Best dark web VPN in 2024

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The dark web is a small but significant part of the entire web. Yes, it can't be accessed with your regular browser, it's rife with criminal activity, and you could fall prey to malware and scams, but the dark web can also be used to improve your privacy, search anonymously (journalists using it to be incognito, for example), and share information without fearing getting caught (think whistle-blowers).

However, while the Tor browser by itself is generally privacy-friendly, it might not stop your ISP from seeing you were accessing it. That's why you need a VPN, or a virtual private network. The best VPNs will not only crank up your privacy and security on the dark web but also help you access geo-restricted content, including the dark web if it's banned in your region.

With so many VPNs to choose from, you'll certainly benefit from expert help. The Tom's Guide team has over 3,000 hours of VPN testing, 28,000 speed tests, 2,200 streaming tests, and 100 VPN reviews under its belt, and I've used all that experience in rounding up this guide of the best dark web VPNs. Read on for detailed reviews of the VPNs, but if you're after a quick answer, here are the top 3 picks right now. 

The 3 best dark web VPNs at a glance

1.NordVPN: the best dark web VPN overall

1. NordVPN: the best dark web VPN overall
NordVPN is the best VPN overall in our testing, and we also found it to be the very best for securely accessing the dark web thanks to built-in Tor support for Onion sites and excellent security features, including a built-in antivirus. 

It's also the best for unblocking geo-restricted content, and connection speeds are some of the fastest I've seen. You can try it out and see if it's right for you thanks to Nord's 30-day money-back guarantee.

2. ExpressVPN: the best VPN user experience

2. ExpressVPN: the best VPN user experience
ExpressVPN is an industry veteran that's incredible at anonymizing users on the dark web thanks to rock-solid encryption and an independently-audited no-logs policy. It's also quick, great for streaming, and just a perfect match for beginners. 

While it may be more expensive than the others, it improves its value for money by offering 1 year of unlimited cloud storage and 3 months of extra protection for free on a 12-month subscription. Plus, with its 30-day money-back guarantee, you can try it out without risking a penny.

3. Surfshark: the best cheap dark web VPN

3. Surfshark: the best cheap dark web VPN
Surfshark is, quite simply, the best choice for those who want premium-level performance and excellent security at budget-friendly prices. It comes with unlimited simultaneous connections, meaning you can install the app on every one of your devices.

As the fastest VPN in our testing, and with exceptional unblocking powers and servers in over 100 countries, Surfshark is also a serious streaming VPN. Try it out risk-free with a 30-day money-back guarantee.

The best dark web VPNs in 2024

Check out my shortlist of the best dark web VPNs on the market right now. I'll take a deep dive into how each service stacks up against the competition, recent test results, and all the features I did (and didn't) like.

NordVPN: the best dark web VPN overall

NordVPN on a range of devices

(Image credit: NordVPN)

1. NordVPN

Excellent privacy and class-leading streaming power

Available on: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Linux, routers | Number of servers: 6,000+ | Server locations: 140+ in 111 countries | Streaming services unblocked: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, BBC iPlayer, ITVX, C4, 9Now, 10 play | Maximum devices supported: 10 | Money-back guarantee: 30 days | Support: 24/7 live chat, a knowledge base

Built-in Tor support
Class-leading speeds
Fantastic streaming performance
Tons of servers
Mobile interface is a little complex
Subscribe if:

✔️ You want built-in Tor support. With NordVPN, you don't have to download the Tor browser, as its Onion over VPN feature allows you straightforward access to the dark web.

✔️ You want the best VPN for Netflix. NordVPN unblocks everything under the sun, from international and local libraries on Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+, and more.

✔️ You want all-around security. NordVPN offers an all-in-one security package consisting of a strict no-logs policy, built-in malware protection, ad-blocking, a password manager, and even cyber insurance.

Avoid if:

❌ You want a simple interface on mobile. Nord's map-style interface is fun to use on desktop, but can be quite overwhelming on the smaller screens of smartphones.

❌ You want a VPN for torrenting. Only a few NordVPN servers are optimized for P2P traffic, so you'll be better off with Express or PIA if you're a torrenting fan.

