7 Perfect VPN Services for the Dark Web in 2021

Browsing the dark side of the internet without a virtual private network (VPN) is irresponsible and possibly dangerous. Good thing we found seven viable solutions to cover your back as you explore the unknown.

In this piece, we’ll:

  • Throw light on the extraordinary capabilities of each of our top picks.
  • Discuss the qualities of the best VPN for the dark web.
  • Talk about the common ways to access the dark web.
  • Answer questions about the dangers of using a free VPN for the dark web and more.

Let’s begin!

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Top 7 VPN for Dark Web for 2021

1. CyberGhost

CyberGhost has many security features, including a kill switch, a malicious content blocker, and Wi-Fi network management. It has antivirus, app updater, and password manager add-ons too. In addition to L2TP/IPsec, CyberGhost only has open-source tunneling protocols. Depending on your device, you can also consider OpenVPN, IKEv2, or WireGuard. This VPN stands out due to its independently operated and maintained data center. It can also disable intrusive operating system processes and alert you about email breaches. CyberGhost tolerates third-party behavioral tracking. But observes a no–activity data logging policy, releases transparency reports, and offers a free private browser. A seven–device connection limit, 7,400+ servers, 3-day free trial, and 45-day money-back guarantee round out CyberGhost’s impressive resume.

  • Exceptional security features
  • Self-maintained servers
  • High server count
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CyberGhost has many security features, including a kill switch, a malicious content blocker, and Wi-Fi network management. It has antivirus, app updater, and password manager add-ons too. In addition to L2TP/IPsec, CyberGhost only has open-source tunneling protocols. Depending on your device, you can also consider OpenVPN, IKEv2, or WireGuard. This VPN stands out due to its independently operated and maintained data center. It can also disable intrusive operating system processes and alert you about email breaches. CyberGhost tolerates third-party behavioral tracking. But observes a no–activity data logging policy, releases transparency reports, and offers a free private browser. A seven–device connection limit, 7,400+ servers, 3-day free trial, and 45-day money-back guarantee round out CyberGhost’s impressive resume.

HQ

Romania

Zero-Log Policy

Decent

Speed

Good

Network Coverage

91 jurisdictions

Simultaneous Connections

7

Minimum Price

$4.87/month

24/7 Chat Support

Available

Encryption

AES-256, ChaCha20

2. ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN has unrivaled device compatibility. You can install it on practically any piece of technology. Furthermore, this vendor runs its own private DNS (Domain Name System) across its network of 160 VPN servers. Additionally, it keeps no data traffic logs, and with each server reset, it deletes the minimal user data in custody. This vendor supports Lightway, OpenVPN, IKEv2, and L2TP/IPSec VPN protocols. It has a kill switch, permits split tunneling and authorizes up to five simultaneous connections. Despite having no free version, ExpressVPN offers a free trial. Also, all of its three subscriptions are fully refundable within 30 days.

  • Wide device support
  • Expansive network
  • RAM-only servers
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ExpressVPN has unrivaled device compatibility. You can install it on practically any piece of technology. Furthermore, this vendor runs its own private DNS (Domain Name System) across its network of 160 VPN servers. Additionally, it keeps no data traffic logs, and with each server reset, it deletes the minimal user data in custody. This vendor supports Lightway, OpenVPN, IKEv2, and L2TP/IPSec VPN protocols. It has a kill switch, permits split tunneling and authorizes up to five simultaneous connections. Despite having no free version, ExpressVPN offers a free trial. Also, all of its three subscriptions are fully refundable within 30 days.

HQ

British Virgin Islands

Zero-Log Policy

Adequate

Encryption

AES-256

Speed

Fast

Network Coverage

95 jurisdictions

Simultaneous Connections

5

Minimum Price

$8.32/month

24/7 Chat Support

Available

3. Hotspot Shield

Hotspot Shield can spoof your location using its 1,800+ servers scattered across 99 jurisdictions. Moreover, Hotspot Shield promises speeds of up to 1Gbps and allows a maximum of five simultaneous device connections. Equipped with a kill switch and capable of split tunneling, Hotspot Shield doesn’t perform browser activity data logging. In terms of tunneling, it can move your dark web traffic using OpenVPN, IKEv2, WireGuard, or Hydra, its in-house protocol. Security-wise, it provides anti-phishing protection and access to antivirus, spam-reporting, and password management tools. Hotspot Shield subscriptions are virtually risk-free with its ad-supported free version, free trial, and 45-day money-back guarantee.

