5 Best VPNs for the Dark Web in 2024

Saheed Aremu  - Security Expert
Last updated: May 6, 2024
Read time: 17 minutes
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Discover the best VPNs for surfing the dark web, review what makes them stand out, and see helpful tips for staying safe as you browse.

THE TAKEAWAYS

The internet is an unimaginably large repository of information. Google Search currently has over 55 billion pages, yet this all falls under 10% of everything on the internet. The other 90% is the deep web, 6% of which makes up the dark web. For anything to be that hidden and exclusive, you can expect it to contain various shady and harmful activities. This is why you need a VPN to protect yourself from the threats on the dark web and your ISP’s tracking. The article lists the five best VPNs for surfing the dark web.

VPN-Sheild

When people hear “the dark web,” they instantly imagine different vices and crimes. This is quite understandable, considering the dark web’s mysterious nature and notorious reputation. We also advise avoiding this section of the internet unless you have a pressing business there.

Best VPNs for dark web – Quick list

Best VPN for School

Short on time? Here’s a quick list of our top VPNs for the dark web and what differentiates them from others.

  1. NordVPN: Premium, high-quality VPN for surfing the dark web. NordVPN ensures maximum security and privacy and has customizable dark web settings for extra protection.
  2. ExtremeVPN: New and reliable VPN for the dark web. ExtremeVPN is a recently-launched VPN with modern privacy features for surfing the dark web.
  3. ExpressVPN: Our top pick for surfing the dark web. ExpressVPN’s advanced security features protect you from various risks that may arise from using the dark web.
  4. Private Internet Access (PIA): Lightweight VPN for connecting to the dark web. PIA is one of the most affordable VPNs in the market, and one of the most robust, by the number of available servers.
  5. PureVPN: Multi-featured VPN for maximum security when surfing the dark web. PureVPN has a vast server network, encrypting your data and keeping you safe on the dark web.

How to access the dark web with a VPN: A step-by-step guide

What is a VPN
  1. Choose a trusted VPN provider – There are many VPNs on the internet today; Choose from any of the ones on our list.
  2. Subscribe to any desired plan – VPN providers typically offer a monthly, annual, 2- or 3-year plan. The longer the duration, the cheaper the fee, but the higher your initial payment. Subscribe to the one you can afford that provides your desired features.
  3. Install the VPN app on your device – Visit your device’s store for dark web VPN download and install the app on your phone. Open it and log in with the registration details you created while subscribing.
  4. Configure the app and enable safety features – Configure the app to your taste and set up safety features, such as the kill switch and the malware blocker.
  5. Connect to an obfuscated server – This step is crucial if you live in a censorship-heavy country where browsing Tor could be problematic. Each VPN may have its unique way of obscuring servers, and you may need to check your chosen VPN’s website.
  6. Open Tor and start browsing – Download, install, and set up Tor from the official Tor project website. Open it and start exploring your favorite dark web pages.

What is the dark web?

The dark web is the part of the internet that is unavailable in the index of search engines. It runs on overlay networks and needs specific programs, configurations, and authorization to access. It is like the black market.

Like a black market, the dark web is infamous for largely criminalizing activities, such as pirated files, illegal substances, hacking, unlawful transactions, and stolen data on the dark web.

The sheer number of illegal activities on the dark web has been a growing concern for governments worldwide. For this reason, many have taken steps that enable them to police top dark web sites actively. This may be through improving the capabilities of domestic law enforcement agencies or enhancing information sharing among countries.

To better understand the dark web, it may be necessary to review the surface and the deep web:

The surface web

This internet section is readily available to the general public with standard search engines. The surface web is so large that Google’s index contains over 55 billion web pages.

Despite this enormous number, the surface web only consists of about 10% of the entire information on the internet. This is similar to an iceberg, where the tip, the visible part, is a fraction of the entire iceberg.


The deep web

The deep web is any part of the internet that’s not accessible by search engines. This includes password-protected websites, the content behind paywalls, and email content. Accessing this section requires certain apps and special access.

