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The Best VPN for the Dark Web

The Best VPN for the Dark Web in 2024: Access the Tor Network Safely & Anonymously

Using a VPN alongside a Tor browser provides proper protection against dark web risks. However, not all VPN services are secure enough for dark web use. Keep reading to discover the best VPN for dark web security.

Samson KiarieValentina BravoIgor Kurtz

Written by Samson Kiarie (Writer)

Reviewed by Valentina Bravo (Editor)

Facts checked by Igor Kurtz (Fact-checking editor)

Last Updated: 2024-02-20T13:45:58+00:00

All our content is written fully by humans; we do not publish AI writing. Learn more here.

Key Takeaways: What Is the Best VPN for Dark Web Access?
  1. ExpressVPN — The best overall VPN for the dark web 
  2. NordVPN — Budget-friendly dark web VPN with Onion Over VPN servers
  3. Surfshark — Dark web VPN with unlimited device connections
  4. Proton VPN — Best free VPN for the dark web
  5. Mullvad — Dark web VPN with excellent anonymity
  6. CyberGhost — VPN for the dark web with advanced security features

Facts & Expert Analysis From the Article:

  • The “dark web” is part of the “deep web.”
  • You should not try to access the dark web without a secure VPN.
  • A virtual private network (VPN) doesn’t stop you from inadvertently opening a link to a nefarious onion site. However, it adds a layer of anonymity, so no dark web activity can be traced back to you.
Best VPN for the Dark Web

Though the dark web is synonymous with criminal activity, it does have legitimate uses, such as combating censorship and communicating anonymously. Regardless of your motives, its sinister reputation calls for extra caution lest you fall into legal trouble. One of the best ways to protect yourself is to use the best VPN for the dark web. 

In this guide, we’ll discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the top VPNs for dark web navigation. We reveal each provider’s security and privacy features to help you find an apt VPN whether you’re a lawyer, journalist, civil rights activist or casual dark web user.

  • 02/19/2024

    We rewrote the guide to reflect the most recent performance of the top six VPN services for the dark web. 

Cloudwards Editor’s Choice: ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN is our editor’s choice for best VPN for the dark web thanks to its fast speeds and excellent security and privacy. It offers solid protocols and AES 256-bit encryption to keep you secure and anonymous so no dark web activity is associated with your real IP address. Obfuscation is built into every server to enable users in countries where VPNs are banned to use ExpressVPN unnoticed.

The 6 Best VPNs for the Dark Web: Comparison Table

VPN:PriceDark Web?Onion Over VPNNo-Logs PolicySecurity
$6.66 per month (15-months plan)AES-256
ChaCha20
$4.44 per month (two-year plan + three months)AES-256
ChaCha20
$2.49 per month (two-year plan)AES-256
ChaCha20
$4.49 per month (two-year plan)*AES-256
ChaCha20
$5.30 (one-month plan)AES-256
ChaCha20
$2.37 per month (two-year plan)AES-256
ChaCha20
* Also comes with an unlimited free plan

Keep reading to learn how the top dark web VPNs differ in terms of capability and pricing.

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1. ExpressVPN — The Best VPN for the Dark Web

ExpressVPN app korea
In addition to being apt for dark web use, ExpressVPN
unblocks all streaming platforms.

Pros:

  • TrustedServer technology
  • Solid security & privacy
  • Accepts cryptocurrencies
  • Malware blocker

Cons:

  • Comparatively pricey

ExpressVPN is the most secure VPN thanks to solid protocols and encryption that ensure no dark web activity can be traced back to you. It also uses perfect forward secrecy (PFS) to protect encrypted traffic from future attacks. PFS changes encryption keys regularly, so even if authorities get a key, they can’t decipher all of the Tor traffic. 

In addition, ExpressVPN servers run on TrustedServer technology, which wipes data with every reboot. If authorities seize a VPN server (which happened in Turkey in 2017) to investigate your dark web activities, they won’t find any data or Tor browsing history. 

ExpressVPN Hands-On Testing

ExpressVPN protocols
It’s easy to tweak VPN settings for maximum Tor connection security. 