Bottom line: ⭐⭐⭐⭐½

NordVPN is the best VPN overall in our testing, offering both excellent security to surf the dark web and class-leading speeds and unblocking performance for streaming, gaming, etc. Its built-in access to Onion sites stands out, and you can try the service out risk-free with a 30-day money-back guarantee.

NordVPN, one of the most secure VPNs in the industry, is also the best option to stay safe on the dark web. With 256-bit AES encryption, a combination of two kill switches, DNS leak protection, a clear-cut and audited no-logs policy, and a Double VPN technology that routes your connection through two VPN servers instead of one, NordVPN will keep your browsing sessions private.

What makes it so good for surfing the dark web, though, is its dedicated Onion Over VPN servers that route your traffic through a NordVPN server first and then send it through to the Tor server. This also allows you access to the Tor network without having to download a separate Tor browser, cranking up both privacy as well as convenience.

> Try NordVPN with a 30-day money-back guarantee

NordVPN’s all-in-one security package also consists of privacy extras such as a data breach scanner and built-in malware protection. Even better, its mobile VPN apps come with dark web monitoring that will notify you if any of your details crop up in any dark web leaks. What’s more, all NordVPN apps and privacy claims have been audited by independent third parties, and its Android VPN app has received the ioXt verification.

With over 6,000 servers in a massive 111 countries, you can find an uncrowded server to connect to the dark web, no matter your own location. It’s not all work and no play for NordVPN, and as the best streaming VPN, it allows effortless access to geo-blocked content from around the world, including Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+, and BBC iPlayer, as well as smaller regional services like 9Now and ITVX.

It’s also one of the fastest VPNs you can get right now, clocking over 950 Mbps in my recent testing thanks to its speedy NordLynx protocol. So, whether you’re viewing important information on the dark web that’s blocked by your government or binge-watching your favorite TV show, you can rest assured that NordVPN won’t slow you down in the slightest.

However, it’s well worth noting that while the map-style interface on Nord's mobile apps is good-looking, it might come across as a bit clunky, especially if you're a beginner. This one’s only a quibble, though, and doesn't take much away from NordVPN's overall appeal, especially because there’s a traditional list of servers available. You can try out NordVPN without putting on any risk thanks to its 30-day money-back guarantee.

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NordVPN test results
DesignFun and intuitive design, but it's also slightly busy⭐⭐⭐⭐
Ease of useThe map-like interface might not work for mobile users⭐⭐⭐⭐
PerformanceOne of the speediest services I've tested⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
UnblockingUnrivaled unblocking powers, easy access to Netflix and everything else⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Security and privacyVerified privacy claims and security extras such as Double VPN and Onion over VPN⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Customer support24/7 expert assistance, plus countless helpful tutorials⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
PriceReasonably priced, offers great value⭐⭐⭐⭐

ExpressVPN: the easiest to use dark web VPN

ExpressVPN on a range of devicesEditor's Choice

(Image credit: ExpressVPN)

ExpressVPN on a range of devices

(Image credit: ExpressVPN)

2. ExpressVPN

One of the very best, and a pleasure to use

Available on: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Linux, routers | Number of servers: 3,000+ | Server locations: 160 in 105 countries | Streaming services unblocked: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, BBC iPlayer, ITVX, C4, 9Now, 10 play | Maximum devices supported: 8 | Money-back guarantee: 30 days | Support: 24/7 live chat, a knowledge base

Top choice for newbies
Tor network is easy to access
Rock-solid privacy features
Great unblocking performance
More expensive than the rest
Subscribe if:

✔️ You want a VPN you can trust with your life. Between its countless audits and world-class privacy features, ExpressVPN continues to sit among the best VPNs for privacy-focused folks.

✔️ You want access everywhere. ExpressVPN has perhaps the highest number of server locations on the list, meaning you'll have no problem accessing global content.

✔️ You're a beginner. ExpressVPN is a delight to use, with simple apps, auto-connect, and friendly 24/7 support.

Avoid if:

❌ You're on a strict budget. ExpressVPN is more expensive than most VPNs, meaning bargain hunters will like Surfshark and PIA better.

❌ You have lots of devices. If you want to extend VPN protection to a lot of devices in your household and workplace, Express's eight connections won't cut it for you.