You’re right if you’ve been drawing parallels between the deep and dark web. The dark web is technically a subset of the deep web. On the dark web, contents run on overlay networks and use encryption software to provide enhanced security or accessibility.

You can read more about the dark web from our well-detailed article here.


Under most jurisdictions, accessing the dark web is legal and permitted. However, there are restrictions on the Tor network in countries such as China, Russia, and Iran. You could land in trouble if law officers catch you surfing the dark web in these countries.

Even in dark web-legal regions, you should be careful with your activities and clicks. Criminal masterminds, terrorists, and drug pushers typically coordinate their operations and recruit new members via the dark web. These are illegal activities, and you may face jail terms if caught in them.

Why do I need a VPN to access the dark web?

Browse Internet Anonymously

VPNs are not essential for accessing the dark web, but they can help keep you safe. You need Tor, an anonymous browser, to visit websites on the dark web, which may attract attention to you by ISPs and other law enforcement agencies.

Tor (The Onion Router) directs traffic over a free, worldwide volunteer overlay network of more than 7,000 relays. Using the Tor browser, it becomes difficult for third parties to know where you are. However, due to its deep association with the dark web, ISPs are always on the lookout for users on the Tor network and their activities.

While Tor contains some safety and privacy features, these are not totally reliable. Tor’s relay networks, commonly known as “nodes,” are vulnerable, and government and intelligence agencies often target them. Using a VPN with Tor helps provide additional security and privacy and protects these vulnerabilities.

The dark web is also full of hackers and cybercriminals with malicious intent. With a VPN, you can mask your identity and perform your business safely.

Finally, you may also need a VPN for censorship when accessing the dark web. Countries with harsh internet policies, like China, restrict the Tor project website or other web pages where you can download the software. That means there’s no way to start accessing the dark web unless you first connect to a VPN.

China Flag

These countries sometimes go to extreme lengths to block the Tor traffic altogether. The Chinese government uses a firewall that restricts so many websites that it earned the name “The Great Firewall of China.” A VPN helps you bypass these restrictions.

Best dark web VPN features: Quick comparison table

lesser known VPN benefits

Below, you’ll find a table of the core information of our best VPNs for the dark web. These include speeds, deals, and features like obfuscated servers and malware blockers.

You can compare these details and choose which best satisfies your needs:

VPNBest monthly dealSpeedsNumber of serversAd, malware blockerObfuscated servers5/9/14 Eyes alliances jurisdictionMoney-back guarantee
NordVPN$3.99 (save 71% on a two-year plan)Impressively-fast5,500+ servers in 60 countriesYesYesNo30 days
ExtremeVPN$3.29 (billed at $39.48 for the first 12 months to save 68%)Fast6,500+ servers in over 78 countriesNoYesNo30 days
ExpressVPN$8.32 (get 3 months free and save 35% on the annual plan)Blazing-fast3,000+ servers in 94 countriesNoYesNo30 days
Private Internet Access$3.33 (get three months free with a three-year plan and save 83%)Fast35,000+ servers in 84 countriesYesYesYes30 days
PureVPN$3.33 (billed at $79.95 for the first 24 months to save 79%)Fast6,400+ servers in over 75 countriesYesYesNo31 days

Best VPNs for the dark web – Detailed list

Best VPNs for Dark web

Here’s a comprehensive analysis of the best VPNs you can use with a dark web list.