ExpressVPN’s intuitive desktop and mobile user interfaces flatten the learning curve for all users, including total beginners. The features are easily accessible in the settings menu and clearly labeled for ease of use. Finding an optimal server is easy with the search function. 

Notes From the Lab: ExpressVPN Speed Test Results

Download Speed (Higher is better)
Upload Speed (Higher is better)
Latency (Lower is better)
Source: Cloudwards VPN Speed Test. We test daily. Data averaged from 06/18/24 to 07/16/24
Data for region:

ExpressVPN delivers blazing-fast connection speeds. Our latest automated speed test results show that the provider reached 94% of unprotected local speeds and over 80% of unprotected long-distance speeds. Whether downloading torrents on an Onion BitTorrent site or uploading large files on SecureDrop, you’ll enjoy a fast experience. 

Notes From the Lab: ExpressVPN Security Analysis

expressvpn dnsleak test
ExpressVPN offers secure Tor connections thanks to
the built-in DNS leak protection feature. 

ExpressVPN offers a kill switch, which cuts your internet connection if the VPN connection fails. This and DNS leak protection prevent accidental leaks that could reveal your identity or location. In addition, ExpressVPN offers the following VPN protocols: 

ProtocolEncryptionDevices
OpenVPN AES 256-bit Windows
Mac
Linux
Android
Lightway ChaCha20
AES 256-bit
Windows
Mac
Linux
Android
iOS
routers
IKEv2 AES 256-bit Mac
iOS

ExpressVPN Pricing & Value

ExpressVPN’s only drawback is that it’s expensive, especially when paying by the month. You can save a few dollars with the yearly plan, which costs $6.66 per month. There’s a 30-day money-back guarantee if you want to take it for an obligation-free spin. Learn more in our full ExpressVPN review.

2. NordVPN — Dark Web VPN with Onion Over VPN Servers

NordVPN app spain
NordVPN is a reliable, budget-friendly VPN for the dark web. 

Pros:

  • Double VPN servers
  • Onion Over VPN servers
  • Malware blocker
  • Accepts cryptocurrencies

Cons:

  • Server breach in 2018

NordVPN — the best VPN for Tor — claims the second spot on our list thanks to its suite of advanced security features. One of the standout features is double VPN, which directs your internet traffic through two VPN servers. This adds an extra layer of protection but at the expense of connection speed. 

Onion Over VPN makes it even harder for anyone to trace your digital trail. The tool sends your traffic through a NordVPN server and random Tor servers. If you add a Tor browser into the mix, you’ll achieve a high level of privacy, but the connection speeds will be sluggish because the traffic has to pass through a maze of servers. 

NordVPN Hands-On Testing

nordvpn servers
In addition to offering a large server network, NordVPN
has specialty servers like obfuscated servers.

NordVPN’s clean and intuitive UI makes it easy for beginners to figure it out in seconds. The brief description of how each feature works helps newbies easily navigate the app. We have a complete guide on how to use NordVPN for various purposes, including accessing the dark web.

Notes From the Lab: NordVPN Speed Test Results

Download Speed (Higher is better)
Upload Speed (Higher is better)
Latency (Lower is better)
Source: Cloudwards VPN Speed Test. We test daily. Data averaged from 06/18/24 to 07/16/24
Data for region:

NordVPN is the fastest VPN out there, as it reaches near-unprotected speeds when connected to both near- and long-distance servers. Whether you want to download torrents, access academic research papers, upload large files or watch videos on social media mirror sites, you’ll enjoy an excellent experience. 

Notes From the Lab: NordVPN Security Analysis

nordvpn dns leak
NordVPN’s secure tunnel doesn’t leak your internet traffic.

