Curiosity is the defining trait of Homo sapiens. It took Armstrong and Aldrin to the moon, and we suspect it’s also what brought you, dear reader, to this page. Mysterious and hidden things never cease to intrigue us, and the deep web, that larger portion of the Internet lying below its searchable surface, has been puzzling many since its conception.
What Is the Deep Web Made Of?
While many people associate the deep web with something illegal, it is, simply put, a vast sea of information that isn’t accessible to everyone through ordinary search.
And we aren’t talking about the third or fourth page of Google that no one ever bothers to check unless they are somewhat desperate – we are talking about millions of unindexed web pages, private databases, fee-for-service (FFS) sites, and the infamous dark web.
So, just to make this clear, the deep web isn’t by definition illegal, although some parts of it – the previously mentioned dark web – are often used by cybercriminals and other lawbreakers for various illegal activities. Even the dark web isn’t exclusively frequented by wrongdoers.
The key point here is that both the deep and dark web offer privacy in an age when a good background checker can come up with extremely detailed information about any one of us, and governments and private corporations collect citizens’ personal data on a mass scale.
That privacy can be used to defend freedom of speech and for other noble causes, but unfortunately, it’s more commonly used to carry out criminal acts.
Surface Web vs. Deep Web
Also known as the invisible web or hidden web, the deep web exists in the background of what you could call the surface web – the content you’re able to see when you surf the net using a regular search engine. Making the distinction is relatively straightforward: A page belongs to the surface web if it appears in search results.
You can always follow this simple rule of thumb: If you have to log in to a website to access its content, the information is likely stored on the deep web.
What percentage of the internet is the deep web?
Many experts estimate that the amount of content available on the deep web is significantly bigger than what is available on the surface. In fact, a rough estimate would be that the surface web accounts for only 5% of the Internet – the rest is the deep web.
Back in the 2000s, a study found that the deep web contained 550 billion individual documents. At the time, there were one billion of them on the surface web. It’s safe to say that both these numbers grew exponentially in these 20 years of technological development.
What’s on the Deep Web?
We’ve already mentioned that the deep web comprises four main types of content: pages that were never indexed by search engines, fee-for-service sites, private databases, and the dark web. In this section, we’ll discuss each separately.
1. Unindexed Pages
Google’s robots, also called crawlers, find new sites by following links from already indexed pages. That’s the reason Google struggles to index sites that don’t feature any links and fails to include numerous sites going undercover. Many websites never “surface” and remain on the deep web because they don’t have any links.
Most webmasters try to get as many links as possible to rank their sites higher on Google, and this is one of the main principles of search engine optimization. Others, however, work hard not to have any links and continue to fly under the radar.
2. Fee-for-Service Sites
The second type of content stored on the deep web belongs to fee-for-service sites. Their content is locked away and becomes available only to paying customers. Think of Netflix, for example – while you can access the streaming platform without “hacking the system” and learning how to access the deep web, the content you’ll be able to see is limited until you sign up and pay for Netflix’s services. These big companies rely heavily on the depth of the deep web to make this business model worth their while.
3. Private Databases
Another thing hidden from the public eye on the deep web is private databases. And while we may argue that the movies available on Netflix should be available to all, we’re confident we wouldn’t appreciate our banking information, our email inbox, or private pictures on Dropbox to become accessible to just anyone.
It’s one of the more noble answers to the question of “What is the purpose of the deep web?” and a significant benefit of the deep web’s existence. It hides your private social media content, personal emails, banking account, medical records, and other types of information you wouldn’t want publicly available.
4. The Dark Web
And finally, there is the dark web, also known as the dark net, or dark Internet. Although the deep web and the dark web are terms often used interchangeably, there is a distinct difference between them. The level of safety is not the same, and the ways one can access these two webs also differ.
The dark web websites account for just a minor portion of the deep web. The dark web, too, revolves around privacy. Still, while some use it to share information that should be out there, others abuse the privilege of complete anonymity it provides to do exactly the opposite – sell stolen information.
That’s why having reliable identity theft protection is indispensable these days unless you want your login credentials, bank and Social Security numbers, and even hacked Netflix accounts sold to the highest bidder on the dark web.
