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 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. Select a server location and connect to the VPN. Wait for the connection to be established.
  3. Open the Tor Browser
  4. 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.

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. We chose the best VPNs for the darknet based on the following criteria:

  • No logs containing identifying information
  • Strong encryption and leak protection
  • Fast and reliable speeds
  • Special features for Tor users
  • Anonymous payment options (Bitcoin etc)

1. NordVPN

NordVPN Nov 2020

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 and their 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 faster than any other service 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, and Linux.

Pros:

  • Zero logs
  • Fastest speeds around
  • Great 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 VPN

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, and Android apps are available.

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 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.

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 and Android.

Pros:

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

Cons:

  • No Tor-specific features
  • Few customizable options

Our score:

4 out of 5

VALUE AND PERFORMANCE:CyberGhost is a good value proposition for 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.

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 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, and Android.

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 services 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 activity to sell to third parties. Others inject advertisements into your browser, and some even carry malware payloads.

Aside from privacy and 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 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.

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 anonymity: no one can see who you are.

Related post: Dark Web Monitoring Tools