In addition to the internet kill switch, NordVPN has an app kill switch, which lets you select the specific apps for which the kill switch takes effect. It also supports the following VPN protocols: 

ProtocolEncryptionDevices
OpenVPN AES 256-bit Windows
Mac
Linux
Android
iOS
NordLynx ChaCha20 Windows
Mac
Linux
Android
iOS
IKEv2 AES 256-bit Android
iOS

NordVPN Pricing & Value

NordVPN’s monthly plan is still on the higher side of the VPN pricing spectrum. Thankfully, extended plans offer significant discounts — the best deal is the two-year plan, which costs $4.44 per month. Each plan comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee if you want to try the VPN risk-free. Learn more in our comprehensive NordVPN review

Basic
  • *The prices are charged in the first billing cycle only. Renewal prices vary.
  • Unlimited GB
  • 10
  • Yes
Plus
  • *The prices are charged in the first billing cycle only. Renewal prices vary.
  • Unlimited GB
  • 10
  • Yes
Ultimate
  • *The prices are charged in the first billing cycle only. Renewal prices vary.
  • Unlimited GB
  • 10
  • Yes

3. Surfshark — Dark Web VPN for Unlimited Devices

surfshark open france
Surfshark is one of the best dark web VPNs, with unlimited device connections.

Pros:

  • Unlimited device connections
  • Dynamic MultiHop servers
  • Alternative ID generator
  • Accepts crypto payments

Cons:

  • High latency on near-distance connections

Surfshark claims the third spot thanks to its excellent security and unique features for dark web users. One such feature is “alternative ID,” which assigns you a unique profile to keep your identity and location concealed as you roam the risky underbelly of the internet. 

Surfshark’s MultiHop (its version of double VPN) offers 12 preconfigured options. It also provides a dynamic MultiHop option, which lets you choose the entry and exit servers. Remember that the MultiHop feature prioritizes security over speed. With the dynamic MultiHop feature, you can select two geographically close servers to optimize performance. 

Surfshark Hands-On Testing

surfshark settings
Surfshark supports dynamic MultiHop connections. 

Even though Surfshark’s UI has a lot going on, it’s well designed for ease of use. You don’t have to open the settings menu to access key features like the kill switch. Just click on the feature on the UI to open the configuration page. 

Notes From the Lab: Surfshark Speed Test Results

Download Speed (Higher is better)
Upload Speed (Higher is better)
Latency (Lower is better)
Source: Cloudwards VPN Speed Test. We test daily. Data averaged from 06/18/24 to 07/16/24
Data for region:

Surfshark’s near-distance connection speeds are blazing fast, but the latency is annoyingly high. On long-distance connections, you’ll enjoy fast speeds most of the time. However, because of Surfshark’s inconsistency, the speeds can sometimes be unserviceable. 

Notes From the Lab: Surfshark Security Analysis

surfshark dnsleak test
Surfshark prevents DNS leaks to enhance online privacy.

Surfshark also offers an internet kill switch. Keep in mind that the kill switch doesn’t affect any apps you add to the “bypasser” (Surfshark’s split tunneling feature). It also supports the following VPN protocols:

ProtocolEncryptionDevices
OpenVPN AES 256-bit Windows
Mac
Linux
Android
iOS
WireGuard ChaCha20 Windows
Mac
Android
iOS
IKEv2 AES 256-bit Mac
Android
iOS

Surfshark Pricing & Value

Surfshark is another budget-friendly VPN on this list. Though its monthly plan is expensive, the extended plans are much more affordable. The best deal is the two-year plan, which costs $2.49 per month. Each plan has a 30-day money-back guarantee in case you need more time to make a decision. Learn more in our full Surfshark review

Surfshark Starter
  • Unlimited GB bandwidth, Unlimited devices, Secure VPN, Ad blocker, Cookie pop-up blocker. Plans renew: $231.75 for one year, $417.15 for two years
  • Unlimited GB
  • Unlimited
  • Yes
Surfshark One
  • Everything in Starter, plus Antivirus protection, Identity protection, Email Breach and Credit Card Alerts, Online Alias Plans renew: $239.25 for one year, $430.65 for two years.
  • Unlimited GB
  • Unlimited
Surfshark One+
  • Everything in One, plus Data removal Plans renew: $269.25 for one year, $404.65 for two years
  • Unlimited GB
  • Unlimited

4. Proton VPN — The Best Free VPN for the Dark Web

protonvpn multihop
Proton VPN is the best free VPN for safely accessing onion sites.