Bottom line: ⭐⭐⭐⭐½

ExpressVPN is an industry leader that's fast and reliable and ideal for both beginners and experts alike. It will keep your dark web adventures private, allow you access to global content, and even put a smile on the face of hardcore torrenters. Put it to the test with a 30-day money-back guarantee.

ExpressVPN is a British Virgin Islands-based provider that has quite the spec sheet (and proven track record) as far as user privacy and security is concerned. It's been audited over 18 times, offers its own private, zero-knowledge 256-bit encrypted DNS on each server, a stellar kill switch, RAM-only servers, and simple apps for quick and easy connection, even when you're on the go. 

Surfing the dark web is both easy and secure if you have ExpressVPN. Just connect to a location of your choice on the ExpressVPN app and then launch the Tor browser. However, I like Nord and Proton's built-in Tor support a little bit better, although this works perfectly well, too.

> Try ExpressVPN with a 30-day money-back guarantee 

ExpressVPN is also my top recommendation for those new to the world of VPNs. It comes with powerful yet easy-to-use apps across all platforms (Android, iOS, Windows, Mac, Linux, gaming consoles, and more). From automatically suggesting servers for the fastest connection to the useful one-click connect functionality, ExpressVPN is one of the most plug-and-play solutions out there. 

The best VPN for beginners doesn't scrimp on performance, either, reaching peak speeds of over 750 Mbps in my latest tests. That's fast enough for everything, including torrenting, gaming, streaming, and more.

Speaking of streaming, ExpressVPN is one of the few services, alongside NordVPN, to unblock every single library I tested it with, whether that was Netflix, Disney Plus, Prime Video, or BBC iPlayer. It's also a fantastic torrenting VPN, primarily because all of its servers are P2P-optimized, unlike most of the competition.

Just eight simultaneous connections puts a slight dent in ExpressVPN's appeal. If you're looking for an ultra-secure VPN for your entire team or family, you'd be better off with Surfshark or Private Internet Access. Also, there's no hiding the fact that ExpressVPN costs a pretty penny and that most users would be better off with Surfshark or NordVPN.

However, if you’re a beginner who wants a proven and high-performance service, ExpressVPN could be well worth checking out. Even better, you don't have to dive head first, as there's a 30-day money-back guarantee so that you can have a risk-free trial.

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ExpressVPN test results
DesignOne of the cleanest interfaces, and everything is easy to find⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Ease of useSimple enough for beginners and configurable enough for experts⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
PerformanceFast enough for everything, but Surfshark and NordVPN are faster⭐⭐⭐⭐
UnblockingUnblocked every streaming platform we tested it with⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Security and privacyA no-logs policy, excellent encryption, and tons of audits ensure peace of mind ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Customer support24/7 friendly support, plus very detailed and helpful articles⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
PriceIt's worth splurging on but cheaper options are available⭐⭐⭐

Surfshark: the best cheap dark web VPN

Surfshark on a variety of devices

(Image credit: Surfshark)

3. Surfshark

Bargain VPN that doesn’t scrimp on features or security

Available on: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Linux (GUI), routers | Number of servers: 3,200+ | Server locations: 160+ in 100+ countries | Streaming services unblocked: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, BBC iPlayer, ITVX, C4, 9Now, 10 play | Maximum devices supported: Unlimited | Money-back guarantee: 30 days | Support: 24/7 live chat, a knowledge base

Fabulous connection speeds
Unbeatable value for money
Unlimited simultaneous connections
Simple apps
The Windows kill switch leaked upon applying extreme pressure
Subscribe if:

✔️ You're on a tight budget. Surfshark offers outstanding protection on the dark web at an unbeatable price of less than $2.50 a month.

✔️ Speed is a priority for you. Surfshark leads my speed-testing charts with top speeds of over 950 Mbps.

✔️ You want to protect a lot of devices. Unlimited simultaneous connections mean that a single Surfshark account can protect the devices of all your friends and family members.

Avoid if:

❌ You need a reliable kill switch. Surfshark's kill switch on its Windows app leaked under rigorous testing. Nord and Express are better options here.

❌ You want a VPN for torrenting. Surfshark is more than capable of torrenting, but it doesn't compete with the likes of ExpressVPN and PIA.