1. NordVPN

NordVPN for Streaming

A leading VPN service that prioritizes online security and privacy. It is known for its ease of use and blazing-fast connection speeds.

servers Offers 5500+ high-speed servers for seamless streaming and gaming
Ad Blocker feature CyberSec function blocks ads, malware, and tracking
encryption Offers high-grade encryption: AES-256
Kill switch An automatch kill switch feature
Split tunneling feature Boasts Split Tunneling for a customized browsing experience
MultiHop mode Double VPN for an extra layer of encryption
tor compatible Offers Tor over VPN feature for ultimate anonymity
Zero-logs policy Audits strict no-log policy
simultaneous connections Allowance up to 10 simultaneous connections
money-back guarantee Offers refund policy of 30-day
Pros
  • Does not monitor users’ online activities
  • Works with Tor, Freenet, Invisible Internet Project (I2P)
  • Effective and efficient customer service
Cons
  • Poorly optimized mobile apps

Already a household name in the VPN market, NordVPN’s developers keep upgrading it with new features to keep it ahead of its competitors. One of the most trusted for dark web security, NordVPN effectively blocks malware, ads, web trackers, and other online threats. Conventionally, Nord also doesn’t log your data and uses AES 256 encryption.

NordVPN allows you to create your own private encrypted network for safe file sharing and work using its “Meshnet” feature. It is also one of the few VPNs with a dark web monitor. If your accounts ever get compromised, NordVPN will send you alerts.

NordVPN uses dedicated IP addresses, enabling you to access IP-restricted networks. If unsatisfied with these features, you have a 30-day money-back guarantee. You can also raise queries and make complaints via its 24/7 customer service.


2. ExtremeVPN

ExtremeVPN VPN block logo

A credible VPN service that uses sophisticated encryption algorithms to protect user data and assure privacy. It offers an extensive server network and other impressive features.

servers Has an extensive network of over 6,500 servers in 78 countries
encryption Offers military-grade 256-bit encryption
P2P optimized servers P2P support without bandwidth constraints
Zero-logs policy Boasts a verified no-log policy
Kill switch Includes a reliable kill switch for stealth protection
Split tunneling feature Supports Split Tunneling feature
tor compatible Boasts Onion over VPN servers
simultaneous connections Allows up to 10 devices to be connected at once
protection Robust IP/DNS leaks protection
money-back guarantee A generous no-question-asked refund policy
Pros
  • Boasts extreme speed all around the servers
  • Highly resilient VPN with obfuscated servers, port forwarding, and multiport capabilities
  • Numerous features at an affordable fee
  • Responsive 24/7 customer support via various channels
Cons
  • Lacks dedicated IP address

ExtremeVPN is a recently launched VPN with all the functionalities you’ll find in older VPNs and even more. While new, it has all the functionalities that users have come to love in other VPNs. These include an extensive server network, state-of-the-art encryption, IPv6 and DNS leak protection, and a no-logs policy.

ExtremeVPN also has unique and advanced features, making it a must-have for the dark web. It uses obscure or obfuscated servers to hide VPN usage from ISPs and anti-VPN applications and services. ExtremeVPN also has multi-port and domain fronting capabilities, giving you a premium VPN experience.

Despite these various features, you can get ExtremeVPN for as low as $3.29/ month. Customer support is also swift and prompt and is available via live chat and a dedicated help section on the website.


3. ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN new features block logo 120 by 120 now

A top-rated VPN service committed to online privacy and security. The service has servers in over 90 countries, allowing access to geographically restricted content and bypassing censorship.

servers Boasts 3,000+ servers in 90+ countries for fast connections
Trusted servers nord RAM-only servers to ensure no data logs
encryption Best-in-class AES-256 encryption for top-notch protection
Zero-logs policy Audits zero-log policy to ensure privacy
Split tunneling feature Offers Split Tunneling for customized privacy
network lock feature Network Lock (kill switch) for data safety
tor compatible Has Tor over VPN servers
P2P optimized servers Supports P2P sharing on all servers
simultaneous connections Allows up to 8 devices connections at once
money-back guarantee Tested 30-day no-question asked refund policy
Pros
  • Excellent security and privacy features
  • Boasts formidable privacy and security features
  • Simple and user-intuitive interface
Cons
  • Expensive than competitors

By popularity and trustworthiness, only a few VPNs come close to ExpressVPN. Since its launch in 2008, ExpressVPN has helped businesses and individuals take control of their online privacy and security. It works with Tor, Freenet, and Invisible Internet Project (I2P).

