How do you illuminate the hidden Internet?
A brand-new search engine named TorSearch debuted last week, making waves around tech media. It’s not hard to see why: The Oct. 2 seizure of Silk Road captivated netizens by exposing a corner of cyberspace that didn’t appear on Google and was difficult to navigate unless you already knew what you were looking for.
If TorSearch founder Chris MacNaughton has truly built a new engine that can help us find our way around the Deep Web, that’s genuinely exciting. But does it deliver?
We took it for a test drive and then pitted it against some of its competitors.
One spoiler: TorSearch has a long way to go before it becomes the best way to search the Deep Web.
Evil Wiki: Without a doubt, this is the single best entry point into the world of Tor. The well-maintained website provides an organized list of links to hidden services with explanations and even reviews. It’s not meant to be used as a search engine, but it often is.
TorSearch: A new search engine that has garnered some buzz in publications like VentureBeat. It operates in much the same way as Google, with a link-crawling spider that will forever build its arsenal.
Google: With proxy tools like Onion.to, Google actually crawls much of the Deep Web in a roundabout way. And because it’s so popular, it’s the first tool that almost anyone who hears about the Deep Web uses.
DuckDuckGo: Similar to Google but with one significant difference, DuckDuckGo offers anonymous search, a feature in keeping with Tor’s powers of anonymity. It’s no surprise that it’s popular among the Tor crowd.
Torch: An older Deep Web search engine, Torch has existed for a long time but little fanfare.
Search: Silk Road replacement
In light of Silk Road’s seizure on Oct. 2, many users have been searching for a substitute. Let’s see who comes up with the best one.
Winner: Google immediately pointed me to Black Market Reloaded’s subreddit, a hub on social news site Reddit for one of the major Deep Web black markets. It also gave me a long list of articles offering other replacements. Other services gave me nonsensical or outdated results. TorSearch returned Silk Road itself as a top result.
Search: Black Market Reloaded
If you already know the name of a new market, you still need to find the address to reach it. Which search engine can get me where I want to go?
Winner: Evil Wiki delivered me to an entire Wikipedia-style website on BMR. TORCH sends me to BMR’s forum, a close-but-no-cigar shot. Google and DuckDuckGo offered up proxies and articles about the market. TorSearch not only didn’t deliver BMR, it sent me to unrelated scam markets. How am I supposed to get my cocaine now?
Search: Hidden service hosting
What if you want to actually create and host a Tor hidden service? That’s not a simple task for most people—so they’ll often take to search engines in hope of finding answers.
Winner: Google delivered me to actual instructions on how to host my own hidden service. TorSearch sent me to Evil Wiki, which has an extensive hidden service hosting providers, so it’s a tie between those two services.
Search: “Dread Pirate Roberts”
Many people have searched for every little bit of information about Silk Road’s founder. Which engine can deliver the goods?
Winner: Torch wins by a mile. While the results are poor with almost every other engine, Torch sends me right to Roberts’s famous missives on liberty on Silk Road itself. Google offers some illuminating press reports, and Evil Wiki returns its extensive article on the man.
Search: New Yorker Strongbox
If you want to communicate with journalists anonymously, you’ll need your search engine to deliver smart answers to your query. The New Yorker Strongbox is a popular tool used to communicate with the magazine’s staff over Tor.
Winner: Evil Wiki wins out by having a direct link to the Strongbox. Every other engine either sent me to the Evil Wiki or to a page about the Strongbox but not the Strongbox itself.
Overall Winners: Google and Evil Wiki are the two best services out there. But if you’re looking for something on the Deep Web, the smart thing to do is to use a variety of search tools. The two winners have drastically different strengths and many weaknesses, but both provide more insight into the Deep Web than any other engines.
When TORCH works, it can hit the nail on the head with Deep Web queries that other engines find difficult or impossible. However, it’s so unreliable that it timed out faster than I could take a screenshot.
TorSearch isn’t much bigger than TORCH and often provides wrong or dangerous answers to queries. It’s got a long way to go before it becomes a go-to destination.
DuckDuckGo’s results are often just a poor imitation of Google’s more targeted results.
In the end, the very best way to know your way around the Deep Web is to travel it yourself. But it’s 2013. Is it too much to hope that a better tool will be built to do the traveling for us?
Photo via Tilemahos Efthimiadis/Flickr