  • 99+ locations
  • Extra security tools
  • Free version
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Hotspot Shield can spoof your location using its 1,800+ servers scattered across 99 jurisdictions. Moreover, Hotspot Shield promises speeds of up to 1Gbps and allows a maximum of five simultaneous device connections. Equipped with a kill switch and capable of split tunneling, Hotspot Shield doesn’t perform browser activity data logging. In terms of tunneling, it can move your dark web traffic using OpenVPN, IKEv2, WireGuard, or Hydra, its in-house protocol. Security-wise, it provides anti-phishing protection and access to antivirus, spam-reporting, and password management tools. Hotspot Shield subscriptions are virtually risk-free with its ad-supported free version, free trial, and 45-day money-back guarantee.

HQ

US

Zero-Log Policy

Adequate

Encryption

AES-128, AES-256, ChaCha20

Speed

Good

Network Coverage

99 jurisdictions

Simultaneous Connections

5

Minimum Price

Free

24/7 Chat Support

Available

4. IPVanish

All VPNs claim to be the fastest, but IPVanish is one of the few that walks the talk. Not only that, it puts no limit on device connections, keeps no browsing activity log, and can obscure OpenVPN traffic. Aside from using OpenVPN, IPVanish also relies on IKEv2, L2TP/IPSec, and WireGuard to establish secure tunnels. It recommends PPTP only as a protocol of last resort. Additionally, IPVanish has around 1,900 servers and a core function kill switch. For more security, you can bundle IPVanish with VIPRE antivirus or SugarSync encrypted cloud storage. With or without add-ons, IPVanish isn’t available for trial use. Fortunately, its one- and two-year subscriptions are refundable within 30 days.

  • Consistent, excellent speed
  • OpenVPN traffic obfuscation
  • Unlimited simultaneous device connections
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All VPNs claim to be the fastest, but IPVanish is one of the few that walks the talk. Not only that, it puts no limit on device connections, keeps no browsing activity log, and can obscure OpenVPN traffic. Aside from using OpenVPN, IPVanish also relies on IKEv2, L2TP/IPSec, and WireGuard to establish secure tunnels. It recommends PPTP only as a protocol of last resort. Additionally, IPVanish has around 1,900 servers and a core function kill switch. For more security, you can bundle IPVanish with VIPRE antivirus or SugarSync encrypted cloud storage. With or without add-ons, IPVanish isn’t available for trial use. Fortunately, its one- and two-year subscriptions are refundable within 30 days.

HQ

US

Zero-Log Policy

Adequate

Encryption

AES-256, ChaCha20

Speed

Excellent

Network Coverage

52 jurisdictions

Simultaneous Connections

Unlimited

Minimum Price

$7.49

24/7 Chat Support

Available

5. NordVPN

NordVPN fares remarkably well in many areas. But it’s most suitable for dark web browsing. Why? Because some of its 5,100+ servers support Onion Over VPN functionality. These specialty servers can immediately route your traffic to the Onion network. NordVPN charges top dollar, though. What you get in return is a kill switch, private DNS, split tunneling, double VPN, and VPN obfuscation. The package also includes connectivity on up to six–devices, malware blocking, multi-factor authentication, and a 30-day money-back guarantee. When it comes to tunneling protocols, NordVPN uses OpenVPN, IKEv2/IPSec, and its patented NordLynx. And its privacy policy states that it keeps no activity logs. You can pair NordVPN with its sister password manager and or secure cloud storage solution for greater security.

  • Onion Over VPN servers
  • VPN obfuscation
  • Double VPN
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NordVPN fares remarkably well in many areas. But it’s most suitable for dark web browsing. Why? Because some of its 5,100+ servers support Onion Over VPN functionality. These specialty servers can immediately route your traffic to the Onion network. NordVPN charges top dollar, though. What you get in return is a kill switch, private DNS, split tunneling, double VPN, and VPN obfuscation. The package also includes connectivity on up to six–devices, malware blocking, multi-factor authentication, and a 30-day money-back guarantee. When it comes to tunneling protocols, NordVPN uses OpenVPN, IKEv2/IPSec, and its patented NordLynx. And its privacy policy states that it keeps no activity logs. You can pair NordVPN with its sister password manager and or secure cloud storage solution for greater security.

