Drugs and hitmen are so overrated. True, you can get your hands on everything from brown tar heroin to a contract hacker on the deep web, but there’s actually more to do on that hidden section of the internet than explore illegal services. You just have to look past the headlines to believe it.

Make no mistake: Quite a few sites on that big bad deep web are used for criminal purposes. Ninety-four percent of the traffic requests coming over Tor, the browser software that opens up the deep web, can be classified as “per se malicious” according to a blog post from the security company CloudFare in March, just a year after another team of researchers determined 80 percent of deep net visits are related to child porn sites. But, because the deep web is defined as anything not indexed on traditional search engines, those criminal sites actually only make up a small fraction of what’s available beneath the iceberg of the internet.

Simply put: The deep web has become a relative safe haven for anyone trying to anonymously use the internet.

To get there, you first need to download Tor (which stands for “The Onion Router”), an encrypted internet browser that, by redirecting a user’s internet connection a number of times, obscures their location, browsing activity, and IP information. Tor gives users access to the normal internet, as well as countless .onion sites, which are hidden services that are intentionally anonymous, and typically hard to find thanks to obscure URLs like http://torlinkbgs6aabns.onion. That site (which is only accessible with Tor) is one of the few portals that direct users to the deeper areas. A Tor spokesperson said “onion services are less than 5% of our traffic.”

Here’s a sample of some of the most prominent non-nefarious sites on the deep web:

Intel Exchange

The site is a general discussion forum covering topics as diverse as time travel and “What are the most rural areas of the U.S.?” to places to download copies of Jewish holy books and Making Arson Undetectable. “If this is in order to claim insurance on something, I’d be very careful using fire as your method, as things get out of hand quickly and might end up causing more damage than you mean to, or worse,” read the top response to that arson topic.

The main discussion forum at Intel Exchange, the deep web's equivalent to Reddit. 

A7B Blog

If there’s a main theme that runs throughout much of the deep web it’s libertarianism. Hacking, drug use, and gun listings are often united by the thread of anti-government, or at least limited government, ideology. A7B is just one of the dozens of blogs that delve into this ideology, with ranting blog posts on surveillance, Second Amendment videos, and aggregated videos of old History Channel shows on the buildup to the American Revolution.

Libertarian Book Clubs

You would never guess that books can be so controversial. But the concept of digital rights management, which aims to prevent widespread, free distribution of copyrighted works, has apparently infuriated some readers enough to convince them to start deep web book sites with slogans like “Librarians Against DRM.” The project, according to the Reader’s Bill of Rights for Digital Books, is meant to enable readers to access books for free, read books on whichever format they see fit, retain copies of those books, and have their reading history hidden from marketers.

The most popular books include Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy, Gabriella Coleman’s history of Anonymous; Cypherpunks by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange; and Anarchism and Other Essays by Emma Goldman.

The "Most Downloaded" section of the deep web's library is a little different from Amazon.

EasyCoin Bitcoin

It shouldn’t be a surprise that bitcoin sites – exchange sites, bitcoin wallets, conversion explainers, and the like – populate the deep web. The cryptocurrency, by providing relatively anonymous transactions, is what makes it possible for so many criminal sites to exist. “Our integrated mixer makes sure none of your deposited bitcoins get sent when you make a withdrawal … it’s using funds from other users of the wallet, which makes sure it is a true bitcoin mixer without coin contamination,” the site explains. “Storing and laundering and mixing your bitcoins has never been easier.”

The Chess

Play chess with Russians. That’s pretty much it, nothing scary to see here.

It's possible to play chess anonymously, and competitively, on Tor's hidden services. 
Photos via Intel Exchange, Jotunbane's Reading Club, The Chess, Wikimedia