ExpressVPN has various features that keep you safe on and off the dark web. It uses 256-bit encryption for maximum data protection, has a no-logs policy, and protects against IPv6, DNS, and WebRTC leaks. ExpressVPN is ready to prevent your IP address from ever falling into the wrong hands in the depths of the internet.

Network Lock is the name of ExpressVPN’s kill switch, available across all major platforms. You can claim a 30-day money-back guarantee through their 24/7 customer support. ExpressVPN may look slightly overpriced, considering a monthly fee of $8.32, but it offers enough features to justify this rate.


4. Private Internet Access

Private internet access pros cons block logo

An affordable VPN service that offers robust encryption protocols, including OpenVPN and WireGuard, to protect your data from hackers and other cyber threats.

servers Has a vast server network spanning in more than 80 countries worldwide
P2P optimized servers Supports P2P sharing and torrenting on all servers
encryption Offers industry standard encryption AES-256-bit
Ad Blocker feature Provides reliable ad, tracker, and malware blocking
Zero-logs policy Has a strict no-log policy
Trusted servers nord Uses RAM-only TrustedServer for security
Split tunneling feature Offers reliable Split Tunneling feature
Kill switch Provide an integrated kill switch
simultaneous connections Allows unlimited device connections per account
money-back guarantee 30 days no-question-asked money-back guarantee
Pros
  • Offers dedicated IP adresses
  • Seamlessly works with Tor
  • No bandwidth limit and data capturing
Cons
  • Varying server speeds

Private Internet Access (PIA) makes our list of recommended service to with dark web due to its useful features. It has various customizable privacy functionalities that help you decide how to stay safe on the dark web. For example, PIA has WireGuard and OpenVPN, and you can choose which you prefer online.

With PIA, you also get mainstream VPN features like the no-logs policy, 128-bit and 256-bit military-grade AES encryption, and multi-platform operability. Unlike most VPNs, though, PIA provides these features at an extremely affordable price. Its best monthly deal costs only $2.03 per month and has an extra three months free on a 3-year plan.

PIA runs over 28,000 servers in 84 countries, making it one of the largest VPN providers by the number of servers. In addition, it has an advanced malware and ad-blocking feature called “MACE” that can be valuable when visiting Tor websites.


5. PureVPN

PureVPN small logo

An affordable and secure VPN that offers advanced features like split tunneling, kill switch, and DNS leak protection to ensure maximum security. It has a massive server network spread globally.

servers Boasts an extensive network of 6500+ servers worldwide
encryption Uses best-in-class encrytion; AES-256
P2P optimized servers Allows P2P sharing on servers
Zero-logs policy Doesn’t store users data
protection Offers IP/DNS leak prevention
Kill switch Reliable kill switch to halt data leakage
Split tunneling feature Provides functional split tunneling feature
simultaneous connections Connect up to 10 devices simultaneously
money-back guarantee Tested 31-day refund policy
Pros
  • Affordable initial subscription fees
  • Works with Tor and accesses onion websites
  • Supports split tunneling
Cons
  • Increased price after initial subscription

PureVPN is a British Virgin Islands-based VPN service that started operations in 2006. Since its launch, the VPN has immensely grown, now serving over 3 million people in more than 140 countries.

This VPN has an appealing and user-optimized interface that’s only overshadowed by its features and cost. It markets its features under four main categories: PureVPN, PurePivacy, PureKeep, and PureEncrypt. PureVPN is a full-featured high-speed VPN, PurePrivacy is a digital privacy manager, PureKeep is a secure password manager, and PureEncrypt helps with end-to-end file encryption.

PureVPN has a 31-day money-back guarantee if you’re unsatisfied with their services. The Help section on their website ensures you maximize your VPN usage by providing helpful resources. These include setup guides, troubleshooting, FAQs, and a learning center.


Methodology for selecting the best dark web VPNs

which VPN would suit you the best

VPNs offer various features which may not be useful for the dark web. To choose the best one, we had to analyze various VPNs and narrow these features down before choosing our top five. Here are our results:

1. Security

VPNs should secure you and keep you safe online, whether on the surface web or the dark web. This is even more important for the dark web as the inherent risks increase significantly.