HQ

Panama

Zero-Log Policy

Adequate

Encryption

AES-256

Speed

Good

Network Coverage

59 jurisdictions

Simultaneous Connections

6

Minimum Price

$8.25/month

24/7 Chat Support

Available

6. Surfshark

From a privacy standpoint, Surfshark’s dark web VPN credentials are stellar. Surfshark runs private DNS and supports VPN obfuscation on all of its 3,200+ RAM-only servers. Additionally, it protects your identity and browsing activity with a no log policy. It tunnels data via OpenVPN, IKEv2, or WireGuard. And to stay honest, this vendor subjects itself to independent auditing. You can also expect a kill switch, split tunneling, malware and ad blocking capabilities, and unlimited simultaneous connections. If you buy the Surfshark One bundle, you can unlock antivirus, id theft protection, and safe search features. For an initial three days, you can give this VPN a whirl at no cost. And if unsatisfied with its premium service plan, you can request a refund within the first 30 days of use.

  • RAM-only servers
  • Obfuscated VPN servers
  • Independent auditing
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From a privacy standpoint, Surfshark’s dark web VPN credentials are stellar. Surfshark runs private DNS and supports VPN obfuscation on all of its 3,200+ RAM-only servers. Additionally, it protects your identity and browsing activity with a no log policy. It tunnels data via OpenVPN, IKEv2, or WireGuard. And to stay honest, this vendor subjects itself to independent auditing. You can also expect a kill switch, split tunneling, malware and ad blocking capabilities, and unlimited simultaneous connections. If you buy the Surfshark One bundle, you can unlock antivirus, id theft protection, and safe search features. For an initial three days, you can give this VPN a whirl at no cost. And if unsatisfied with its premium service plan, you can request a refund within the first 30 days of use.

HQ

British Virgin Islands

Zero-Log Policy

Substantial

Encryption

AES-256, ChaCha20

Speed

Good

Network Coverage

68 jurisdictions

Simultaneous Connections

Unlimited

Minimum Price

$4.98/month

24/7 Chat Support

Available

7. TunnelBear

For test runs, TunnelBear has a free version with data restrictions. And for the committed, it boasts budget-friendly subscription plans. Buyer-beware - there are no refunds. For as low as $3.33 a month, TunnelBear is perhaps the most affordable premium VPN service on the market. Despite this, its features aren’t cheap. TunnelBear offers split tunneling, kill switch, and priority customer service. Its intuitive interface even has an interactive map. Likewise, it provides advanced capabilities like malware blocking, VPN obfuscation, and Wi-Fi network whitelisting. Having 1,800+ servers, TunnelBear’s fleet isn’t too shabby. In addition, this vendor supports OpenVPN and IKEv2, has a no logs policy, gets independently audited, and publishes transparency reports.

  • Free version
  • Interactive interface
  • Obfuscated VPN servers
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For test runs, TunnelBear has a free version with data restrictions. And for the committed, it boasts budget-friendly subscription plans. Buyer-beware - there are no refunds. For as low as $3.33 a month, TunnelBear is perhaps the most affordable premium VPN service on the market. Despite this, its features aren’t cheap. TunnelBear offers split tunneling, kill switch, and priority customer service. Its intuitive interface even has an interactive map. Likewise, it provides advanced capabilities like malware blocking, VPN obfuscation, and Wi-Fi network whitelisting. Having 1,800+ servers, TunnelBear’s fleet isn’t too shabby. In addition, this vendor supports OpenVPN and IKEv2, has a no logs policy, gets independently audited, and publishes transparency reports.

HQ

Canada

Zero-Log Policy

Substantial

Encryption

AES-256

Speed

Slow

Network Coverage

41 countries

Simultaneous Connections

5

Minimum Price

Free

24/7 Chat Support

Unavailable

The Best Dark Web VPN for 2021

Here are our top picks: 

Why Should You Use a VPN When Accessing the Dark Web?

The dark web is known for illicit trading, but it’s much more than just that.

Arguably, it’s the last place on the internet that’s still free. It’s a gold mine of insightful resources about different topics with zero restrictions. Journalists, in particular, use the dark web to help keep their sources anonymous.

Likewise, some surface-web sites like Wikipedia, Facebook, and BBC have dark-web versions to ensure content is accessible within repressive states.

And while the dark web isn’t just seedy activity, just being there, without even malicious intentions, could put you in jeopardy. 

Mind you, the dark web has its fair share of nefarious actors. If you aren’t careful, you could fall victim to black-hat hackers and fraudsters who can steal your identity and possibly more.

For this reason, it’s imperative to use a VPN when connecting to the darkest corners of the internet.

