This tutorial will briefly explain what .onion sites are, as well as provide
step-by-step instructions to help you to access them. At the bottom of the page
there is a collection of useful .onion links to get you started with surfing
part of the "deep web", that is also known as "dark web".
What are .onion sites?
.onion sites are mostly just like any website, except they can only be
accessed through a hidden network called TOR (and indirectly through TorVPN's VPN proxy service). They do not have a real domain name or IP address that exists
on the "regular" internet. The TOR network arranges anonymity for the server and its visitors.
The things you can find on .onion sites include image and file hosting,
whistleblower websites (Wikileaks), forums offering complete freedom of speech,
search engines, hacking, programming, and so on. Some of these websites (such as
search engines) are completely legal, some would be considered illegal in some
countries (hacking tutorials), others are completely illegal (drugs, weapons, child pornography, credit card fraud and other scams).
How do .onion sites work?
Computers in the TOR cloud work together to encrypt data and pass it on between
each other for the purpose of providing anonymity to you.
Whether you want to visit a website or BE a webserver on the internet, normally you need an
IP address. If you have an IP address, you can be traced. On the TOR network however,
your IP address is hidden behind the IP address of other TOR nodes, so finding
the real one is much harder, even for law enforcement (it is certainly not
impossible, but unfeasible to the point that a website selling drugs has been
running for years, even after "US Senators Charles Schumer and Joe Manchin sent a letter to US Attorney General Eric Holder and DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart insisting that the agency shut down the marketplace").
TorVPN is NOT affiliated with the TOR project. The TOR project is a completely free solution made possible by volunteers all over the world, who dedicate expensive bandwidth and processing power for the benefit of your privacy. TorVPN however is a business relying on its own bandwidth and servers, offering transparent TOR network routing strictly as an additional option only suitable in a limited number of cases.
The part about using the official TOR client may be outdated in this tutorial. Always check the TOR project's official website and see if maybe their tutorials are easier to follow or contain updated information.
The second method mentioned on this page (using TorVPN to access .onion sites) is NOT recommended, as it significantly reduces your privacy from a technical aspect. When you use TorVPN to surf .onion sites, the encryption of data happens by the TOR client installed on the TorVPN server instead of your computer. This means that TorVPN administrators in theory could intercept your communications before it gets re-encrypted and sent into the TOR network. Needless to say, we value our customers' privacy greatly and would never spy on them, but you should not take our word for it! There may be some special cases where using transparent TOR routing through TorVPN is helpful, that's why we still include it as an option, but recommend using the client on your computer unless you have a good reason not to.
If you still decide to use transparent TOR routing through TorVPN, keep in mind that not all volunteers who run an exit node do so with good intentions: anyone can run a TOR exit node, so malicious operators can inject data into your stream, occasionally browser exploits. There is a good reason why we recommend using the TOR browser bundle, because it also contains plugins that significantly enhance your privacy, reduce the chances of data leak, exploits, and provide a better experience.
You can access .onion sites without enabling transparent TOR routing (TorVPN's special DNS server and TOR's virtual address mapping makes this hybrid mode possible), but then you risk DNS leaks and even worse, all of your 'regular' connections will be unhidden apart from the hidden service that you are visiting. If the webmaster of the hidden service includes a link to a non-onion site, the hidden and unhidden sessions could be tied together easily.
If you decide to visit .onion sites because of and/or based on this tutorial, please understand that you do so at your own risk. There are very real dangers that go with all of this and your anonymity is easily compromised unless you understand how it works. And even if you do, there are and always will be fresh exploits that you may simply not have protection against, even with up-to-date software. Therefore, we cannot be held responsible for anything you decide to do on the dark web or any damages that arise from it.