All the websites on the internet are hosted on servers – computers that host the files, process the data and serves the web pages to us. We only have to type the website’s URL in our web browser and it’s that simple, right? When we hit “Enter”, the web browser contacts the server using the IP address. There’s a HUGE database that holds all the server IP address corresponding to every website on the internet. That allows us to contact the server, request the website and all the other stuff. So, what’s the big deal about the ONION sites?
Websites ending with “.onion” aren’t normal websites. These domains use Tor hidden services and a part of the “deep web”.
What is deep web?
Let’s talk about the deep web on short. All the websites on the web – Facebook, Twitter, Nasa, CNET etc. – all make up the internet we know about. However, there are a lot more things that aren’t accessible through the normal search engines. That side of the WWW (World Wide Web) is called the deep web. The characteristics of this part are quite similar to the normal internet – emails, chat messages, social media sites, electronic banks etc.
These websites aren’t indexed by search engines like Google, Yahoo, Bing or DuckDuckGo. These parts are visible by the normal internet. However, search engines do not crawl into these places. Experts estimate that the deep web consists about 90% (even 99%) of the entire internet. They are only accessible via Tor network.
How Tor network works
When you access, say, https://www.google.com, your request is bounced from one Tor relay to another Tor relay, until it reaches an exit node – a computer that sends the request to Google. Google catches the request, sends data accordingly. The return is again bounced in a long road of one Tor relay to another until it reaches you.
The entire data exchange on the road is encrypted so that no monitoring system can check the data. Moreover, Google only saw the end-point IP address, not yours. Thus, you’re browsing the internet with absolute anonymity. Tor hidden service is a server that’s only accessible to Tor network users. Thus, someone hosting a website can hide it from the surface web and no one can find it – in theory.
Deep web websites
Before we go deep into this section, I strongly recommend exercising caution. Some websites are really nasty and full of scams. We recommend you to stay out of browsing “.onion” websites unless you have A REALLY GOOD REASON. The websites are accessible by “the onion router”.
It’s an anonymizing computer network. It’s funded partially by the US government and designed for countries where internet access is banned or monitored. When you connect to the Tor network, only then you’re allowed to visit these sites. For example, Facebook has got its own “.onion” portal – https://facebookcorewwwi.onion. This is very useful if you’re in a country where Facebook’s banned.
How to access deep web sites?
In order to access, you need to configure Tor network and Tor browser in your system. Tor Browser is a modified version of Firefox that’s designed to connect Tor network.
Download the Tor Browser. It’s available for Windows, Linux, and Mac. For Android devices, use their official Orbot: Proxy with Tor or Orfox: Tor Browser for Android. Unfortunately, there’s no official app for iOS.
After installing the Tor browser on your system, type the “.onion” address on the address bar. Let’s say, we’re going to Facebook via Tor.
- Enter the address: https://facebookcorewwwi.onion/
- Hit “Enter”.
Done! Very simple, right?
Don’t use proxies like Tor2Web
There’re several proxies that will let you connect with Tor network via their own VPN. It’s strongly not recommended. If you’re concerned about your privacy, this is a big “NO, NO”.
The reason for using Tor network is anonymity. Tor directly anonymizes your identity through their network system. When using the proxy, they’re easily able to tap into your data. Tor won’t be able to protect your anonymity in such condition.
Tor is a good media for hiding your identity on the web. Hiding your identity isn’t illegal. However, beware that many “.onion” websites are really nasty and a lot of them are scams. This technique is good if you need to visit specific “.onion” site.
For normal users like you and me, “.onion” websites are of no use. Until you know what you’re doing, it’s the best to stay away from them.