What is the dark web used for besides selling information stolen in data breaches? The grim truth is it can be employed for sharing content the majority of people would never want to see in their life.
Let’s take the example of Silk Road, founded in 2011. The infamous site operated as a black market, with illegal drugs being the most common goods on sale. The FBI busted the Silk Road website in 2013 but not before more than $1.2 billion changed hands through this marketplace, with ver 150,000 customers and 4,000 vendors participating in the trades.
In case you’re still interested in learning how to access the dark web, you’ll probably be surprised to hear it isn’t that difficult at all. (Whether you should do it is an entirely different matter, though.) You just need to download a browser for the dark web on your device and type in the URL of the website you want to visit.
If you don’t know the site’s exact URL, things can get a bit trickier because browsing the dark web isn’t as easy as browsing the surface web, although dedicated dark web search engines do exist. If you plan on using a dark web search engine, note that the search results may contain links to illegal websites.
Accessing the Deep and Dark Web – Safety and Legality Issues
There’s nothing mystical about accessing the deep web. Most likely, you have already accessed some deep web content without being aware of it. As mentioned, all that data protected by passwords and other authentication methods is stored on the deep web.
Whether accessing those darker parts of the deep web is illegal or not depends on the country you live in. In the US, anyone who wants to find out firsthand what is on the deep web and dark web can freely do so. But mind the company you’re keeping.
For example, reading about illegal activities on the dark web isn’t unlawful. Many whistleblowers and activists use it as a channel to raise their voices and fight injustice without exposing their identity and thus compromising their safety.
You’re free to read and post such content on the dark web, but know this – visiting the dark web is a bit like going to a nightclub or a bar with a very bad reputation. You may end up being robbed, accidentally seeing things you didn’t wish to see, and in case of a raid, just being there can get you in trouble.
In terms of safety, accessing content on the deep web is as safe as accessing it on the surface web. Your banking accounts and emails are stored on the deep web, meaning that you’ve been accessing deep web information for quite some time now without even noticing it.
However, it is essential to practice safe browsing habits to avoid all that information you’ve been accessing on the deep web ending up on one of the dark web’s marketplaces. Use strong passwords, a reliable VPN, and think twice before logging into your banking account via a public Wi-Fi connection.
All the scams you can fall prey to on the surface web apply to the dark web. It is a whole new world, and many sites are unfamiliar – making it difficult to estimate whether one of the deep web links you want to click on is a real deal or malware that’ll wreak havoc on your device. Treat any link as harmful until proven otherwise.
It’s vital to have safety measures set in place before you visit the deep web. First, you need a good VPN installed. From there, ensuring that your browser is up to date and setting up the best antivirus you can find is another must. Having access to efficient malware removal software is also a good idea.
As always, avoid giving any personal information on any dark web websites you visit. This should go without saying, as the whole point of the deep web is anonymity, but you’d be surprised how many people accidentally expose their identity in this way.
Keep in mind – while the deep web is relatively safe, the dark web is certainly not. Try not to overestimate the anonymity it gives you or underestimate the number of malicious individuals waiting at every corner. Most importantly – don’t use it to buy anything.
Can you get on the dark web on your phone?
Yes, you can. Contrary to popular opinion, it’s relatively easy to access the dark web, as all you need is a deep web browser, the Tor browser being the most popular solution. You can install it on your Android or iOS device to access the dark web.
How dangerous is the deep web?
The deep web is as dangerous as the surface web as long as you take the usual precautions. The dark web is another matter, but it’s just a small fragment of the deep web.
Is it legal to surf the dark web?
It depends on the country you live in, as it is legal in some and forbidden in other countries. You can legally visit dark web websites in the US and read the content available there, but it’s advisable to be mindful of your actions and the company you keep while you’re there.
Is the deep web the same as the dark web?
No. While these terms are often used interchangeably, the dark web is just a minor segment of the deep web.
What is inside the deep web?
Inside the deep web, you’ll find unindexed websites, paid subscription services, and a lot of private information such as online banking portals, emails, scientific databases with restricted access, legal documents, medical records, and much more. Essentially, the answer to the question “What is the deep web?” is: That’s the place where developers store information so that it isn’t accessible to everyone. The dark web is also a part of the deep web.