Many people have heard of the dark web, but there are still many misunderstandings about what it actually is. The dark web refers to the vast swathe of the internet that isn’t indexed by search engines. Dark websites can only be accessed by those who know the specific addresses of the site in question. In the case of business intranet services, which account for the vast majority of the dark web, access is granted by knowing the IP address of the server the user wants to access. You may also like the how to get free .com domain name.
For dark web services which are not accessed via their IP addresses, .onion domains are used. These .onion addresses are special-use, top-level domains; more familiar examples of top-level domains include .com .co.uk .org etc. When you access one of these top-level domains on the clear web, such as by entering https://www.google.com into your web browser, a DNS lookup is performed and the address you type is converted into the IP address of the relevant server. This makes the internet much more user-friendly than it would be if we were required to know the IP address of every site that we wished to visit.
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The .onion domains are a little different; they don’t use the DNS lookup service. Instead, while it is possible to generate a human-readable .onion address, most addresses consist of a 16 character alpha-numeric sequence which is generated when the secret service is created.
Websites such as Facebook and The New York Times, among others, also operate .onion services in addition to their clear web services. This allows users in countries with restrictive internet laws to access these services safely and easily.
How to Access .onion Sites
Websites that use the .onion domain can only be accessed by using a particular browser, the Tor browser. Tor is short for “the onion router,” a reference to the nature of the protocol that Tor uses to maintain a user’s anonymity. Just as an onion consists of multiple layers, the Tor network reroutes a user’s internet connection through a number of different computers before connecting it to the internet through an exit node.
It is possible to trace the IP addresses of users who access clear web websites using Tor, but these IP addresses will only lead back to the exit node. There will be numerous connections entering the internet via the exit node, and it is all but impossible to trace any of these back to the source. On the other hand, a .onion service is a completely hidden service which is only accessible through Tor. This means that users can’t be tracked or traced at any point.
Why Would You Need a .onion Site?
The dark web has a reputation as being a lawless frontier of the internet where anything and everything is available. While the most unsavory parts of the internet are certainly found on the dark web, this is far from its only purpose. In fact, the US State Department trains foreign dissidents on how they can use the Tor network to maintain anonymity and communicate securely with outside agencies.
There are a number of reasons why you might want to consider launching a .onion site, either to complement an existing website or as an entirely new venture. For one thing, you will be able to sell the security and privacy attributes of your service much more easily, allowing you to connect with a whole new user base. Privacy is a growing concern for all internet users. A few years ago, had you suggested that one’s every online move was being watched and logged, you would have been laughed off as a conspiracy theorist.
Since the Edward Snowden’s disclosure of the PRISM program, which directly involved and benefited multiple countries, we now know that such capabilities exist and have been deployed.
Having a .onion service is a great way of showing your users that you are serious about their privacy. Any website or service can claim to care about these things, but actions speak far louder than words. Your .onion service will be much more secure, for both its users and for you, than a standard clear website will be. Put yourself at the forefront of the impending privacy revolution and join the growing list of online services which are operating on Tor.