You likely spend many an hour on the web every day, scanning the headlines for the latest news, connecting with friends on social media, checking your bank accounts, and buying stuff.
But have you ever stopped to wonder just how deep the Internet is? It’s various layers? Levels?
There are whole new worlds on the web, hidden from view. The World Wide Web is only a small part of this network of networks. You have the Surface Web that everyone and their grandmother uses. Then there is the ginormous Deep Web. Dig a little deeper in the shadows, and you will find yourself in the curious world of the Dark Web.
This guide takes you on a tour of the various divisions of the web, what they house, how to find your way in these different worlds, and whether you should be concerned about them.
Let’s dive in, in the truest sense of the word!
Levels of the Internet
It should come as no surprise that Internet, as we know it, is a layered beast. The network itself has been a reality since the 1960s, pioneered by the military. The World Wide Web was created in 1989, built by physicists to share their research with one another.
And it took only a short amount of time for the idea to evolve into what is now the greatest collection of human knowledge in history. The Internet hosts practically everything, from photos and videos to songs and movies, documents and books, software, social media profiles, and whatnot.
All this knowledge is divided into three levels, three layers namely:
- Surface Web
- Deep Web
- Dark Web
We’ll take a detailed look at all three levels below.
Starting with the top most layer that everyone is well aware of, before diving into the differences between Deep Web and Dark Web, what they mean for you from a security standpoint, and how their definitions have caused confusion with the media inaccurately defining both these layers.
And we may even have a few stories to tell about the Dark Web, and the things found therein.
The Surface Web
If you are reading this blog post, then you are exploring the very top level of the web, known commonly as the Surface Web. Defining this is easy, as it’s just the common Internet that everyone uses to read news, visit Facebook, and shop from different online stores.
Think of this as the regular Internet.
The Surface Web includes news and media that is not behind a paywall, much of the social media like Twitter and Instagram, along with all the free content that has been put up on sites like YouTube, Pinterest, Reddit, and Wikipedia.
What’s really fascinating is that while we use the Internet every day, few people know that they are only using what is visible on the topmost layer of the web. This is content that is indexed by the standard search engines and linked together by other websites and directories.
Fascinating still is the fact that the websites found through search engines, the content that is part of this first surface layer makes up only 1% of the total pages available. The remaining 99% of the Internet is made up of pages that are not indexed by search engines like Google, Bing, and DuckDuckGo.
For example, Google, by current count, has indexed some 67 billion web pages.
What is Deep Web?
Moving a little deeper, we have second part of the web, called the Deep Web. This subset of the Internet lies just below the surface of the world wide web, and is comprised of anything that the search engines either can’t find or have not indexed.
Meaning, most search engines will not show them to you, and you have to visit these places directly instead of being able to search for them.
The Deep Web is largely there simply because the Internet is too large for these search engines to completely cover. And web developers, websites and companies have set this information up so that search engines don’t categorize this information and add it to their index. Their crawlers don’t see these pages, and they are practically invisible to the Googles and Bings of the world.
That is to say, the Deep Web can include significant parts of the mainstream Internet like Amazon pages or Netflix videos. Only, these are personalized for users, and their URLs are not available to be indexed by search engines. It also includes content hidden behind forms, including services like web mail, online banking, and services that users must pay for. Academic databases, scientific reports, financial records, abandoned sites, financial records, and government resources are also part of the Deep Web.
A good rule of thumb is that if you have to log into one of your accounts to access certain information, then you are accessing the Deep Web.
What is Dark Web?
Take things a little shadowy, and you will have third and final layer, known as the Dark Web. This part of the web is intentionally hidden and is inaccessible through standard browsers and methods. You will have to use custom software and special web browsers to use this portion of the Internet.
By comparison, the Dark Web is pretty small — the smallest of the three layers, by far.
It often sits on top of other subnetworks like Tor, I2P and Freenet. And one of the most common ways to access it is by using The Onion Router hidden service protocol. Tor servers are derived from this, and they are not only undetectable from search engines, they also offer users a very high degree of anonymity on the web making them well suited for the Dark Web.
It’s worth a mention that the Dark Web is definitely famous for nefarious purposes, there are also legitimate use cases for this layer of the web. For the Dark Web houses both harmless content and activities, as well as criminal one.
This side of the Internet may be most widely known for illicit activities due to the anonymity that it affords. After all, most people use the Dark Web to procure drugs or gamble. Some buy weapons, body parts, child pornography, and other illegal items.