While it’s possible to access content on the dark web through a standard browser, you need Tor (The Onion Router) or I2P (Invisible Internet Project) to do so privately and safely.

They are not a perfect solution, as both have technical limitations. To mitigate Tor or I2P deficiencies, use the best VPN for the dark web available.

It’s true, not all VPNs are safe. But reputable ones will take your privacy and cybersecurity to another level when accessing the dark web.

Here are reasons why:

Masking Your IP (Internet Protocol) Address

Despite being created for anonymity, Tor has a history of leaking IP addresses. And fortunately, its developers often address such critical vulnerabilities. But even so, you ought to take extra steps to insulate yourself from such exposure.

Undoubtedly, a premium VPN is an appropriate Tor companion.

A VPN service replaces your device’s assigned IP with its server’s while routing your data through it. In case of a Tor IP leak, your actual IP address remains anonymous, exposing only the VPN service provider’s IP. Problem solved!

Hiding Your Tor or I2P Usage

Your internet service provider (ISP) can’t per se poke around in your dark web activity. But it definitely can see when you are using Tor. With enough effort, it may also be able to detect I2P connectivity.

Allowing your ISP to know that you’re accessing the dark web could result in unwanted headaches.

At best, it may intentionally throttle your internet speed to discourage any further browsing of the dark web.

At worst, your ISP may report you to the authorities – putting you on the radar of law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

A VPN can obscure your Tor or I2P usage from your ISP. If VPN is legal in your location, sending your dark web traffic through a secure tunnel shouldn’t draw unwanted attention.

Encrypting Your Traffic Data Multiple Times

An Onion over VPN setup, for instance, is similar to double VPN functionality. It encrypts your data on the VPN client and then again on Tor.

One layer of encryption using a robust protocol like AES-256 should be good enough to fend off brute-force attacks. And multiple tiers of strong encryption may seem like overkill. But if you’re highly anxious, routing your dark web traffic through a VPN tunnel should provide greater peace of mind.

Securing Your Data on Public Networks

Connecting to an unsecure network can be a dangerous proposition.

Public Wi-Fi hotspots attract different kinds of malicious actors. They may eavesdrop on your online activity or infect your device with ransomware or other types of malware.

Security isn’t the strongest suit of Tor and I2P. But if used in combination with a trusted VPN, you won’t have to worry as much. 

VPNs render your data unreadable to third parties. And some automatically prevent your device from connecting to unsecure networks altogether. 

Steering Clear of Malware-Infected Sites

Popular VPNs come with built-in malware protection. They steer you clear from dubious sites and filter out harmful content.

Pretending That You’re Browsing the Internet Like Normal

The VPN vendors that offer obfuscated VPN servers can make it look like you’re browsing the surface web as usual.

Access to these specialized servers is a big deal in countries that heavily censor the internet and restrict or ban VPNs. Controlling governments use next-generation firewalls capable of deep packet inspection. This network packet filtering technique can identify VPN users more easily.

Obfuscated VPN servers remove any evidence of VPN traffic. This way, the data you tunnel through a VPN stays unnoticed by relentless government censors.

Access to obfuscated servers can mean the difference between keeping out of sight and broadcasting your efforts at hiding your online activity.

How Can You Access the Dark Web?

Unlike the surface web, the dark web is beyond the reach of popular search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo.

Likewise, the deep web, which makes up approximately 94% of the internet, is unreachable by regular search engines. But the deep web isn’t as hidden as you might think.

In fact, on a daily basis, you probably consume content on it; you just didn’t know it.

In general, you access the deep web whenever you visit a site that requires a login since password-protected pages are unsearchable. So when you check your social media, read your emails, or do your banking – you’re on the deep web.

Online content banned by geo-restrictions is also part of the deep web. And bypassing such blockers is one of the primary purposes of a VPN.

But the dark web is different. You can’t unknowingly stumble upon it. Accessing it requires the installation of specialized software or configuring your standard browser.

As mentioned, there are two common ways to explore the dark web anonymously and safely: Tor and I2P

Read on to explore each of their strengths and weaknesses.

Tor

The Tor browser uses SOCKS and transmits your requests using a network comprised of thousands of servers (or nodes). It encrypts your data thrice on the app level with different keys before relaying it to randomly selected nodes.

As your multi-encrypted data travels through the Tor network, a layer of encryption gets decrypted at every visited node. A node understands where to route the traffic next, only after decoding the scrambled data.

