Best VPNs for the dark web

The dark web can only be accessed through an anonymity network like Tor. Tor encrypts data sent to and from your device, hiding the contents of your internet traffic. But your internet service provider and government agencies can still see that you’re using Tor. Even though specific online activity is anonymized, Tor’s reputation as a criminal tool means simply connecting to the Tor network might be enough to raise eyebrows and draw unwanted attention. Some countries block Tor altogether.

If you want to hide the fact that you’re using Tor from your internet service provider and other third parties, we recommend using a VPN. Short for Virtual Private Network, a VPN encrypts all of a device’s internet traffic and routes it through a middleman server in a location of your choosing. The VPN hides Tor traffic inside the encrypted tunnel, so no one but you and the VPN provider can see you’re using Tor.

If you don’t want to read the full article, here is our summary list of the best VPNs for the dark web:

  1. NordVPN Our #1 choice for the dark web. Extremely fast, with a no-logging policy, Tor over VPN servers, and a 30-day money-back guarantee.
  2. Surfshark Best budget VPN. Zero logs, tons of servers, and strong layer of security.
  3. ExpressVPN Security-conscious VPN with its own .onion site. Accepts bitcoin.
  4. CyberGhost Very secure, no logs, and fast.
  5. PrivateVPN Fast, easy, and comes with modifiable OpenVPN files.
  6. IPVanish No logging, fast, and great security features.

How to use a VPN with Tor and access the dark web

There are many ways to connect to Tor, but for brevity’s sake we’ll assume you’re using the Tor browser.

Here’s how to access the dark web with a VPN:

  1. Sign up for and install a VPN. Our top recommendation is NordVPN.
  2. Open the VPN app
  3. Select a server location and connect to the VPN. Wait for the connection to be established.
  4. Download and install the Tor Browser.
  5. Open the Tor Browser.
  6. Enter the .onion URL for the Tor hidden service (dark web site) you want to visit into the address bar. Only use verified URLs from trusted sources.
  7. Surf the dark web!

Using this simple setup, your internet traffic is encrypted twice: first by Tor, then by the VPN. It then goes to the VPN server, where the VPN’s layer of encryption is removed, before going on to a Tor entry node. Your ISP only sees encrypted traffic going to a server and cannot detect that you are using Tor or connecting to Tor entry nodes.

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Best VPNs for the dark web

The downside is that the VPN provider can see that you’re using Tor, even though your ISP can’t. With that in mind, you’ll need a VPN provider you can trust.

1. NordVPN

NordVPN Sep 2021

Apps Available:

  • PC
  • Mac
  • IOS
  • Android
  • Linux

Website:  www.NordVPN.com

Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS

NordVPN is a veteran VPN provider that stores zero logs about its users’ online activities. Among its huge global server network is a Tor over VPN option, which automatically routes your traffic through the Tor network after it leaves the VPN tunnel. Whether you use that option or not, you get military-grade encryption, an app-specific kill switch, and strong leak protection. Speeds are among the fastest we’ve tested, and you can connect up to six devices at a time.

NordVPN accepts bitcoin, ripple, and ethereum.

Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, Fire TV and Linux.

NordVPN speed test data

NordVPN
Average Connection Speed - North America (USA)111.7 Mbps
Average Connection Speed - Europe (UK)122.3 Mbps
Average Connection Speed - Asia (Hong Kong)112.0 Mbps

Pros:

  • Zero logs
  • Fastest speeds around
  • Great digital security
  • Accepts bitcoin
  • Tor over VPN servers

Cons:

  • Connecting takes slightly longer on the desktop app

Our score:

4.5 out of 5

BEST FOR THE DARK WEB:NordVPN is the best option for browsing the dark web safely. Tor over VPN servers, blazing speeds, and a fantastic security offering. Comes with a risk-free 30-day money-back guarantee.

Read our full NordVPN review.

