT Security advises against accessing the dark web as it opens up a myriad of vulnerabilities that are unnecessary for the vast majority of businesses and organizations.

However, there are a handful of exceptions to this rule. For instance, there are some organizations who employ the services of white-hat-hackers for a number of reasons. Often, these ethical hackers use their computer savvy to help governments agencies and big corporations hunt down vulnerabilities and in turn, create patches defenses for those system weaknesses.

This process, though, can often involve accessing the dark web for research into the most current malware on the market.

Additionally, there are non-profit organizations like the Global Emancipation Network (GEN) who employ world-class tech-professionals who are using their skills to combat human-trafficking on a global scale. These efforts could very well include accessing the dark web to help victims and hunt down criminals.

How to Access the Dark Web Safely

Accessing the dark web requires more than just a standard web browser. Before downloading your dark web browser, though, there are a series of safety precautions you’re going to want to take first.

The steps to access the dark web safely are as follows:

  1. Determine your goal
  2. Choose a VPN
  3. Exit any open apps
  4. Choose an overlay network
  5. Check for IP leaks
  6. Find websites

Let’s break each of these down a little bit further.

1. Determine Your Goal

The first rule for accessing the dark web is to go into it with a purpose or a defined goal. This will help you navigate the dark web safely while staying out of markets you don’t want to come across or engage with.

The dark web is full of malicious actors, cybercriminals, and other people who are looking to prey on curious but unprepared dark web browsers. By defining your goal and purpose, you won’t find yourself wandering down the dimly lit corners of the dark web, and you can stay on the path you set out for yourself.

2. Choose a VPN

Now when it comes to the technical safety precautions that users should take when accessing the dark web, choosing and deploying a VPN is a critical first step.

VPN stands for virtual private network, and it acts as a security bubble for communications from your device. A VPN automatically encrypts your data as soon as it leaves your device through the VPN server. This means your private information, location, and any communications you send are hidden and protected.

Because VPNs offer users anonymity and mask their actual location, they’re also effective tools for accessing geo-locked services.

There are both free and paid VPN services, but if you’re planning on accessing the dark web, you’re going to want to opt for a high-quality paid VPN that offers you plenty of protection.

Once you’ve chosen a VPN provider and have successfully set up your account, you’re ready to start looking at overlay networks.

3. Exit Any Open Apps

Before you go much further, it’s important that you close out of other applications and software that offer malicious users on the dark web an entry point into your device or network. When closing down other applications it’s important to actually right-click and quit rather than just hitting the x in the corner of the window.

This is an extra precaution that can protect your device from savvy hackers looking for any opening that presents itself.

4. Choose an Overlay Network

With your VPN up and running and all of your other apps closed down, you’re finally on the brink of actually accessing the dark web. To access the surface web or the deep web, all you need is a standard internet browser like Google Chrome or Safari. For the dark web, though, you need an entirely different entry point known as an overlay network.

There are a huge number of overlay networks to choose from, but some of the most popular include Tor, Freenet, and Riffle. You’ll need an overlay network to facilitate your dark web access. You can also increase the level of safety in the overlay network settings itself, which in turn disable certain website functionality.

For instance, you can create settings that disables JavaScript entirely to add an additional level of safety.

5. Check for IP Leaks

Securing a VPN and choosing your overlay network has you in the final stretch for accessing the dark web safely. The final step before you can start browsing with relative peace of mind is to conduct an IP leak check.

This essentially just makes certain that your VPN is working and that your personal IP address isn’t exposed for malicious actors prowling the dark web. To conduct this check, just turn on your VPN and head over to and to see if the IP address displayed is the one from your VPN.

If it is, you're good to go and can start surfing the dark web.

6. Find Websites

The last thing you need to do to access the dark web is find links for sites hosted there. Unlike the surface web, you won’t be able to find dark web sites through a search engine. Rather, you’ll need to visit dark web aggregators that share links to various pages, or wikis where users can add dark web links manually.

From there, as you navigate through the dark web, it’s up to you to stay on the path you’ve laid out for yourself, avoid criminal market places, and to keep any personal information close to your chest.

Final Thoughts on Staying Safe on the Dark Web

The dark web is made up of a variety of different overlay networks and accounts for somewhere between 5-6% of the overall internet. It allows users to buy and sell, browse, and communicate with nearly complete anonymity.

This makes it really appealing for those who want to avoid unnecessary surveillance or who need to communicate without fear of oppression or governmental retaliation. However, if you’re planning to spend any time exploring the dark web, it’s crucial you take the necessary precautions to keep your device, your data, and yourself safe.

Keeping your company network safe takes more than an antivirus and a firewall. To learn more about what a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy looks like check out DOT Security’s Infographic: What Makes a Good Cybersecurity Posture?