The dark web and 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 like illegal drug trading, weapon smuggling, etc. And while some of it is true, there are more complexities at hand when looking at these concepts.
Today, we will try and take a closer look at the terms dark web and the deep web to understand what these are and how they work. But before that we will understand something much simpler to grasp – the surface web.
What is the surface web?
The surface web is the part of the World Wide Web that is indexed. By indexed, we mean that it can be searched via a search engine like Google, Bing or DuckDuckGo. This can be the Steam Store, your favourite shopping site or piracy website that is banned in your region. If a search engine can pull up said website (say, via a VPN), it is part of the surface web.
The surface web has publicly accessible Uniform Resource Locators, or URLs which means that you can search for not just the base websites but also specific parts of it that are not private.
For instance, you can search for you YouTube and then enter the website to search for your favourite channel, or you could even search for “XYZ YouTube channel” and get results pointing straight to said channel. Both the parent website and the channels are accessible because they’re part of the surface web.
Enter, the deep web
This is where we come to the deep web, which is the part of the World Wide Web that cannot be accessed via a search engine. A lot of this data is password protected. As sinister as that sounds, this largely comprises digitally protected everyday-data. This includes the movies you stream on Netflix, all social media profiles and their media, all your protected cloud backups, medical, financial and legal records and even all private videos on YouTube.
It would not make sense to have these elements of the internet indexed. If anyone could reach your Gmail inbox or financial records by simply entering the correct URL, we’d have a lot of privacy issues. This is why these bits of the web are not indexed and hence, not searchable. And every time they have been searchable such as WhatsApp Groups, it has caused a privacy outcry.
Think of these protected sites and data logs as a layer of the internet hidden beneath the surface, and hence called the deep web.
Due to the nature of it, the exact size of the deep web is difficult to gauge. However, it is popularly believed to be 99 per cent of the entire Web. Just imagine the entire profiles of Facebook’s nearly 3 billion-strong user-base – All that data is just a tiny 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 like TV shows and movies. It is a portion or subset of the deep web, but a very small one (about 0.01 per cent). Dark web’s sites number in just thousands and are actually meant to be easily accessible to people.
However, users require particular software (like TOR, Freenet and I2P) to access the Dark Web. These software layers bypass the encryption needed to get through to these websites and also makes users anonymous, making them truly untraceable on the dark web. This is exactly why a lot of criminal activities bloom in the dark web, from drug trafficking to weapon trade and even scams, among other things.
However, the dark web is not all about crime. It also helps activists, whistleblowers and journalists voice their opinion without being “monitored” by anyone. In fact, The Onion Routing project (TOR), which is the most popular software used to browse 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 number of destinations before it reaches its final stop – the website you’re visiting. The large network of dark web users also using TOR also serve as donor devices that help relay signals of other random users from random parts of the world to other random parts of the world. This network of practically infinite variables is what makes tracking someone down on the dark web difficult.