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2. Surfshark

Surfshark

Apps Available:

  • PC
  • Mac
  • IOS
  • Android
  • Linux

Website:  www.Surfshark.com

Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS

Surfshark puts a major emphasis on security and has an excellent privacy policy. It boasts 256-bit AES encryption, a kill switch (in all versions of the app), protection against IPv6, WebRTC, and DNS leaks, and a traffic obfuscation feature capable of hiding the fact that you’re using a VPN at all. Most importantly, this service doesn’t log any information that could identify you. Privacy-conscious internet users can pay in Bitcoin, Etherium, or Ripple and use a disposable email address to register almost entirely anonymously.

Windows, MacOS, Linux, iOS, Fire TV, and Android apps are available.

Surfshark speed test data

Surfshark
Average Connection Speed - North America (USA)170 Mbps
Average Connection Speed - Europe (UK)230 Mbps
Average Connection Speed - Asia (Hong Kong)220 Mbps

Pros:

  • No connection limit
  • Unblocks major streaming services abroad
  • Generally strong speeds
  • Strong security features and a no-logs policy
  • Accepts three different cryptocurrencies

Cons:

  • Small (but growing) network
  • Still has the occasional slow server

Our score:

4.5 out of 5

Read our full review of Surfshark here.

BEST BUDGET OPTION:Surfshark is affordable, reliable, and secure. Connect as many devices as you like. Includes a 30-day money-back guarantee.

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3. ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN

Apps Available:

  • PC
  • Mac
  • IOS
  • Android
  • Linux

Website:  www.ExpressVPN.com

Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS

ExpressVPN doesn’t log your real IP address nor any contents of the internet traffic that passes through its servers. It boasts strong encryption and the most robust leak protection we’ve seen on any VPN, ensuring your data never escapes the secure tunnel. Speeds are consistently fast, and 24/7 live chat support is at your disposal if you run into any issues. ExpressVPN accepts bitcoin as payment and even hosts a mirror site on the dark web that can only be accessed via Tor, so you can sign up with complete anonymity.

Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, Linux, Amazon Fire TV, and certain wifi routers.

ExpressVPN speed test data

ExpressVPN
Average Connection Speed - North America (USA)135.7 Mbps
Average Connection Speed - Europe (UK)134 Mbps
Average Connection Speed - Asia (Hong Kong)136 Mbps

Pros:

  • Excellent security and privacy
  • Fast and stable
  • Accepts bitcoin
  • Has a .onion site

Cons:

  • Slightly more expensive
  • Doesn’t offer much control over advanced functionality

Our score:

4.5 out of 5

PRIVACY FIRST:ExpressVPN makes it easy to use the dark web safely. Offers fast speeds, solid security, and its own .onion site, plus a 30-day guarantee.

Read our full ExpressVPN review.

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4. CyberGhost

Apps Available:

  • PC
  • Mac
  • IOS
  • Android
  • Linux

Website:  www.Cyberghost.com

Money-back guarantee: 45 DAYS

CyberGhost is the only VPN to earn a perfect score in our annual privacy and security assessment thanks to robust encryption, leak protection, a kill switch, and a zero logs policy. You can purchase with bitcoin and connect up to seven devices at a time. Speeds are excellent and connections are reliable. CyberGhost doesn’t have any Tor-specific features, but you’ll get ample protection when using the “Surf Anonymously” option and the Tor browser.

Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, Linux, Fire TV, and Android.

CyberGhost speed test data

CyberGhost
Average Connection Speed - North America (USA)78.7 Mbps
Average Connection Speed - Europe (UK)54.7 Mbps
Average Connection Speed - Asia (Hong Kong)39.3 Mbps

Pros:

  • Excellent security
  • No logs
  • Accepts bitcoin
  • Fast speeds

Cons:

  • No Tor-specific features
  • Few customizable options

Our score:

4.5 out of 5

VALUE AND PERFORMANCE:CyberGhost is a good value proposition for dark web users who don’t compromise on security, and it comes with a 45-day money-back guarantee.

Read our full CyberGhost review.