Pros:

  • Free servers in 5 countries
  • Unlimited data on free plan
  • Solid security & privacy
  • Accepts crypto & cash

Cons:

  • Paid plans are expensive
  • Puts free users on slow servers

Proton VPN made the cut largely because of its dedicated Tor over VPN servers, available on the paid plan. The servers route your traffic via a Proton VPN server and a Tor network, making it difficult for anyone to associate the Tor traffic with a specific device or real IP address.

In addition, Proton VPN has a cluster of Secure Core servers. The provider owns and hosts these servers in Switzerland and Iceland — two countries with some of the best privacy laws. This, coupled with Proton VPN’s strict no-logs policy, guarantees that no details about your dark web activity will ever be leaked. 

Proton VPN Hands-On Testing

protonvpn settings tabs
Proton VPN provides secure servers to
enhance user security and privacy. 

Proton VPN’s desktop and mobile UI look cluttered because they display details about your connection. Thankfully, the UI design keeps everything well organized, and it’s easy for users to tinker with the key features. 

Notes From the Lab: Proton VPN Speed Test Results

ProtonVPN Speed Test

We conducted a series of manual tests on a 10 Mbps connection. Proton VPN proved to be incredibly fast. During our testing, it reached over 91% and 95% of our unprotected download and upload speeds, respectively. Its latency increased by a measly 26%, which is excellent by VPN standards. 

Notes From the Lab: Proton VPN Security Analysis

ProtonVPN DNS test
Proton VPN’s tunnel is watertight — it doesn’t leak your traffic.

In addition to the internet kill switch, Proton VPN offers a permanent kill switch that lets you access the internet only when the VPN is on. It also supports the following protocols: 

ProtocolEncryptionDevices
Smart protocol AES 256-bit
ChaCha20
Windows
Mac
Android
iOS
WireGuard ChaCha20 Windows
Mac
Android
iOS
OpenVPN (UDP/TCP) AES 256-bit Windows
Android
Linux

Proton VPN Pricing & Value

Proton VPN has a generous free plan that offers unlimited data and servers in five countries. However, it restricts access to vital features such as NetShield (malware and ad blocker), Tor over VPN and Secure Core servers. 

The paid plan pricing is steep compared to other top-tier VPN providers. The best deal is the two-year plan, which costs $4.49 per month. Each plan offers a 30-day money-back guarantee. Learn more in our full Proton VPN review

Free
  • Unlimited GB
  • 1
  • Yes
Plus
  • Renewal prices are different after the first year for the 1-year plan, and after the second year for the 2-year plan.
  • Unlimited GB
  • 10
  • Yes

5. Mullvad — Dark Web with Excellent Anonymity

mullvad new york servers
Mullvad enhances anonymity, allowing you to access the dark web safely.

Pros:

  • Solid security & privacy
  • Anonymous cash payments
  • Can exclude rented servers
  • 30-day money-back return

Cons:

  • No live chat support
  • No Chrome extension

Mullvad places a high premium on anonymity, which is indispensable when accessing the dark web. Its unique account setup doesn’t require a name or an email address: When you sign up, you get a randomly generated number for login purposes. The provider also lets you pay via cash or cryptocurrency, so no identifying details are attached to your account. 

In addition to the solid protocols and encryption standards, Mullvad has a feature called “lockdown mode.” This lockdown feature blocks your internet connection when you manually disconnect or quit the Mullvad app. This ensures that you access the dark web only when the VPN is on to enhance your security and privacy. 

Mullvad Hands-On Testing

mullvad protocols
Mullvad has a few advanced security features. 

Mullvad is easy to use partly because of its simplistic design and partly because the features are a bit bare. The features are well organized in the settings menu for easy access and come with descriptions of how they work to guide new users. 

Notes From the Lab: Mullvad Speed Test Results

Download Speed (Higher is better)
Upload Speed (Higher is better)
Latency (Lower is better)
Source: Cloudwards VPN Speed Test. We test daily. Data averaged from 06/18/24 to 07/16/24
Data for region:

Mullvad is fast enough for casual browsing on the dark web. However, since it has inconsistent download speeds, it might not be the best for downloading files on the dark web. The upload speeds are more consistent and may suit users looking to upload files to dark websites. 

