Operating Systems for Browsing the Dark Web: Windows, Mac, or Linux?

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Picture of the 3 major OS
The three main operating systems.

If you are reading this, then you have obviously decided to take a trip down the rabbit hole into the dark web.

Like any other trip you take, the vehicle you use is a key factor.

In this case, the vehicle in question is your selected operating system.

Selecting the right operating system for this trip is fundamental to your online security, privacy, and anonymity.

Each operating system is designed to cover a specific need, so you need to pick the appropriate operating system based on the level of risk you are comfortable accepting as well as the situation for which you are using it.

For the purpose of this discussion I will only visit the vulnerabilities of the actual operating systems themselves, and will save web application vulnerabilities for another time.

Your TOR usage is being watched

Where the dark web is concerned, the two major considerations for client operating system vulnerabilities are remote executable code and denial of service (DoS).

Although there are many other threats and vulnerabilities out there, these arguably pose the most immediate threat.

Remote executable code is a vulnerability that allows for code to be secretly loaded and executed in your system to potentially take it over or perform actions like stealing your passwords or secretly using your camera to record your actions, amongst other things.

Denial of service attacks are designed to boot you off of your network to either prevent users from accessing the network as a goal in and of itself, so that your password can be captured as you log back on, or even to lead you to log into bogus cloned sites.

Windows virus warning
Ransomware and Trojans, two ways hackers can attack.

So let’s get right to it.

So what do we think we know about Windows? Windows is a great system for the average computer user, but is sadly a victim of its own popularity.

As of December 2016, approximately 38.57% of the computers connected to the Internet are running some version of Microsoft Windows.

This is the very reason that hackers create malware designed for Windows machines.

It’s like casting a large net in the ocean rather than using a fishing rod – you’ll catch more fish with the net.

Although Windows has improved in recent versions with features such as Bit Locker, it still has some security holes.

Accessing the dark web requires the use of the specialized internet browsers, such as Tor.

Windows 10’s use of key loggers ultimately defeats the use of Tor, as your key strokes are recorded by Microsoft and could be demanded by law enforcement.

This coupled with Windows 10 camera and microphone logger make the use of Windows arguably unsafe for dark web browsing.

virus eating an apple
Apple computers are not immune to viruses, contrary to popular belief.

If we look at the hard facts surrounding just the Windows 10 operating system, we will see that in 2016 Windows 10 had a total of 172 vulnerabilities according to the CVE Details database, and that the two most dangerous vulnerabilities when surfing the dark web are remote code execution and denial of service.

Windows 10 had 64 code execution vulnerabilities and 104 various denial of service vulnerabilities.

Windows 7 operating system, on the other hand, is at about a 50% market share rate of use.

The stats for this operating system are not as bad as Windows 10 at 134 vulnerabilities, all things considered.

Windows 7 has DoS at 4, and executable code at 39.

The reason for this is likely that since it is an older operating system, a lot of its vulnerabilities have been discovered and patched by Microsoft, thus making it a stronger operating system compared to some of its newer cousins.

Let’s move on to Mac and see if it fares better.

Mac has a much smaller share of the market with 4.92%.

This is one of the reasons behind the perception that Macs don’t get viruses; because of the small market share, hackers are not as eager to create malware for Macs.

This does not make them immune to attacks, however.

What may be surprising to many is that Mac has the highest number of listed vulnerabilities at 1758.

In 2016, Mac had 215 vulnerabilities, higher than Windows 10 at 172.

Despite Mac having a smaller market usage share, hackers are still making viruses to infect them.

While I will not cover each and every type of malware, remember the main concern on the dark web is hackers’ ability to inject malicious code into your system to either gain control of it or to infect you with spyware to collect private information, such as logins or financial data.

Mac scored better than Windows 10 in my opinion due to the lack of market share and attention from would-be hackers, but it still has a lot of room for improvement before I would make it my OS of choice for dark web adventures.

canister with linux and msn logo
Linux is gaining popularity as the operating system of choice for many people.

So what about Linux? Linux is a little different.

Linux is an operating system created under the model of free and open-source software development and distribution, and is thus highly customizable.

Specifically, being open source allows programmers from all over the world to continue to improve the Linux kernel.

This property makes room for many versions, or distributions, of Linux.

They have names like Ubuntu, Fedora, Red Hat, Mint, SuSE, Kali, and CentOS to name a few.

Each has features that cater to the people who use them.

Since there are so many versions of Linux, it’s not as easy to make malware that will attack Linux the way you would for Windows unless it targets the core code of the Kernel.

There are even versions of Linux that have been designed to be virtually anonymous on the dark web.

TAILS is one such version.

Due to the various versions of Linux, it is difficult to place them in a broad category.

I will use Ubuntu as an example since it is one of the more popular distributions.

In 2016, Ubuntu had 278 vulnerabilities.

160 were DoS, and only 42 were executable code.

The nice thing is that versions like TAILS are made specifically for using the dark web.

TAILS stands for The Amnesic Incognito Live System.

Designed purely for anonymity and security, all outgoing connections are forced through the Tor network and any non-anonymous connection is blocked.

This operating system runs from a live USB drive, and lives in the RAM of the machine its used on – leaving no trace of itself once removed from the machine.

Although none of the operating systems we looked at are 100% flawless for the job of surfing the dark web, the Linux Tails OS seems to be the ultimate winner.

Even if your main system is Mac or Windows, you can run a live USB OS specifically to browse the dark web and never lose the ability to use your main OS for regular internet browsing and productivity applications.

Phantom D

Phantom D

Phantom D is a cyber-security specialist and consultant currently working in the health care industry. He holds a B.S. in Computer Information Systems and has worked as a Data Analyst. When he is not writing or consulting he can be found swimming the deep waters of the dark web.
Phantom D
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