The dark web is the part of the internet that search engines don’t index and is accessible only using specialized tools, like the Tor browser.
Although the dark web is best known as a haven for criminals, the dark web is also an excellent way to perform legitimate activities that might be blocked by governments and other organizations, such as the sharing of censored information by whistleblowers, activists and journalists.
The Tor browser encrypts the data you’re sending and receiving, and routes your connections through multiple volunteers’ computers (known as relays) to obfuscate your real IP address and location.
However, the Tor browser’s mere use can raise eyebrows among the law enforcement and homeland security folks. Plus, some particularly restrictive governments block the use of Tor altogether.
Happily, there is a powerful tool you can use with the Tor browser to keep your Dark Web-related activities completely undercover: A Virtual Private Network (VPN).
A VPN encases your internet connection in a protective encrypted tunnel. This protects your online activities from being monitored and recorded by outsiders. While an observer can detect you’re connected to the internet, they will not be able to detect that you’re using Tor or which websites you are visiting.
In this article, I go over the 6 best VPNs to use for visiting the dark web.
How to Use Your VPN for Visiting the Dark Web
To protect your private browsing activities with a VPN, follow these steps:
- Subscribe to a VPN provider. (I recommend NordVPN.)
- Install the app for your device.
- Log into your VPN provider.
- Connect to a VPN server.
- Fire up the Tor browser on your device.
- Browse the Dark Web.
Best VPNs for Anonymous Browsing of the Dark Web
I ran my favorite VPN providers through rounds of rigorous testing, and the 6 providers listed below proved to be the best available VPNs to protect your dark web browsing sessions.
- NordVPN: This is my top choice for protecting your dark web sessions thanks to its excellent connection protection, no-logs policy and acceptance of Bitcoin. A zero-logs provider, NordVPN also offers an Onion over VPN option, which routes your traffic through the Tor network after it leaves the VPN-encrypted tunnel.
- Surfshark: Surfshark is a budget-priced provider that offers Tor over VPN, ideal security and privacy protections, and an unlimited simultaneous connections allowance. Using Surfshark, you can safely browse .onion sites without any fear, and for a low price, too.
- ExpressVPN: ExpressVPN offers excellent security and privacy options. ExpressVPN even has an .onion site to allow complete online anonymity when subscribing to their service.
- CyberGhost: This provider delivers fast encrypted connection speeds, which will be appreciated, as using the Tor network relays can significantly slow your internet connection. The provider’s easy-to-use apps make it a great option for VPN beginners.
- PrivateVPN: This provider is a great option for Tor traffic. It offers a VPN over Tor option, providing a dual layer of internet privacy, security and anonymity. (I’ll explain the option below.)
- IPVanish: While this provider follows a strict no-logs policy, it does lack a cryptocurrency payment option. It offers an obfuscation option that disguises your VPN traffic as normal internet traffic.
What Is The Difference Between VPN Over Tor and Tor Over VPN?
VPN Over Tor is when you first connect to the Tor network and then connect your device to a VPN server.
While Tor Over VPN merely requires you to connect to your VPN provider as you usually do and then fire up your Tor Browser, VPN over Tor requires some manual set up of a few things before you use it.
Plus, there are only a few VPN providers that offer this option.
Tor Over VPN is when you first connect your computer or mobile device to your VPN service as usual and then use the Tor Browser to browse the internet.
This method encrypts your internet traffic using your VPN’s servers, protecting all of your device from outside parties trying to monitor your online activities.
This ensures that your real IP address is hidden from the first Tor relay (it sees the IP address that your VPN provider supplies). Then the Tor anonymity network relays further obfuscate your true location, as it relays your browser traffic through several relay locations.
I evaluated and ranked the top dark web VPNs using the following criteria:
- Privacy protection that includes no-logs policy
- Bonus for cryptocurrency payment option
- Strong encryption and DNS leak protection
- Fast connections with unlimited bandwidth and no data caps
- Global network server numbers
- Customer support
- Native app support
Here are my top 6 picks for the best VPNs to use when navigating the dark web.
