Tech InDepth: A Closer Look at the Deep Web and the Dark Web

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The dark web and the deep web may sound like interchangeable terms, but that is not the case. In popular understanding, the dark web is often associated with a number of elements such as illegal drug dealing, arms smuggling, etc. And while some of this is true, there are more complexities in analyzing these concepts.

Today, we will try to take a closer look at the terms dark web and deep web to understand what they are and how they work. But before that, we will understand something much simpler to understand: the surface network.

What is the surface network?

The surface web is the part of the World Wide Web that is indexed. By indexed, we mean searchable through a search engine like Google, Bing or DuckDuckGo. It could be the Steam Store, your favorite shopping site, or a hacking website that is banned in your region. If a search engine can open such a website (for example, through a VPN), it is part of the surface web.

The surface web has publicly accessible uniform resource locators, or URLs, which means you can search not just the basic websites, but also specific parts that aren’t private.

For example, you can search for YouTube and then enter the website to find your favorite channel, or you can even search for “YouTube channel XYZ” and get results that point directly to that channel. Both the main website and the channels are accessible because they are part of the surface web.

Here is a visual representation of the Surface Web, Deep Web, and Dark Web as an iceberg in the ocean. (Image source: Avast)

Enter, the deep web

This is where we get to the deep web, which is the part of the World Wide Web that cannot be accessed through a search engine. Much of this data is password protected. As ominous as it sounds, this largely comprises everyday digitally protected data. This includes the movies you stream on Netflix, all of your social media profiles and your media, all of your cloud-protected backups, medical, financial, and legal records, and even all of your private videos on YouTube.

It would not make sense to have these internet elements indexed. If someone could access your Gmail inbox or financial records just by entering the correct URL, we’d have a lot of privacy issues. That is why these bits of the web are not indexed and therefore not searchable. And every time they have been searched, like WhatsApp Groups, it has caused a cry for privacy.

Think of these protected sites and data logs as a layer of the internet hidden below the surface and therefore called the deep web.

Due to its nature, the exact size of the deep web is difficult to measure. However, it is popularly believed that it is 99 percent of the entire Web. Imagine the full profiles of FacebookThe strong user base of nearly 3 billion – all of that data is just a small fraction of the deep web.

So what is the dark web?

The dark web is the part of the Internet that is often referred to in popular culture, such as TV shows and movies. It is a portion or subset of the deep web, but a very small one (about 0.01 percent). Dark web sites number only in the thousands and are actually meant to be easily accessible to people.

However, users require particular software (such as TOR, Freenet, and I2P) to access the Dark Web. These software layers bypass the encryption needed to access these websites and also make users anonymous, making them truly untraceable on the dark web. This is exactly why so much criminal activity flourishes on the dark web, from drug dealing to arms trading and even scams, among other things.

However, the dark web is not just about crime. It also helps activists, whistleblowers and journalists to express their opinion without being “supervised” by anyone. In fact, the Onion Routing (TOR) project, which is the most popular software used to navigate the dark web, was created by the US Navy back in the day to maintain total anonymity.

Software like TOR works by ‘relaying’ your IP address to a series of destinations before arriving at its final stop: the website you are visiting. The large network of dark web users who also use TOR also serve as donor devices that help transmit signals from other random users from random parts of the world to other random parts of the world. This network of virtually infinite variables is what makes it difficult to track someone on the dark web.

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