A VPN should have at least AES 256 encryption to make our list. This is the current global standard and the same encryption that government agencies and military intelligence use. It should also protect against various IP address leaks and feature a working kill switch for when the connection drops.


2. Logging policy

Every application you use can track your activities if you let it. This helps them determine inappropriate use, identify fraud, or complete certain actions. VPNs should never do this, though.

Virtual Private Networks are not online marketplaces or social media applications, which means they keep much more sensitive data. If a VPN’s logging policy doesn’t state that it clears these data after every session, ensure you avoid it. An uncleared log is a potential haven for malicious actors like hackers and cybercriminals.


3. Server network

Often, you can determine the quality of a good VPN by its server network. The more extensive its network is, the greater your access to various online content. Sometimes, the server network can also influence the VPN’s speed.

Each of the VPNs in our list has thousands of servers across different locations. Even if you live in a censorship-heavy country, connect to a server in a more accessible region, open Tor, and browse your desired websites.

Numerous VPN servers in a location limit the load on any individual server, increasing speed and efficiency. Conversely, a VPN with only a few servers will have high latency, causing it to buffer and lag occasionally. This is due to numerous connections on that server.


4. Server speed

The Tor browser uses a network of entry, middle, and exit nodes to reroute your traffic and keep you anonymous on the Tor network. This already slows down your internet speed. Adding another VPN layer can cause a noticeable lag in browsing speed and give an unpleasant experience.

For this reason, your chosen VPN should have high speed. The VPNs in our list use 10Gbps servers for maximum speed online. Server speeds often reach 100Mbps and sometimes exceed 200+Mbps in server-concentrated regions like North America and Europe.


5. Dark web support

If your VPN doesn’t support the dark web, then neither of the features above matters. There are different ways to access the dark web, the oldest and the most common being the Tor browser and network. At the least, your VPN should support Tor and be able to visit .onion websites.

There are also other ways, including the Freenet and the Invisible Internet Project. The more a VPN supports, the better.


6. Location

Over the years, countries worldwide have formed internet alliances, including the 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes. These alliances center around sharing and monitoring their citizens’ data for improved national security and law enforcement. You want your VPN to be from a region outside these alliances as much as possible.

The members of the 5 Eyes alliance are the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. These countries, alongside the Netherlands, France, Norway, and Denmark, make up the 9 Eyes alliance. 14 Eyes alliance comprises all these countries, including Belgium, Italy, Germany, Spain, and Sweden.

To use VPNs from these locations, confirm that they have clear no-log policies and don’t submit users’ data to law enforcement agencies.

Most of the VPNs in our list originate from the British Virgin Islands, which is not a member of all the alliances, and all providers boast strong no-log policies.


How do I access the dark web on my iPhone safely?

Safe-Icon

You must first download the Tor browser to use it on all compatible platforms, including Windows, Android, Mac, and Linux. This is the only way to access the Tor network and, subsequently, the dark web. The app isn’t available on iOS, so you may wonder, “How can I access Tor on my iPhone?”

You can use Onion Browser, owned by Tor network. This app is available on the iPhone’s App Store and encrypts your Tor network traffic for maximum privacy.

A disclaimer on the Onion Browser website states, “Using Onion Browser does not guarantee security or privacy on its own. It simply provides a set of features that may enhance privacy and anonymity while browsing the web.”

Your traffic and data on the browser may be safe, but not other applications you use. This is why you need a VPN to protect every website and application you open during any connection. The VPNs on our list also support split tunneling, so you can decide which apps to protect and which to not.

Can my ISP see that I’m accessing the dark web?

Who is my ISP

Both Tor and VPN encrypt your data and try to mask your identity to varying degrees. Tor sends your traffic through three nodes in different locations worldwide, making it difficult to pinpoint your location. These nodes are, however, vulnerable, and ISPs often exploit these vulnerabilities.