NordVPN is the best VPN available for protecting your dark web activities from prying eyes.
NordVPN’s global server network has both you and the globe covered with 5,500+ servers based in 59+ countries around the world.
NordVPN offers optimal internet privacy protections thanks to a strict no-logs policy and a Bitcoin payment option for payment anonymity.
The provider protects your connection with government-grade encryption, a kill switch option, DNS leak protection, and the ability to block ads and malware. NordVPN also offers obfuscated servers and Double VPN protection (which routes your connection through two VPN servers instead of one), offering increased security and anonymity for your connection.
NordVPN offers the fastest connection speeds of any VPN provider, meaning that neither the encryption of Tor nor the VPN’s extra encryption should slow your connection speeds by much. No bandwidth limitations or data caps restrict your online activities.
An Onion over VPN option routes your internet connection through a NordVPN server, then through the Onion network before it reaches the internet. This allows access to the Onion network without the need to use the Tor Browser.
If you have any issues with your dark web-related travels, NordVPN’s customer support team is always available via 24/7 chat, email and a searchable knowledge base.
Native app support is available for the Android, Windows, macOS, iOS and Linux platforms, as well as for Amazon Fire and Android TV. Up to 6 devices at a time can connect using a single username. You can make use of the provider’s excellent router compatibility to protect all of your connected devices.
- Offers Onion over VPN option
- Super-fast connection speeds
- Top-notch internet privacy and internet security
- Low-price option
- Excellent customer support
- Kill switch protection must be enabled on an app-by-app basis
BEST VPN FOR THE DARK WEB:NordVPN is the best VPN option for keeping your dark web activities safely in the shadows. It offers excellent internet privacy protections and well-encrypted, kill switch-protected connections. The provider’s obfuscated servers and Double VPN option add to the protection. A 30-day money-back guarantee is available.
Read my full review of NordVPN.
Surfshark offers high levels of protection and reliability while charging a low price. This makes the provider an excellent option for users who do not want to spend a lot on quality VPN protection.
Surfshark’s global server coverage includes 3,200+ servers in 65+ countries, double what they offered last year, and those numbers may only continue to grow.
Surfshark offers some ideal security protections. The provider offers bank-grade encryption, a kill switch and DNS leak prevention, as well as a “MultiHop” option that routes your connection through two VPN servers instead of one, doubling up on your security. In addition, the provider offers Tor over VPN.
Optimal privacy protections are also available, including a no-server-logs policy and a Bitcoin payment option.
Surfshark offers fast connection speeds, so no worries about connection slowdown while browsing the dark web.
Should you have any problems that need to be addressed, customer support is always available via 24/7 live support chat, a support contact form and a searchable support library.
Surfshark offers native app support for the Android, iOS, macOS, Windows, Linux, Amazon Fire and Android TV device platforms. There are browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox, as well as plenty of support for routers.
The provider also offers an unusual unlimited concurrent connections policy, allowing you to connect as many devices as you wish to the provider’s servers at once on a single set of login credentials.
- Extremely cheap provider
- “Multi-Hop” server option
- Strong encryption and privacy protections
- Unlimited simultaneous connection allowance
- Apps lack some advanced options
BUDGET-FRIENDLY DARK WEB VPN:Surfshark’s low subscription prices belie the high level of service, including high-end encryption and Tor over VPN, that the provider offers. Unlimited simultaneous connections mean all your devices will be protected at once, and the provider’s “MultiHop” option will increase your protection while browsing the dark web. A 30-day money-back guarantee is available.
Read my full review of Surfshark.
ExpressVPN is an all-around high-performance VPN, offering plenty of protection for your connection. The VPN provider even offers a hidden .onion service on the Tor network to provide greater anonymity and privacy for their users.