Notes From the Lab: Mullvad Security Analysis

Mullvad DNS test
Mullvad doesn’t leak your traffic.

Unlike other VPN services, Mullvad’s kill switch is built in, meaning you can’t turn it off. The provider supports two VPN protocols: 

ProtocolEncryptionDevices
OpenVPN AES 256-bit Windows
Mac
Android
iOS
WireGuard ChaCha20 Windows
Linux
Mac
Android
iOS

Mullvad Pricing & Value

Mullvad offers a flat monthly rate of about $5 regardless of whether you sign up for a monthly, yearly or decade-long plan. You get a discount if you pay with cryptocurrency.

Mullvad is one of the cheapest options on a monthly scale, but extended plans are comparatively pricey. Mullvad doesn’t do a great job in terms of value for money due to its lack of features. Learn more in our full Mullvad review

Mullvad
  • *Price is converted from Euros
  • Unlimited GB
  • 5
  • Yes

6. CyberGhost — Dark Web VPN with Automation Features

CyberGhost ireland servers
CyberGhost has one of the largest server networks.

Pros:

  • Advanced automation tools
  • 45-day money-back return
  • Accepts crypto payments

Cons:

  • Speeds can sometimes be sluggish

CyberGhost has been knocked down to sixth place, not because its performance has deteriorated but because the rest of the pack has improved significantly. It’s still the best VPN for the dark web if you like VPN automation.

With “smart rules,” you can configure CyberGhost to connect to a predefined server on device startup. You can create another rule to have the VPN open your Tor browser — for example, when it establishes a connection. This prevents you from accessing the dark web without VPN protection. 

CyberGhost Hands-On Testing

cyberghost app
CyberGhost offers advanced VPN automation features.

CyberGhost’s UI may take new users some getting used to because some features are tucked away in unintuitive places. For example, smart rules and privacy options aren’t on the settings page — you have to click the CyberGhost icon to find them at the bottom left. 

Notes From the Lab: CyberGhost Speed Test Results

Download Speed (Higher is better)
Upload Speed (Higher is better)
Latency (Lower is better)
Source: Cloudwards VPN Speed Test. We test daily. Data averaged from 06/18/24 to 07/16/24
Data for region:

Though CyberGhost is fast, it’s one of the most inconsistent performers. It can reach over 90% of unprotected speeds on near-distance connections, but the speeds can fall below 20% on its slowest days. 

Notes From the Lab: CyberGhost Security Analysis

CyberGhost DNS leaks
CyberGhost failed our DNS leak test.

CyberGhost’s automatic kill switch blocks internet traffic when you experience internet connectivity issues. The provider also supports solid protocols and is mostly secure and private. Sadly, we’ve had rare cases where it failed our DNS leak tests. 

ProtocolEncryptionDevices
OpenVPN AES 256-bit Windows
Linux
Android
WireGuard ChaCha20 Windows
Linux
Mac
Android
iOS
IKEv2 AES 256-bit Windows
Mac
iOS

CyberGhost Pricing & Value

CyberGhost offers excellent value for your money, especially with long-term plans. Its two-year plan costs $2.37 per month, making it one of the best deals. There’s a one-day free trial on desktop and a seven-day free trial on mobile devices. 

The monthly plan has a 14-day money-back guarantee, and long-term plans offer a generous 45-day money-back guarantee. Learn more in our full CyberGhost review.

CyberGhost Plans
  • *The 2-year plan includes 4-months free which breaks down the 56.94 t0 $2.03 per month. *The price under the 2-year plan is billed yearly after the first two years.
  • Unlimited GB
  • 7
  • Yes

How to Choose the Best Dark Web VPN

When choosing a VPN for the dark web, pick one that prioritizes security and privacy. Other features such as speed and unlimited data may be important, especially if you want to engage in speed-intensive activity on the dark web. Here are some simple selection criteria:

  • Security: Make sure the VPN has a kill switch, solid VPN protocols, encryption ciphers and DNS leak protection. The best dark web VPNs also offer advanced security tools such as multi-hop routing and obfuscation so restrictive regimes don’t notice when you’re using a VPN. 
  • Privacy: Pick a VPN that prioritizes users’ privacy. These VPNs adhere to a strict no-logs policy and are based in jurisdictions outside the Five Eyes alliance and other surveillance alliances. For additional anonymity, pick a VPN that accepts cash and cryptocurrency payments. 
  • Speed and data: If you need to download large files, go for a VPN with excellent speeds, unlimited data and unlimited bandwidth. 

