Curious to know which of your favorites websites also run on the dark web?
On Tuesday, the nonprofit behind the Tor Browser released an update that promises to help mainstream websites better promote their alternative .onion addresses to the public.
“For the first time, Tor Browser users on desktop will be able to opt-in for using onion sites automatically whenever the website makes them available,” the Tor Project said in a blog post.
(Credit: Tor Browser)
The new feature arrives in version 9.5, which is now available for download. Users will be able to take advantage of the change when they visit a traditional website that also runs a .onion address. When this occurs, the Tor browser will activate an icon in the HTTP web address bar that says “.onion available,” which you can click on to be redirected to the alternative site.
In addition, the browser will show a pop-up that says: “There’s a more private and secure version of this site available over the Tor network via onion services.” It’ll then take you to the browser’s settings, where you can choose whether to always opt into visiting the website’s .onion address automatically, or do so selectively.
The change promises to help users take full advantage of Tor’s anonymity-protecting technologies, which can prevent ISPs and government authorities from surveilling your internet activities. Currently, you can use the Tor Browser to visit any mainstream website. In return, the software will encrypt and ferry your internet connection through a collection of volunteer-operated servers, scrambling your digital tracks. (On the downside, website load times can take longer.)
The setup can prevent snoopers from gathering a full picture of your internet activities. However, using the Tor Browser to visit the open internet can still leak some metadata of your website lookups to ISPs across the globe. So for more complete internet anonymity, it’s best to use Tor to visit a website’s dedicated .onion address, which can’t be accessed with a normal browser.
These “onion services” have been designed to operate outside the normal internet. Instead, a .onion address will leverage the Tor network to reside inside the dark web, never exposing your computer’s metadata to the open internet.
The New York Times, the BBC, and Pornhub, among many others, all offer Tor mirror sites as a workaround to bypass government surveillance and censorship in foreign countries. However, the drawback with onion services is how they use random characters as web addresses, making them hard to remember. (For instance, Pornhub’s Tor mirror site is located at http://pornhubthbh7ap3u.onion/.)
The new feature from Tor Browser should help fix this, but it’ll be up to website publishers to trigger the notification icon when users visit their sites on the open internet. Currently, the Tor Project’s own website and the investigative news organization ProPublica have activated the feature.