This VPN has some of the best global server coverage in the industry, with more than 3,000 servers stationed in over 92 countries.
Privacy is well-protected here thanks to a strict no-logs policy that never records your online travels. Plus, a Bitcoin payment option can be paired with a disposable email address to make your VPN account totally anonymous.
The provider’s fast connections are well-suited for dark web activity thanks to their military-grade encryption, kill switch online protection, and DNS leak protection. The provider also never restricts your online travels via data caps or bandwidth constrictions.
Customer support is always available to answer your VPN-related questions thanks to 24/7 live chat, email, trouble ticket system, and troubleshooting and support library options.
If the Tor browser is available for your device, ExpressVPN likely offers a native VPN app for it. macOS, Windows, Linux, iOS, Android, Kindle Fire and others make the scene.
If you need online protection for a different device, or if 5 concurrent connections isn’t adequate for your needs, you can use ExpressVPN’s router compatibility to protect all of your devices through a single login.
- Offers .onion service on the Tor network
- Excellent security features and online privacy protections
- Some of the best customer support available today
- Speedy connections
- More expensive than other VPNs
- Only 5 simultaneous connections
WELL-ROUNDED VPN:ExpressVPN offers an exceptional service, including optimal security and privacy protections, fast speeds and support for a myriad of devices and routers. The provider should offer excellent performance for a wide range of activities, including using the Tor network. A 30-day money-back guarantee is available.
Read my full review of ExpressVPN.
CyberGhost provides easy-to-use apps that provide a simple way to access the dark web.
This provider is another great option for users looking for access to content from around the globe thanks to its 6,700+ servers that are stationed in over 90+ countries.
Privacy is a top consideration with CyberGhost thanks to their no-logs policy and Bitcoin payment option.
This provider delivers some of the best download speeds in the VPN industry, but it doesn’t stop there. It protects those connections with military-level encryption, and IPv6 leak and kill switch protections. They’ll never slow down your online activities thanks to their lack of a data cap and bandwidth limitations.
While CyberGhost’s apps are reliable and easy to use, the service’s customer support folks stand at the ready to offer aid if you require assistance. A live support chat function, a trouble ticket tracking system and a searchable support database stand at the ready.
CyberGhost has most device platforms covered, with native apps available for the Windows, macOS, iOS, Android and Amazon Fire platforms.
If you need to protect devices not on the apps list, or if you need more than 7 concurrent connections, make use of the provider’s router capabilities to protect all of your devices via a single login.
- Military-grade connection strong encryption
- Very fast connections
- Excellent internet privacy protections
- Reasonable pricing
- Missing advanced options found in other providers’ apps
- Doesn’t work in China
BEST VPN FOR NEWBIES:CyberGhost is an excellent option for users who are new to the world of VPNs thanks to its easy-to-use apps. It also provides fast connection speeds, so it will never slow down your dark web excursions. A 45-day money-back guarantee is available.
Read my full review of CyberGhost.
PrivateVPN’s proprietary “VPN over Tor” feature routes your connection through the Tor network, doing an excellent job of protecting your online activities and your privacy.
PrivateVPN’s server count is a bit low (150+), but it does a good job of using what it has available, spreading them somewhat thinly among 59+ countries.
PrivateVPN does a great job of protecting your privacy thanks to a no-logs policy and their acceptance of Bitcoin, which keeps your subscription info undercover.
The provider’s speedy connections are well-protected thanks to military-grade encryption and their Stealth VPN option.
While it’s true that some of the provider’s apps lack a kill switch option, they do offer an option to automatically reconnect to PrivateVPN’s servers in case of a disconnect. That means your exposure to prying eyes will likely be limited to a few moments.
No data caps or bandwidth limitations are ever imposed on PrivateVPN customers’ online activities.
PrivateVPN also provides a VPN over Tor service, which routes your internet traffic through the Tor network before connecting to PrivateVPN’s servers. This offers a dual layer of privacy, internet security and anonymity. Please note, the service requires manual setup, which might be above the pay grade of some users.