Bottom line: ⭐⭐⭐⭐½

Surfshark is the best choice for those pinching for pennies and want to stay protected on the dark web. It can also secure an unlimited number of devices on a single subscription, offers blazing speeds, and its streaming performance is on par with the best, too. Try it out risk-free with a 30-day money-back guarantee.

VPN protection on the dark web doesn't have to cost a lot, especially with providers such as Surfshark in the mix. It's the best cheap VPN right now, offering a fully-featured (and massively secure) VPN service at a fraction of the cost of other premium-level providers. 

You can use Surfshark with the Tor browser for increased privacy on the dark web. All you have to do is connect to one of Surfshark’s 3,200+ servers first and then launch the Tor browser, which will then receive a request from a spoofed Surfshark IP address.

> Try Surfshark with a 30-day money-back guarantee

Although you might be met with decreased internet speeds (due to double encryption and multiple server connection hops), that will hardly be an issue, considering that Surfshark is the fastest there is, with peak speeds reaching 950 Mbps+ when we last tested it.

Everything else, from DNS protection and obfuscation technology to a strict no-logging policy and a built-in malware blocker, works together to keep your data secure from prying eyes, no matter which area of the internet you're on.

Surfshark also comes with a handy No Borders mode, which detects if your current network is facing any restrictions, and if it is, then it automatically recommends servers that you can connect to for a smoother experience. You’ll also be offered Incogni, which requests data brokers on your behalf to delete any personal data they may have about you.

However, it's worth noting that Surfshark's Windows kill switch leaked when we tested it under extreme conditions. But that's unlikely to happen in real-life situations, including when you're navigating the dark web. Still, if you're not convinced and would like a kill switch that has never shown any signs of failure, you can opt for NordVPN or ExpressVPN instead.

One of Surfshark’s headline features is its ability to protect an unlimited number of devices at a time. With unlimited simultaneous connections, you can extend this fantastic VPN's protection to all your family and friends (or your fellow journalists who can then use the dark web to keep their identities hidden) all while being subscribed to just a single Surfshark account.

This Netherlands-based provider is just as good for streaming, too, unblocking both big and small-name streaming services including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer, YouTube, and Disney+. 

All in all, Surfshark is a fast, reliable, and easy-to-use VPN worth checking if you want to keep your dark web adventures private. You're backed by a generous 30-day money-back guarantee in the unlikely event that it's not for you.

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Surfshark test results
DesignIntuitive and clean design with everything exactly where you'd expect it to be⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Ease of useSimple apps across all platforms, one of the very best for newbies⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
PerformanceThe fastest provider in the industry right now⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
UnblockingUnblocks every streaming platform and region with ease⭐⭐⭐⭐
Security and privacyThe kill switch can use a few tweaks, but everything else is top-notch⭐⭐⭐⭐
Customer supportFriendly and professional 24/7 assistance by agents, and very helpful guides⭐⭐⭐⭐
PriceAmazing value that can't be beat⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Other quality dark web VPNs I've tested

4. Private Internet Access

Excellent value for money, and fantastic security

Available on: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux (GUI), routers and more | Number of servers: 20,000+ | Server locations: 100+ in 84 countries | Streaming services unblocked: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, BBC iPlayer, ITVX, C4, 9Now, 10 play | Maximum devices supported: Unlimited | Money-back guarantee: 30 days | Support: 24/7 live chat, a knowledge base

An endless list of servers
Open-source apps
Proven no-logs policy
Excellent for torrenting
WireGuard speeds don't match the rivals
Apps are slightly complex
Subscribe if:

✔️ You're a Linux user. PIA is one of the best VPNs for Linux users, as it offers a native GUI (graphical user interface).

✔️ You want a VPN with verified claims. PIA is has proven its no-logs policy in court twice, so you can explore the dark web without worrying about your VPN keeping activity logs.

✔️ You need a budget VPN. PIA offers an outstanding mix of top-notch security and price, and it's cheaper than most VPNs.

Avoid if:

❌ You want lightning-fast speeds. PIA isn't slow, especially if you're on a regular domestic connection, but Surfshark and NordVPN are much faster. 