That means ISPs may see that you’re accessing the dark web but not determine what you’re viewing. You can easily avoid this ISP tracking with VPNs due to their advanced encryption capabilities.

Is it safe to access the dark web with a free VPN?

Free VPN Risks and problems

Free VPNs promise to provide the same VPN services as premium vendors but at no cost. Running a VPN requires significant investment, so you may be curious about where they get the capital to fund that infrastructure.

Your skepticism is valid. It’s not uncommon to find free VPN providers selling their users’ details to various businesses and organizations. This can compromise your privacy and defeat the purpose of using a VPN.

Here are other reasons why you shouldn’t use free VPNs to access the dark web:

  • Data limits – Free VPNs typically enforce some sort of data cap when you’re using their servers. This means the VPN may suddenly disconnect you even when you’re deep in your activities on the dark web, and privacy is of utmost importance.
  • Speed limits – Like data limits, free VPNs enforce speed limits. When you combine this with Tor’s three layers of data encryption, your internet speed will be significantly worse.
  • Limited servers – Operating a quality VPN service requires having an extensive network of functional servers. Free VPNs have limited servers serving thousands of people, further slowing network speed.

Free VPNs are also overrun with ads, both helpful and harmful. Imagine getting malware on your computer from clicking on an ad from your VPN provider. These reasons and more make free VPNs unsafe for accessing the dark web.

Helpful safety tips for using the dark web

Encryption

A VPN and Tor can augment your online security and privacy but can’t completely prevent every potential harm. They won’t protect the links you click or the forms you fill out, so you must also take extra safety precautions. Here are tips to follow when using the dark web:

  • Second-guess all clicks – Be careful with what you click on the dark web. A wrong click can send you to illegal websites or malware, which can be dangerous and harmful.
  • Never drop personal information – We strongly advise against dropping personal information on the dark web, whether to log in to a website or fill out a form. You can instead create anonymous accounts for all the websites and use those to log in when you visit.
  • Know why you’re visiting – Before visiting the dark web, ensure you know why and what you want to achieve. This prevents you from wandering when you’re there.
  • Disable Javascript – Hackers often use Javascript to inject malicious codes into a website, spread malware, and access personal information. Why this move may affect the functionality of certain websites is necessary to ensure your safety.
  • Avoid social media and your email – When on the dark web, avoid regular internet pages like Facebook, Twitter, and email. Ensure you also don’t visit your email to not leave behind any detail that can help identify you.

FAQs

Tor isn’t a VPN but a network of overlay nodes or relays for encrypted and hidden online activities. While most VPNs use a single layer of encryption, Tor uses three. Tor and VPNs differ in operations, but combining them significantly enhances your privacy and anonymity.

Each VPN has its features and areas of strength, which means the best one might be subjective rather than objective. However, we recommend ExpressVPN for its versatility and support for Tor, Freenet, and the Invisible Internet Project (I2P).

If you live in a country where the dark web is illegal, you may find it difficult to visit the Tor website. To bypass this, open your VPN and connect to a server in a location where Tor is freely accessible. This should unblock the website and allow you to download the Tor browser.

Tor over VPN is better as it hides the vulnerabilities that ISPs may exploit in the Tor network. You’re first connecting to a VPN, then to Tor. This makes the VPN server the first layer of network encryption, effectively keeping snoopers off your tail.

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About the Author

Saheed Aremu

Saheed Aremu

Security Expert
19 Posts

Saheed Aremu passionately advocates for digital privacy and cybersecurity in the modern digital age. As one of PrivacySavvy's resident VPN experts, he guides readers on protecting their online information and anonymity. Saheed earned his degree in Technology and Ethics from the University of Lagos in Nigeria. Since then, he has dedicated his career to writing extensively about crucial infosec, data privacy, and cybersecurity topics. When he's not empowering PrivacySavvy's readers to take control of their online security, Saheed enjoys distance running, playing chess, and exploring the latest open-source software advancements.

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