PrivateVPN’s customer support is lacking a 24/7 support option. While the provider offers live support chat, it isn’t available around the clock. A contact form is available, as is a non-searchable support FAQ.
This provider’s native app support is limited to the big 4 (iOS, Android, macOS and Windows). You can use the service’s router support to protect your other devices. Up to 6 devices at once can be connected simultaneously to the service.
- Fast connection speeds
- Up to 6 simultaneous connections on a single login
- Excellent privacy and security protection
- Server numbers are lacking
- Customer support not 24/7
VPN OVER TOR OFFERS EXTRA PROTECTION:PrivateVPN is an attractive option for experienced VPN users thanks to its VPN over Tor option. Fast speeds are an added benefit. A 30-day money-back guarantee is available.
Read my full review of PrivateVPN.
IPVanish may lack a Bitcoin payment option, but it does offer a level of privacy protection that most of its competitors do not provide.
With 1,400+ servers in over 55 countries, the provider offers above-average, if not spectacular, global server coverage.
IPVanish follows a strict no-logs policy, so the history of your online travels is secure. Unfortunately, the provider lacks a cryptocurrency payment option, so your payment & personal information could be exposed. However, it owns and operates all of its server farms, which means no third-party subcontractors have access to any of your info.
IPVanish protects your internet connection well with military-grade encryption. The provider also offers kill switch protection, auto-reconnect, “scramble,” and IPv6 leak protection.
The provider offers above-average connection speeds that can easily handle any online activity. No data caps or bandwidth limitations to be found.
Customer support has you covered with 24/7 live support chat, email support and a searchable support database.
Native app support is available for the iOS, Android, macOS, Linux, Windows and Amazon Fire TV platforms. Router support is also available. You can connect an unlimited number of devices simultaneously.
- Owns and operates all of its servers
- Unlimited simultaneous connections
- Well-protected connections
- No browser extensions
- No cryptocurrency payment options
ADDED LAYER OF SECURITY:IPVanish owns and operates all of its server farms, keeping third parties out of the security equation. The provider’s well-encrypted connections offer added protection thanks to auto-reconnect and “scramble” features. A 30-day money-back guarantee is available.
Read my full review of IPVanish.
Is a Free VPN a Good Option to Protect Me on the Dark Web?
Honestly, a “free” VPN isn’t a good option for protecting you during any online adventure, but it is especially inadequate for use while browsing dark web sites.
So-called “free” VPNs do a lousy job of protecting your privacy, and their less-than-optimal connection speeds will slow you down even more than usual when you’re using the Tor browser (which already slows down your internet connection due to its routing of your connection through multiple relays to anonymize your activities).
Many VPN providers that don’t directly charge you for their services do make you pay indirectly. They will track your online activities, log the sensitive information and sell it to advertisers and other interested folks.
Some freebie VPNs will also inject tracking cookies and unwanted ads into your browsing sessions. While that may not be a problem with the Tor browser, it can affect your non-dark web browsing activities.
Gratis VPN providers are also known to herd their users into a waiting queue, where they spend an indeterminate amount of time before they are allowed to connect to the provider’s servers. Once you’re allowed to finally connect, your selection of servers is drastically limited. And sometimes you don’t even get to select a server – it’s selected for you.
Last but not least, many free VPNs will throttle your connection speeds, slowing down your already-slowed Tor browser traffic. You’ll also be subjected to monthly data caps and possible bandwidth limitations. Does any of this sound good to you?
While “free” is definitely an attractive price, the realities of “free” VPN providers is far from alluring.
What Advantages Does a VPN Provide?
A Virtual Private Network protects and enhances all of your online activities, whether you’re visiting the dark web or merely shopping at Amazon.
A VPN protects your online activities from being observed and monitored by encasing it in an encrypted tunnel, which hides your internet connection from prying eyes.