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5. PrivateVPN

Apps Available:

  • PC
  • Mac
  • IOS
  • Android
  • Linux

Website:  www.PrivateVPN.com

Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS

PrivateVPN not only works with Tor in the “Tor-over-VPN” setup we’ve described above, but also offers an alternative option: VPN over Tor. PrivateVPN’s website includes a helpful guide on how to modify the OpenVPN configuration files included with the app so that your internet traffic first passes through the Tor network, and then through the VPN. This is useful if you want to use Tor to access sites on the clear web that don’t normally allow Tor connections, since your IP address will be that of the VPN server. Note that if you don’t want your ISP to see that you’re connecting to Tor, it’s best to use a normal VPN connection and the Tor browser.

PrivateVPN offers great speeds and security, and a no-logs policy. You can connect up to six devices at a time. Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, and Fire TV.

PrivateVPN speed test data

PrivateVPN
Average Connection Speed - North America (USA)94 Mbps
Average Connection Speed - Europe (UK)56.7 Mbps
Average Connection Speed - Asia (Hong Kong)61.7 Mbps

Pros:

  • No logs
  • Fast
  • Strong security
  • Allows Tor-over-VPN connections

Cons:

  • Smaller selection of servers
  • Doesn’t offer 24/7 support

Our score:

4.5 out of 5

UP AND COMER:PrivateVPN is a newer provider that earns its place among the veteran players. It comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Read our full PrivateVPN review.

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6. IPVanish

Apps Available:

  • PC
  • Mac
  • IOS
  • Android
  • Linux

Website:  www.IPVanish.com

Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS

IPVanish is one of the fastest VPNs around but doesn’t skimp on privacy or security. You get uncrackable encryption, strong DNS leak protection, and a zero-logs policy with every subscription. The apps are easy to set up and use on any number of devices. IPVanish doesn’t accept bitcoin, so if you want to make an anonymous purchase, you may want to look elsewhere. The IPVanish apps include an obfuscation feature that disguises your encrypted tunnel as normal internet traffic, plus the option to periodically change your assigned IP address at certain intervals, bolstering anonymity.

Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, Fire TV, and Android.

IPVanish speed test data

IPVanish
Average Connection Speed - North America (USA)72 Mbps
Average Connection Speed - Europe (UK)31.3 Mbps
Average Connection Speed - Asia (Hong Kong)52.3 Mbps

Pros:

  • Fast
  • Secure
  • No logs

Cons:

  • Doesn’t accept cryptocurrency payments
  • Struggles to unblock certain geo-restricted services

Our score:

4 out of 5

FAST & SECURE:IPVanish offers a great combination of speed and security, plus a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Read our full IPVanish review.

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Can I use a free VPN for the dark web?

Free VPN service providers are generally a bad idea if your aim is to remain anonymous online. They tend to be less secure and many will log your online and dark web activity to sell to third parties. Others inject advertisements into your browser, and some even carry malware payloads.

Aside from privacy and online security risks, free VPNs are slow. If you’re using the Tor browser, your bandwidth will already be pretty limited, and a free VPN will only hamper it further. Server congestion, bandwidth limits, and data caps all contribute to a slow experience.

Paid providers have a vested interest in keeping your activity private, so we strongly recommend avoiding free alternatives.

I have a VPN and Tor Browser. Now what?

If your goal is to access the darknet, you need to know where to look. If you’re not sure where to start, check out our guide on how to access the dark web safely while keeping your anonymity intact.

Because the dark web isn’t regularly indexed by search engines like Google, it can be hard to find stuff. That’s on purpose, as most sites and services on the darknet aim to be kept secret, at least to some degree. You can’t just surf the dark web like you can the clear net.

Be very careful about links to dark web sites that you find on the clear web. The links may well lead to scam, malware, and phishing sites that look indistinguishable from a genuine site.

That being said, the darknet is home to a wide range of content, both legal and illegal. It’s important to tread with caution and never divulge any personal information that could be used to identify you.

Tor over VPN vs VPN over Tor

VPN THEN TOR

When you connect to a VPN and then fire up the Tor browser, outgoing internet traffic first goes through the VPN, and then through the Tor network. This setup is called VPN over Tor, and if you want to use a VPN while on the dark web, is the preferred option. Your ISP cannot detect that Tor is being used, but websites and other online services can see your traffic coming from a Tor exit node.