You want a VPN that's easy to use. While PIA apps have come a long way since inception, they're still not as beginner-friendly as Express's or Surfshark's apps.

Bottom line: ⭐⭐⭐⭐½

Private Internet Access offers unrivaled privacy, a massive network of servers, unlimited connections, and great streaming performance at wallet-friendly prices. While it's admittedly slow and more geared towards experts, you can put it to the test with a 30-day money-back guarantee and see for yourself.

Private Internet Access (PIA)  as the name suggests, takes security and privacy very seriously, and it walks the talk by being the only dark web VPN to have proven its no-logs policy in court—not once, but twice. Furthermore, all its apps are open source, meaning anyone can inspect the code to check for vulnerabilities.

Speaking of PIA's apps, they're better than ever, offering a deep level of customization for experts while being simple enough for beginners at the same time. Everything else, from an intuitive kill switch to industry-standard AES-256 encryption, as well as a MACE feature that blocks ads, trackers, malware, and more, is in place and works as advertised, meaning your ISP or any other snooper won't know that you're using the Tor network.

Connecting to the Tor network via PIA is a straightforward process: launch the PIA app, connect to your preferred location (PIA offers the largest individual server network in the industry, with over 20,000 servers), then launch the Tor browser and surf the dark web anonymously.

Security isn't PIA's only selling point, though. It's also ridiculously cheap (priced at less than $2 a month if you choose the lengthiest plan) and comes with unlimited simultaneous connections, meaning a single subscription can cover an unlimited number of devices. That's an unbeatable value.

In addition to being one of the best services for regular torrent users (thanks to every single server being torrent-friendly and features such as port forwarding), PIA is also a top Linux VPN. That's because it comes with a GUI (graphical user interface) for Linux devices, unlike most VPNs. Streaming-wise, too, there's not a fault to be found with PIA, as it performed a clean sweep of streaming services in our latest tests.

However, an aspect where PIA is perhaps not as impressive as the others is connection speeds. It peaked at over 330 Mbps, and while that isn't necessarily sluggish, I'd point you towards Surfshark and NordVPN if you have a need for speed as well as the setup to be able to benefit from gigabit speeds. 

Overall, though, Private Internet Access is a really affordable VPN that's every bit as secure and private as some of the top-ranking VPNs. Be sure to make the most of its 30-day money-back guarantee and see if it's the right choice for you.

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Private Internet Access test results
DesignDeep customization, which can be a bit overwhelming⭐⭐⭐
Ease of useGreat for experts who know what they're doing, not the best for beginners⭐⭐⭐
PerformanceBelow-average speeds, but good enough for most use cases⭐⭐⭐
UnblockingEasy access to every platform and region from around the world⭐⭐⭐⭐
Security and privacyTons of security features, open-source apps, and a proven no-logs policy⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Customer supportLots of helpful guides and friendly 24/7 support⭐⭐⭐⭐
PriceOne of the cheapest VPNs on the market⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Content divider

Proton VPN interface showing on a laptop and smartphone

(Image credit: Proton VPN)

5. Proton VPN

Privacy favorite gets a performance boost

Available on: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Linux (GUI), routers | Number of servers: 5,200+ | Server locations: 119 in 91 countries | Streaming services unblocked: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, BBC iPlayer, ITVX, C4, 9Now, 10 play | Maximum devices supported: 10 | Money-back guarantee: 30 days | Support: Live chat, email, a knowledge base

Excellent focus on privacy
Unblocks all streaming sites
Open-source apps
Built-in Tor support
Relatively expensive
Free version is very limited
Subscribe if:

✔️ You want easy access to dark web. Proton's built-in Tor support means that you can connect to the VPN and start browsing the dark web, without needing the Tor browser.

✔️ You're a Linux user. Proton VPN is one of the few VPNs (PIA being another) to offer a dedicated graphical user interface (GUI) for Linux devices.

✔️ You want a free VPN. While it's a bit of a workaround, you can use Proton's free plan to securely connect to the dark web.

Avoid if:

❌ You're looking for a bargain. Proton VPN delivers good value for its asking price, but its premium pricing makes it difficult to recommend it over Surfshark and NordVPN.

