HomeTechnologyNewsHow to access .onion sites (also known as Tor hidden services)

How to access .onion sites (also known as Tor hidden services)

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Download Tor Browser from “torproject.org/download” and install it. Click “Establish a connection”, then enter the “.onion” address you want to visit in the address bar.

Website addresses that end in “.onion” are not like normal domain names and cannot be accessed with a normal web browser. Addresses ending in “.onion” point to hidden Tor services on the “deep web”.

Warnings: Many .onion sites contain very nasty stuff, and many of them are probably scams. We recommend that you stay away from onion “browser” sites; instead, use this only if you have a specific site that you want to access for a good reason.

What is an .onion site?

RELATED: How to browse anonymously with Tor

Tor, short for “the onion router,” is an anonymizing computer network. It is partially funded by the US government and is designed to help people in countries where Internet access may be censored or monitored. When you connect to Tor, your Internet activity is sent over the Tor network, anonymizing your Internet activity so it can’t be spied on and so you can access websites that may be blocked in your country.

So when you access google.com through Tor, your request bounces from one Tor relay to another Tor relay before reaching an “exit node”. That exit node then talks to Google.com for you, returning the data that Google responded with. Google sees this as the IP address of the exit node contacting you rather than your IP address.

RELATED: Is Tor really anonymous and secure?

But that means that the “last mile” of traffic can be eavesdropped on by an organization monitoring or even running the exit nodes, especially if your traffic isn’t encrypted. An “.onion” address points to a hidden Tor service, which is a server that you can only access through Tor. This means that your browsing activity cannot be spied on by someone watching Tor exit nodes. It also means that someone hosting a website can hide that server using the Tor network, so no one can find it, in theory.

For example, Facebook maintains an official Tor hidden services address at “facebookwkhpilnemxj7asaniu7vnjjbiltxjqhye3mhbshg7kx5tfyd.onion”. This allows you to access Facebook through Tor, and your connection never leaves Tor where it can be spied on. This can be useful in countries that block Facebook, for example.

You don’t necessarily want to use Tor all the time, as it’s slower than normal browsing. But it is a useful tool to anonymize your internet activity and bypass censorship.

The path Tor takes to connect to an onion address.

To access an .onion address, you’ll need to access it through the Tor browser. It is a modified version of Firefox that is configured to connect to sites through the Tor network.

Download Tor Browser from the Tor project website to continue. It is available for Windows, Mac, Linux and Android.

On Android phones and tablets, we previously recommend the Orbot proxy app or the Orfox browser from Google Play. The Tor project does not yet offer official Tor apps for iPhone or iPad, but some third-party apps are available on Apple’s App Store.

Establishing a connection to the Tor network.

After launching Tor Browser, type the .onion address into your address bar. For example, to access Facebook’s hidden service, you would enter the following address:

https://facebookwkhpilnemxj7asaniu7vnjjbiltxjqhye3mhbshg7kx5tfyd.onion

Or, to access the hidden service of the DuckDuckGo search engine, you must enter:

https://duckduckgogg42xjoc72x3sjasowoarfbgcmvfimaftt6twagswzczad.onion/

While using Tor Browser, you can click links to .onion addresses and they will load normally. But they will only work in Tor Browser, as long as they are connected to Tor.

Facebook onion website.

Do not access .onion sites through proxies like Tor2Web

You can also access .onion sites without running Tor through proxies that connect to Tor for you. The proxy connects to Tor for you and then forwards your traffic to you over the normal Internet.

This, however, is a very bad idea! You are losing the anonymity you normally have when connecting to an .onion site through the Tor browser. That is the whole point of an .onion address, after all. The website you access remains anonymous, but someone monitoring your connection can see which website you are connecting to. The service provider can also see what you are connecting to and snoop on any passwords and other private information you provide over the connection.

Tor2web works this way, but you shouldn’t use it. For example, if you try to connect to Facebook’s hidden service using Tor2web, Facebook blocks the connection and tells you that’s a bad idea.

A warning displayed by the Facebook onion website about Tor2web.

Looking for lists of .onion sites? Search the web for lists of .onion sites and you’ll find a few places to start. However, many of the .onion site directories are stored on .onion sites, which you can only access through Tor.

Once again, be careful: many .onion sites contain some very nasty stuff, and many of them are probably scams. We recommend staying away from them, if possible. This trick is best used when you want to navigate to a specific .onion site.

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