Can You Use a Free VPN to Access the Dark Web?

You can use a free version as long as it’s from a reliable VPN provider. Remember that many free VPNs on mobile app stores aren’t designed with security and privacy in mind.

They don’t encrypt your traffic properly, leaving you exposed to threats such as malware, identity leaks and hacking. However, there are exceptions, such as Proton VPN, TunnelBear and Windscribe.

The Best Free Dark Web VPN: Proton VPN

If you have to use a free VPN to access the dark web, we recommend using the free version of Proton VPN. It’s the best free VPN, with a kill switch, robust VPN protocols, AES 256-bit encryption and a no-logs policy. It also offers unlimited data, which is perfect for large files and torrent downloads. 

How to Use the Tor Browser to Access the Dark Web With a VPN

Before we get started, install the VPN and Tor browser on your device.

  1. Launch the VPN and Configure the Security Settings

    If you don’t have a VPN already, go to the provider website for one of the alternatives listed above, sign up for a plan and download the VPN client. Open the VPN and log in using the credentials you created during signup. Activate the kill switch (if it’s not activated by default) and change the protocol to OpenVPN.

    ExpressVPN UI
  2. Connect the VPN

    Connect the VPN to a server and run a DNS leak test to confirm that you have the right IP address and that the provider isn’t leaking your traffic.

    expressvpn new jersey
  3. Launch the Tor Browser

    Open the Tor browser and connect to the Tor network to activate the first layer of protection. Click the shield icon at the top right of the browser and configure the Tor browser security level to suit your needs.

    Tor-browser-settings
  4. Access the Dark Web

    With the VPN and Tor browser, safely access any onion site.

    Dark web services

Why You Need a VPN for the Dark Web

There are several reasons why you need a VPN for the dark web:

  • Increased online security: Browsers used to access the dark web, like Tor, route traffic through volunteer-run servers (nodes). You never know who the volunteer is — it could be a hacker targeting unsuspecting users. Using a VPN shields you from the online threats emanating from compromised nodes. 
  • Enhanced anonymity: When you use a Tor browser without a VPN, your internet service provider (ISP) can see when you connect to a Tor network. However, with a VPN, the ISP will have no information to share even if coerced or subpoenaed by authorities. 

How a VPN Protects You on the Dark Web

VPN for dark web
A VPN hides your real IP address before the traffic enters the Tor network.

A VPN encrypts your traffic, hiding your real IP address before it enters the entry node to boost your privacy. 

Remember that the Tor browser sends your traffic through a maze of volunteer-run nodes (servers). Though the onion websites you visit don’t receive any details about who you are, the Tor entry node does. If a bad actor or an authority figure is running the entry node, they can easily trace dark web activity back to you. 

Final Thoughts

The dark web is laden with criminal activity, from drug and arms dealing to child pornography and assassins for hire. Owing to the risk involved, you should be extra cautious when roaming the dark web regardless of your motives. 

A Tor browser provides good levels of security, but bad actors can exploit its loopholes to trace dark web activity back to you. To be on the safe side, we recommend using a secure VPN in unison with the Tor browser. ExpressVPN is the best dark web VPN, but if you need a cheaper option, NordVPN or Surfshark will suffice.

Have you used a VPN for the dark web? Which VPN did you use? Which feature of the dark web VPN appealed to you the most? We’d like to hear about it, and as always, thank you for reading. 

FAQ: Best VPN for Dark Web Surfing

  • It’s not safe to browse the dark web without a VPN because your ISP can see your digital trail and may share the information if coerced or subpoenaed by authorities.

  • Onion routing isn’t better than a VPN because the Tor network comprises volunteer-run servers, and not all volunteers can be trusted.

  • Without a VPN, your ISP can see that you are browsing the dark web, though not necessarily exactly what you’re looking at.

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