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Can you access the Dark Web without the Tor browser?

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Friday, 3 April, 2020

There is a lot of misinformation surrounding the Dark Web.

Some people believe accessing the Dark Web is illegal. Others think it’s a cesspool where obscenities are impossible to avoid. And a few believe it’s not meant to be seen at all.

Of course, none of those things are remotely true.

The Dark Web is simply content which hasn’t been indexed for search engines to find it. Sites range from investigative journalism portals to anime and manga communities.

Yes, you can easily find graphic content. Occasionally, you’ll stumble upon it by accident. But it’s certainly not the first thing you’ll see.

That’s because the Dark Web is very much like the surface web. It’s home to many things, accessed through search engines and displayed through HTML content in a web browser.

Tor blimey

There’s no denying the fact that accessing the Dark Web is more complicated than Googling it in Chrome.

For one thing, addresses aren’t meant to be indexed, so they’re not user-friendly. Instead of easyaddress.com, a typical Dark Web URL might be qwer1tyui2opas3dfgh4jkl5.onion.

For another, these .onion addresses are generally viewed through the Tor browser – another misunderstood platform.

Tor is entirely legal, part-funded by the US military, and CIA-approved. It’s available to download for Android and iOS, as well as Windows, OS X and Linux.

However, it’s very slow. The interface is dated. And the requirement to install another web browser puts some people off accessing the Dark Web altogether.

So is there another way?

Dark arts

As well as being able to access Dark Web material, Tor maintains user anonymity. And Dark Web-friendly search engines like DuckDuckGo do the same, unlike Google and Bing.

Tor also protects against malware, of which there is an unquantifiable amount in the Dark Web.

Remember, antivirus software won’t offer full protection down here.

Even so, in 2015, an attempt was made to bypass the need for Tor.

The tor2web proxy server claimed to be capable of displaying Dark Web content on a standard browser.

Visit the site today, and any antivirus package will urge you to navigate away, to minimise any risk of JavaScript injection or session hijacking.

The same is true of other services with ‘onion’ in the middle of their URL and a strange top level domain at the end.

Bypassing Tor’s end-to-end encryption means your ISP can see exactly what you’re doing.

So can criminals, even if the destination site is HTTPS (which very few Dark Web sites are).

And so can the proxy site’s owners. They’re able to view potentially sensitive information with no legal obligations to play nicely or respect privacy.

Site administrators could change the content you’re trying to view, or redirect traffic to spam or adware websites.

So can you access Dark Web material through Edge, Firefox or Safari? Technically yes, in some instances at least.

But you absolutely shouldn’t.

Neil Cumins author picture

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Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!

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