Shady characters use it to offer botnets and hacking services, as well as sharing and selling fake IDs, stolen identities, credit card numbers, even whole dumps of security breaches.
At the same time, owing to its private nature, this selection of the Internet is also a safe haven for journalists, human rights activists, and political dissidents. For this is a legitimate medium for whistleblowers that expose corruption, and people that report on violence, government oppression and other crimes that may have serious consequences for those calling out the issues.
Most notably, the website WikiLeaks has its home on the Dark Web.
Is Dark Web illegal to access?
The Dark Web itself is not illegal. And neither is using a high-privacy service like Tor to browse your way through this overlay network known as the Dark Web. Millions of people worldwide do that every day, and simply browsing these parts of the web will not get you in trouble.
What is illegal are the shady products and services that are sold on these networks.
That’s what can get someone in trouble.
Yes, a large number of people exclusively use it for illicit activities, and have been since this part of the web gained popularity. But at the same time, there are professional that make use of this medium on a daily basis. Even authorities use it to keep an eye on criminals and hackers.
Dark Web stories
As you can imagine, there are some rather interesting stories as far as the Dark Web is concerned. Controversies and criticism, marketplace empires rising and falling, countless incidents where the Dark Web became a topic of public concern, rather than something only discussed at cyber security conferences.
The Dark Web got its start in March 2000 with the release of Freenet.
But it was only in 2002 that it came into public spotlight with the launch of TOR, which was created by the US government as a way to ensure that their own operatives remain untraceable. Then came the era of cryptocurrency at the start of 2010, which led to the creation of the first proper black markets. And this led to its immense rise.
The two terms, Deep Web and Dark Web, themselves can be confusing for, the world has been using them erroneously. Inaccurate reporting by the media has meant that many people continue use the two terms interchangeably, even though they are both different and not synonyms.
Even movies and TV shows confuse these, and use the term Deep Web for Dark Web.
The use of these terms became increasingly common in the news during the infamous Silk Road trial, an online black market, said to be the first modern darknet marketplace. It was best known as a platform for selling drugs, and users were able to browse it anonymously without traffic monitoring.
Launched in 2011, that was taken down by FBI in 2013. The founder of the site Ross Ulbricht was arrested and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. A new version of the site going by as Silk Road 2.0 came online later that year, but was also shut down in 2014.
AlphaBay was another popular darknet market that was filled with illegal products and services. It also went down in 2017.
Some sites on the dark net provide stuff that you wont even imagine in your dreams. One such site provides recipe for cooking human meat, read the story here. Not kidding, people have recurrently reported encountering live streams of murder, suicide and human torture. Red room is one such famous site, argued many times about its actual existence.
More recently, there has been a trend of emerging social media platforms on the Dark Web similar to those on the world wide web. Facebook and other sites have begun to make versions of their websites for this layer of the Internet.
How to stay safe on the Dark Web?
Safety on the Dark Web is a pressing concern for users wading their way through it — particularly novices that are taking their first trip. If you are seeking legitimate content, then the Dark Web may be safe in some cases. But if you stroll in too deep in there, chances are you could run into trouble.
You will have to consider a number safety issues. These can range from websites that are run by criminal elements that may seek to exploit you or steal from you. This part of the Internet is also littered with suspicious links that you may be taken to, or could infect your device with malware.
The best way to stay safe on the Dark Web is to not go there!
But if you do decide to venture forth, it is smart to be selective about the websites you access. Having reliable antimalware protection is a given on your device, as is enabling multifactor authentication whenever possible. You will need to proactively guard your data well on your trip, and be extra careful about what permissions you give these sites.
Sooner or later, some of your data will spill over. And the best precaution here is to ensure that the data is neither accurate, nor detailed enough to cause harm. Use an encrypted browser like Tor Browser, and don’t share any personally identifiable or real information about yourself. Also don’t buy anything there, or install any software that you come across.
And if possible, don’t talk to anyone.
For the fact remains that this is a dangerous place to be.
Websites have existed way before search engines made known their existence. There is a whole world of information that even Google has not added to its index, and probably never will. For these are sites and content repositories that have been hidden from public view.
Understanding the differences between these layers of the web is important for those who spend large chunks of their time online. More so, for when you might want to visit these hidden places to seek somethings that you might not find on the regular old World Wide Web.