The exit node decrypts the final tier of encryption as the last step. By then, the destination server will have a clear understanding of your request and respond accordingly.

Since Tor traffic is bi-directional, the data utilizes the same nodes to and from your initiating device. The response is encrypted once at every node. And then the Tor browser decrypts them all to allow you to read what’s on the dark web page.

This whole process is called onion routing. It alludes to the layers of an onion that peel off one by one until the core is exposed.

Setting up the Tor browser is no sweat. Assuming you already have a VPN subscription, take the following steps:

  1. Connect to a VPN server that doesn’t block the Tor browser.
  2. Launch your standard browser.
  3. Put your browser in incognito or private mode.
  4. Download the Tor browser installer from its official site.
  5. Launch Tor browser after installing it.
  6. Adjust the Tor browser’s security setting to the highest level.
  7. Start browsing the dark web.

Although currently run by volunteers, Tor also receives funding from the US government. Additionally, the National Security Agency has monitoring capabilities of some of its traffic.

As a result, you should strictly obey the above instructions. Otherwise, you may run into trouble with the authorities for just downloading Tor and visiting the dark web. 

I2P

Using its own API protocol, I2P turns devices into routers that establish secure tunnels between users.

A peer-to-peer network powers it. All participants agree to store content on their systems and share it with others in a decentralized manner.

If Tor uses onion routing, I2P provides garlic routing.

“Garlic” refers to the message bundles I2P encrypts within layers end to end, as though they’re garlic cloves. This way, malicious parties would find it incredibly difficult to observe and analyze the traffic.

Conversely, I2P is uni-directional, ensuring data travels through one-way tunnels only. As a result, snoopers can only spot incoming or outgoing traffic, never both. 

Among the few notable similarities between Tor and I2P is support for dark web connectivity. Both can help you search the unsearchable and find the hidden, but I2P isn’t an alternative to Tor.

I2P’s developers specifically had the dark web in mind when developing this protocol.  So, it has limited options to access content found on shallower areas of the internet.

Also, Tor and I2P are completely different anonymous networks. The latter can’t search .onion sites but is optimal for browsing through secret sites called “eepsites.”

From a technical point of view, I2P is faster, more secure, and more reliable than Tor. It requires more configuration, though.

To get started with I2P, follow these steps:

  1. Skip step two if your device runs Android, Debian, or Ubuntu.
  2. Install Java (if you haven’t already).
  3. Download I2P from its official site.
  4. Run the I2P installer.
  5. Configure your standard browser and other apps to use I2P.

The configuration tutorials for specific apps are outside the scope of this piece. But you have to do most of the configuration on the router console.

As with Tor, when paired with a premium VPN, I2P becomes even more private and secure.

Expect significant speed loss, though. Complex routing and strong encryption will do a number on your online experience.

Wrap Up

We can’t overstate the value of using a tried-and-true VPN service when accessing the dark web.

Granted, decreased speed is inevitable if you encapsulate your traffic with one or more layers of encryption. And adding another stop to your data’s route will inevitably delay its return to your device. But such inconvenience is a necessary sacrifice.

Visiting the dark web is taboo and often can be detrimental to one’s own sake. So, if you must go there, do yourself a favor and consider the featured solutions.

No VPN is perfect. But our picks have the necessary tools (and then some) to keep those threats lurking in the dark – at bay.

FAQ

Do I need a VPN for the dark web?

Yes, because Tor and I2P have technical imperfections. Both technologies put a premium on anonymity, but their privacy and security aren’t up to par.

Combining either of them with a VPN can effectively hide your identity and online activity while protecting you from attacks

What is the best free VPN for the dark web?

The best free VPN for the dark web is a premium service. Choose one that offers a free version, a free trial, a money-back guarantee, or any combination of the three.

Free VPNs are risky on many levels. Their vendors often abandon the ideals that VPNs truly stand for – just to stay in business.

It’s true, premium VPN services cost money, but that’s why they’re trustworthy. At the very least, you know your subscription helps keep their lights on.

Can you access the dark web with NordVPN?

Yes, you can.

NordVPN has specialty servers optimized for Onion Over VPN connections that can immediately route your traffic to Tor.

In addition to NordVPN, the following premium services also make strong cases for being the best VPN for the dark web:

  • CyberGhost
  • ExpressVPN
  • Hotspot Shield
  • IPVanish
  • Surfshark
  • Tunnelbear

Read this entire piece to know each one’s strengths and weaknesses.