❌ You want to stream content for free. Proton VPN Free is good for general and occasional use, but it can't get past geo-restrictions like PrivadoVPN Free.

Bottom line: ⭐⭐⭐⭐½

Proton VPN is a delight for privacy purists thanks to open-source apps, audited privacy claims, and nifty security extras such as Secure Core and native support for Onion sites. The free plan is limited but can be used for dark web browsing, although we recommend trying out its paid plan with a risk-free 30-day money-back guarantee.

Proton VPN is last on my list, primarily because it’s a bit more expensive than the others. Under the hood, though, it’s just as secure as the best of them. Last year, it joined hands with the Tor Project to help build a more secure internet, as well as to improve the user experience of its apps when connecting to the Tor network.

Like NordVPN, Proton VPN, too, offers built-in Tor support for accessing Onion sites. Its Tor over VPN feature allows you to connect to the dark web with just your regular browser, without having to download a dedicated Tor browser. All you have to do is connect to one of Proton VPN’s seven Tor servers, which will then route your traffic through the Tor network.

In our full Proton VPN review, we mention how this service is headquartered in Switzerland, a country that’s known for its very strong privacy laws, is outside the EU and U.S. jurisdiction, and isn’t part of the “14 Eyes” alliance, meaning it can't be coerced into breaching the privacy of its users. 

What’s more, a terrific kill switch, DNS and IPv6 leak protection, NetShield (Proton VPN's ad, tracker, and malware blocker), open-source apps, and Secure Core servers all ensure unrivaled privacy on the internet, including the dark web.

In addition to expanding its server network to 5,200 servers in 119 locations in 91 countries, Proton VPN has also come a long way as far as connection speeds are concerned. Where it once offered middling speeds at best, it now sits among the fastest providers, churning out eye-watering peak speeds of over 950 Mbps in our latest testing. Even better, it’s one of the speediest services when using the OpenVPN protocol, beating the likes of NordVPN, ExpressVPN, and Surfshark with speeds of up to 400 Mbps.

Although Proton VPN offers one of the best free VPNs, with access to 3 server locations and unlimited data, it doesn't come with its built-in Tor support. However, if you have the Tor browser, then you can connect to the free VPN before hopping on the dark web. The free version also doesn't get Proton's world-class unblocking capabilities, which you can use (on one of its paid plans) to access different streaming services, including Netflix, Disney+, BBC iPlayer, and Amazon Prime Video.

All in all, while Proton VPN's premium pricing puts it at a slight disadvantage to those above it on this list, it's undoubtedly one of the most reliable VPNs you can get, and recent updates to its server list and performance mean that it now competes with the big guns. Try it out risk-free with a 30-day money-back guarantee, and see for yourself.

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Proton VPN test results
DesignBeautiful design, and the dark mode feels refreshing⭐⭐⭐⭐
Ease of useSome desktop features are slightly complicated, but the mobile apps are great⭐⭐⭐
PerformanceOne of the fastest providers right now⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
UnblockingEasily unblocks almost every streaming platform you'd want to access⭐⭐⭐⭐
Security and privacySwiss privacy laws, Secure Core servers, and open-source apps are some of the many positives⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Customer supportNo shortage of support articles and response times are acceptable⭐⭐⭐⭐
PriceNot among the cheapest, but there's a free plan⭐⭐⭐⭐

How to pick a dark web VPN

Picking a VPN that's safe is extremely crucial if you plan on using the dark web. However, it's highly likely that you will also be using the VPN for a number of different tasks, such as streaming, gaming, day-to-day general privacy, etc. Keeping that in mind, here are the most important factors to consider when choosing a dark web VPN.

Privacy and security: a VPN that can't hide you from your ISP and other prying eyes is not a good dark web VPN. In addition to excellent encryption, make sure your VPN has a strict (and preferably proven) no-logs policy in place, and it must also have a kill switch, DNS leak protection, and other security features.

Speed: using the dark web can significantly decrease your internet speed, as the Tor network routes your traffic through multiple checkpoints and adds various layers of encryption. This is why you need a VPN that's fast, which will also come in handy for streaming, gaming, and torrenting.

Server network: pick a VPN with tons of servers spread evenly across the globe. This will ensure faster connection speeds and better access to geo-blocked streaming sites.