If you use the Tor browser without a VPN, your Internet Service Provider (ISP) can detect that you’re visiting the dark web. While it can’t detect what you are doing, the mere fact that criminals and other suspicious individuals use the dark web may result in your ISP more closely monitoring all of your online activities.
A VPN hides all of your activities from your ISP, which prevents them from logging those travels, and also prevents them from throttling or blocking your connection to such “unapproved” activities as file sharing or viewing video from certain streaming services.
In addition, a VPN’s encrypted protection prevents you from being tailed online by the government, and it also prevents hackers from monitoring your online activities. This is particularly important when you’re using an unprotected public WiFi hotspot in a coffee shop or at the airport. As those are unencrypted, they are a favorite target of hackers.
A VPN also improves your online entertainment options thanks to its ability to temporarily assign a new IP address to your connected device, making it appear as if you’re in another part of the world, which opens access to geo-blocked local content in that region.
Words of Caution About the Dark Web
The dark web can be tricky to navigate and be a dangerous place for the average internet user. In this section, I’ll be offering a few words of caution about the risks of the dark web.
The high level of anonymity allows bad guys to sell drugs, stolen credit cards and IDs, weapons, and other compromised information and illegal goods.
The dark web is full of scammers, looking to attract unwitting victims. Plus, due to the anonymity of the dark web, you can never be sure who is on the other end of the line. It could be a scammer, or it could be a government agent looking to identify and track criminals and terrorists.
To protect yourself on the dark web, I strongly suggest installing a quality VPN, like NordVPN. A VPN protects all of your online activities from prying eyes. After installing the Tor browser, check for updates on a regular basis. Security and bug fixes are made to the browser on a regular basis.
For more information, check out my dark web tutorial.
Users who are looking for the best protection for their connection while navigating the uncharted waters of dark web sites are strongly recommended to invest in a Virtual Private Network.
NordVPN is my VPN provider of choice for keeping all of your online activities undercover, and that includes visits to .onion websites. The provider’s optimal security software and privacy protections, along with their excellent connection speeds, will keep you protected, no matter what part of the internet you’re visiting.
For more information or to purchase a subscription, visit the NordVPN website.
Dark Web Private Browsing FAQ
Is the Dark Web and the Dark Net the Same?
The “dark web” and the “dark net” are two popular terms for the same thing, which is a part of the larger “deep web.” The dark web/dark net is a network of encrypted content that isn’t searchable with traditional search engines, like Google.
This area of the web is arguably best known for the illegal activities that are conducted here, such as black markets and the exchange of illegal items or services. That said, there are legitimate purposes for the dark web, including providing access to censored materials, its use by democratic reformers and protestors in heavily autocratic countries, and more.
Is It Illegal to Use the Tor Browser?
Using the Tor browser and Tor network is legal. However, since many folks use Tor to anonymize and hide their illegal activities, using Tor may bring you to the attention of law enforcement and your Internet Service Provider.
Both the NSA and the FBI have targeted Tor users in the past, while Comcast has threatened to terminate the internet service of customers who use Tor. That’s why I strongly suggest using a VPN to hide your Tor usage from the outside world.
Is the Dark Web Slow?
Yes, the dark web is slow, because it uses a series of peer-to-peer connection nodes to relay your internet connection. This adds extra hops here and there along the way before your request arrives at its destination and returns the information you requested.
- How to Use Your VPN for Visiting the Dark Web
- Best VPNs for Anonymous Browsing of the Dark Web
- 1. NordVPN
- 2. Surfshark
- 3. ExpressVPN
- 4. CyberGhost
- 5. PrivateVPN
- 6. IPVanish
- Is a Free VPN a Good Option to Protect Me on the Dark Web?
- What Advantages Does a VPN Provide?
- Words of Caution About the Dark Web
- Dark Web Private Browsing FAQ
- Is the Dark Web and the Dark Net the Same?
- Is It Illegal to Use the Tor Browser?
- Is the Dark Web Slow?