The “dark web” is commonly associated with criminal activity, hacking, and other controversial topics, but it is not illegal by nature.
Every web page and platform indexed by a search engine and accessible through a standard browser interface comprises what we know as the World Wide Web, and that part of the web which is not crawled by standard search engines is known as the “deep web”.
The dark web inhabits a small part of the deep web, and comprises content which requires specific software or authorisation to access.
Dark web content includes a variety of conventional platforms, including websites like Facebook, cryptocurrency exchanges, and blogs.
However, there is also a large amount of criminal content available on the dark web due to the anonymity of its users and hosting.
Desktop and smartphone browsers
The easiest ways for most users to browse the dark web safely and anonymously is by installing and using the Tor browser.
Tor is a free software platform developed by the United States Navy which enables anonymous communication over the Internet.
The software works by encrypting communication and bouncing data through a network of nodes run by volunteers around the world, making it difficult to determine the original sender or recipient.
Desktop users can install the Tor browser from The Tor Project’s website to get started browsing the dark web.
This software has a similar interface to standard Internet browsers like Chrome or Firefox, and can navigate the Internet as normal, but it also has the unique ability to navigate to .onion URLs.
These URLs are special web addresses which point to websites hosted on the dark web that are inaccessible via normal browsers.
Users who want to browse the dark web on their smartphone have an easy all-in-one solution in the form of the Tor mobile browser.
Content and protection
The easiest way to begin browsing the dark web is to navigate to the Hidden Wiki – a directory which contains a list of .onion URLs which are inaccessible via normal browsers.
It is important to note that there is a higher prevalence of illegal content on the dark web than one would encounter through standard Internet browsing, and you should refrain from accessing any content which is illegal in South Africa.
If you are especially concerned about your privacy, you can use a VPN in conjunction with the Tor browser to protect your Internet traffic even further.
While Tor does protect your IP from external investigators, your ISP may still track your browsing activity, and the only way to circumvent this is to use a reliable VPN service.