Tor over VPN works the opposite way, where outgoing traffic is sent through the Tor network first, and then through the VPN. Your ISP will be able to see that you’re using Tor, but websites and online services will see the internet connection coming from the VPN server. This setup is rarely useful but can be used to access websites that normally block Tor users. It can’t be used to access the darknet, though.

If you want your Tor traffic to exit the network in a specific country, a better option would be to use Tor country codes.

VPN testing methodology

Comparitech strives to publish the most accurate, comprehensive, and useful VPN reviews on the web. To do so, we evaluate all of the VPNs we recommend based on real-world experience, expert analysis, and performance testing. When it comes to Tor VPNs, we particularly examine:

  • Encryption: The VPN’s data cipher, RSA key exchange, and authentication hash must meet a minimum set of requirements.
  • Logging policy: The VPN’s privacy policy and terms of service are inspected for language or lack thereof that suggests the collection of personally identifiable user information while using the VPN.
  • Data leaks: We check every VPN for IP address, DNS, and WebRTC leaks on both IPv4 and IPv6 networks.
  • Anonymous payment options: Acceptance of cryptocurrencies and other anonymous or pseudonymous payment methods factors into our evaluation.

In addition to those elements, we also test each VPN’s speed, ability to unblock region-locked streaming services like Netflix, and ability to bypass internet censorship in places like China. For more details, read how we test VPNs on our methodology page.

Dark Web FAQ

What is the difference between the dark web and the deep web?

The dark web is a part of the internet that is accessed primarily through Tor. Dark web sites have a ".onion" top-level domain. Users are anonymous on the dark web.

The deep web is everything on the internet that isn't indexed by search engines. It includes the dark web but also much, much more.

Can the dark web be monitored?

It depends on what you mean by "monitored". Banks and identity theft protection services routinely monitor dark web marketplaces for their customers' personal details, for example. Internet service providers can see if you're accessing the dark web if you're not using a VPN. But it's generally not possible to identify someone who is using Tor unless they expose personal information.

Is identity theft a problem on the darknet?

The darknet has several marketplaces where stolen identities are bought and sold. But it is usually not the place where identity theft actually occurs.

Onion routing vs. VPN, which is better?

Both have their pros and cons. A VPN guarantees privacy: no one can see what you're doing. Tor (a.k.a. onion routing) guarantees a layer of anonymity: no one can see who you are.

How can I further protect myself from hackers & cyber-criminals while on the dark web?

The golden rule of the dark web is to not reveal any information that could identify you or be traced back to you.

You will also need to avoid sites and services that aim to put malware on your device. There’s no simple indicator for this; you just have to know where you’re going before you get there. Make sure you only visit reputable sites with verified URLs.

Tor browser does remove some would-be threats, for example by preventing websites from running scripts without your permission.

Check out our step-by-step guide to safely accessing the dark web.

How can I spot malicious websites on the dark web?

Unlike the clear web, it’s much more difficult to determine whether a darknet website is legitimate. There are no dark web certificate authorities to validate HTTPS connections. Your browser probably won’t warn if you are about to enter a malicious website.

The dark web is not a place to browse aimlessly. You’ll need to find and verify URLs for the sites you want to visit ahead of time. You can find these URLs through other members of the dark web community whom you trust.

Do not look up dark web URLs on the clear web using Google or another search engine. The URLs posted on the clear web for novice dark web users to find are often malicious or outdated. In one example, Comparitech uncovered a fraudulent bitcoin mixing site on the dark web that featured prominently in Google search results.

Is it legal to access the dark web?

Yes, broadly speaking, it is legal to access the dark web in most countries. But not everything on the dark web is legal.

The dark web is just the name for all of the Tor hidden services on the internet, including websites with .onion URLs that can only be accessed with the Tor Browser. Many of the sites on the dark web are perfectly legal and legitimate.

The dark web can be used to hide and anonymously operate as a criminal, which makes it a popular place to exchange illegal goods and services. These might include drugs, malware, or sexual material, among others. Extremist groups and criminal gangs can use the dark web to recruit and coordinate their activities. So there are parts of the dark web that you should certainly avoid from a legal standpoint.

Related post: Dark Web Monitoring Tools