Ease of use: browsing the dark web isn't the simplest of tech tasks to begin with, so it's crucial to choose a VPN that will make things easier for you. Look for a VPN with simple apps, great compatibility with various devices, and excellent customer support. 

Price: while privacy is indeed priceless, there's no need to splurge beyond your budget on a VPN, especially when you can get a good cheap VPN for around $2-4 a month.

How we test dark web VPNs

We re-review the top VPNs every 6 months to ensure we only recommend the best VPNs for particular use cases, no matter when you read our guides. Our testing involves checking the provider's website and analyzing its privacy policies and support options.

Once we've assured ourselves that we're dealing with a reliable provider, we then download its apps on various device types and test them rigorously, evaluating all key features (especially the security ones) as well as the apps' ease of use. 

Next, we try to access geo-blocked content from Netflix, Prime Video, Disney Plus, and BBC iPlayer from different locations to gauge the provider’s unblocking capabilities.

For testing the VPN's connection speeds, we use two locations (a US location and a UK data center). Then we run a minimum of 120 speed tests in total to make sure our reading of the provider's speeds is as accurate as it can be.

Check out Tom's Guide's VPN testing methodology page for more info on our procedures.

How to access the dark web

Since the dark web is rife with criminal activity, we recommend you use the ‘Tor over VPN’ method, which is essentially connecting to a VPN before launching and connecting to the Tor browser. This makes sure that the Tor browser receives a connection request from a fake IP address provided by your VPN, and not from your real IP address.

With that out of the way, here’s how to access the dark web:

Step 1: Sign up for a VPN with a strict and proven no-logs policy. All of the VPNs on this list are ideal for this purpose.

Step 2: Once you’ve downloaded the VPN app on your device, launch the app and connect to a location of your choice.

Step 3: Download the Tor browser if you haven’t already. 

Step 4: Open the Tor browser and click “Connect.” 

It’s well worth noting that steps 3 and 4 won’t be necessary if you’re using NordVPN or Proton VPN, as both of them offer built-in Tor support for accessing Onion sites. This means you can directly open the dark web and start exploring after you’ve connected to a NordVPN or Proton VPN server from their app.

Dark web VPN FAQs

Should I use a VPN to access the dark web?

Connecting to a secure VPN and then accessing the dark web will boost your privacy (your ISP won't know that you're using Tor) and help you negate security risks. If you're using a VPN with built-in malware protection, it'll warn you if you download a virus-infected file from the dark web. 

Additionally, a VPN, because it adds an extra layer of encryption, will protect you against malicious Tor entry nodes and from hackers and cybercriminals trying to gain unauthorized access to your devices. Plus, in case the dark web is banned in your country, a VPN will help you unblock it.

Is it legal to access the dark web?

Opening the dark web is completely legal in most countries around the world. However, the dark web's anonymity attracts illegal activities such as drug trafficking, illegal arms sales, and cybercrime, all of which are unquestionably against the law.

Furthermore, the dark web is filled with malicious software and scams, and it's possible that you download a file from the dark web, which then installs malware on your device and steals your personal information.

Is the dark web the same as the deep web?

The deep web makes up about 99% of the entire web, and it comprises unindexed web databases and other content that search engines can't identify, crawl through, or catalog. As secretive as it sounds, the deep web isn't necessarily evil. In fact, it consists of password-protected (permission-based) pages, such as email accounts and banking websites, which can be accessed with everyday browsers such as Firefox and Chrome.

The dark web is only a tiny part of the deep web, where all websites have the ".onion" domain, which can only be accessed with a special browser (the Tor browser). The dark web stands out for its anonymity and privacy, but it also houses a lot of illegal markets and malicious intents, exposure to which can lead to legal risks and potential scams.

Olivia Powell
Tech Software Commissioning Editor

Olivia joined Tom's Guide in October 2023 as part of the core Future Tech Software team, and is the Commissioning Editor for Tech Software. With a background in cybersecurity, Olivia stays up-to-date with all things cyber and creates content across TechRadar Pro, TechRadar and Tom’s Guide. She is particularly interested in threat intelligence, detection and response, data security, fraud prevention and the ever-evolving threat landscape.

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