What is the Deep Web? Deep Web and Dark Web Explained
The Deep Web or invisible web is a hidden net of websites not found by standard search engines and only accessible with a special browser. Known as the hidden web, is a highly misunderstood space, often confused for the Dark Web, thanks to erroneous reporting in the media and misrepresentation in TV and film.
The Deep Web is actually a popular space for legitimate activity. In fact, you probably accessed the Deep Web multiple times today to check your bank account, read an email, or access a secure document.
The Deep Web is also much larger than the less hidden web. So, what percent of the Internet is the Deep Web? While it’s hard to say precisely, experts believe that the Deep Web could be 500 times larger than the Normal Web.
The Deep Web is anything on the Internet that users can’t find or access through traditional means such as popular search engines or major web browsers. Content on the Deep Web is not readily available because it’s not fully indexed by search engines or because it’s password-protected.
Social media pages, emails, personal financial records, and protected health reports are all part of the Deep Web because they can’t be discovered through a popular search engine. Similarly, any content behind paywalls, like a Netflix movie or a pay-to-read magazine story, is also a part of the Deep Web.
The benefit of unindexed content is evident. No one can use a search engine to find your private messages, including yourself.
While some Deep Web content is not easily accessible to protect the security of users and organizations, other is hidden to shield criminal activity. The tiny murkier part of the Deep Web is called the Dark Web.
A popular analogy compares the Internet to an iceberg, where the Surface Web is the visible portion while the Deep Web is the much larger submerged part. Another way to look at the Deep Web vs Surface Web question is to imagine traversing outer space in a spaceship with an incomplete map. All the known locations discovered by explorers are parts of the Surface Web, while the undocumented or hidden locations are part of the Deep Web.
So how does web content become part of the Surface Web? Search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing deploy bots called web crawlers. These explorers browse the World Wide Web to index the content of the Internet.
Many Internet users find content on the Deep Web through the surface web. An illustration of this is when you check your email on the web. You’re on the Surface Web when you visit your email’s webpage. But when you access your account using your login credentials, you’re on the Deep Web.
Most of the Deep Web is kept invisible to protect seemingly legitimate content from unauthorized access. As mentioned, content on the Deep Web is not indexed by search engines and can include password-protected websites, pages locked behind paywalls, emails and private social media messages.
When comparing the Deep Web to the Dark Web, you can think of the Deep Web as the invisible part of the Internet and the Dark Web as the secret part of the Internet. Although illegal and legal activity can exist on both, the Deep Web is usually a space for legitimate activity, while the Dark Web is notorious for illegal activity.
Experts say that the Dark Web is just a tiny fraction of the Deep Web. Yet this minute corner of the Internet is host to some of the most high-friction activity on the web.
Definition of the Dark Web: What is the Dark Web?
Here is a quick Dark Web definition:The Dark Web is an intentionally hidden part of the Deep Web that requires special tools to access and is usually a platform for illegal or malicious activities. Dark Web pages are made with randomized network tunnels and carry unique URL strings ending in unusual domain names like “.onion” instead of the conventional “.com.”
What’s on the Dark Web?
The Dark Web includes illicit marketplaces that sell firearms, illegal pornography, drugs, stolen intellectual property, and unlawful services. Some sellers also sell medication in the underbelly of the Deep Web. For example, some users werebuying Covid-19 vaccines from the Dark Web just a few years ago.
Hackers may also sell stolen information on these marketplaces, includingschool children’s personal data and other information from the education sector. In fact, the FBI warns ofDark Web forums that carry data from the education sector.
Cybercriminals that buy stolen passwords from the Dark Web can use them for all kinds of online attacks, including ransomware attacks. In fact, experts believe that a stolen password helped the Darkside ransomware group attack Colonial Pipeline. Gangs sell ransomware tools on the Dark Web too.
The Dark Web can also provide some highly illegal services, such as assassinations. You may have heard about theDark Web contract killer who was hired by an Italian IT worker at a major corporation to assassinate his former partner. The suspect was caught after Europol conducted a crypto-analysis of the Bitcoin transaction to trace the suspect.
Not all unlawful activity on the Dark Web is necessarily malicious, though. Activists, dissidents, and even journalists in draconian states use the Dark Web to hide their locations while exchanging sensitive data. For example, citizens of countries like North Korea use the Dark Web to share information. Activists during the Arab Spring in some Middle Eastern countries leveraged the Dark Web to cover their tracks to organize events. And many prominent news platforms have Dark Web drop sites for anonymous tips.
Other people who need to protect their privacy, like whistleblowers, also use the Dark Web, especially in countries where their lives are at risk. People who face threats from ex-partners, stalkers, and other abusers may also try to protect their anonymity on the Dark Web.
Is the Dark Web illegal?
While the Dark Web hosts many illegal activities, it is not illegal in most countries. It is only explicitly banned in countries that tightly control Internet activity within their borders.
Technically, the Dark Web is just a group of web pages that are not indexed by search engines and are only accessible through special tools. However, many Dark Web websites are platforms for illegal activities such as drug dealing, arms trafficking, and child pornography.
While the Dark Web is not technically illegal, accessing it can be, depending on your location. In some countries, it is unlawful to access the Dark Web because it is a haven for criminal purposes. In other countries, the Dark Web is not specifically illegal, but accessing certain websites on the Dark Web may be against the law. For example, accessing child pornography websites is illegal in many countries.
How does the Dark Web work?
Content on the Dark Web exists on overlay networks that use the Internet and special tools and configurations to sustain security and privacy. Networks on the Dark Web mask sensitive information, like user locations, while conducting business by utilizing these complex systems. These networks are made of small Peer-to-peer (P2P) networks as well as larger networks like TOR.
TOR is the most popular way to access the Dark Web while shielding a user’s location. Also known as The Onion Router, TOR enables users to browse the Internet, including the Dark Web, anonymously. It bounces traffic through several servers before delivering it to its destination, making it harder to track a user’s activity or location.
How to use the Dark Web: How to access the Dark Web safely
To access the Dark Web safely, you’ll need a list of safe Dark Web links to access. Next, you’ll need a special browser like TOR. The TOR Browser is a free and open-source web browser based on Firefox. It allows you to access Dark Web content anonymously.
You can also use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to enhance your online privacy and security. So,what does a VPN do for you when accessing the Dark Web? In short, a VPN creates a private, encrypted connection between your device and the Internet, making it harder for anyone to spy on your internet activity. Please use a reputable VPN with strong encryption, fast service, and a robust no-logging policy to ensure that you’re not tracked or monitored.
Whether you’re on the Surface Web, Dark Web, or Deep Web, you need to follow some common-sense safety rules to stay safe online:
- Always enter the correct URL in your browser. For example, while many Dark Web users visit The Hidden Wiki to find links, they don’t realize that The Hidden Wiki has several malicious clones with different URLs.
- Download aproactive anti-malware tool to protect your system in the event that you unknowingly click on a malicious attachment, link, or website on the Dark Web.
- Deactivate your microphone and webcam through your operating system. You may also want to cover them up physically. Although such actions may seem overly cautious, they may protect your privacy from some aggressive spyware, stalkerware, and Trojans.
- Avoid free VPN and free proxy services as they may be counterproductive to your security and privacy.
- While you may use the Dark Web for research or communication, don’t buy anything on Dark Web marketplaces. An inexperienced user can easily fall prey to a Dark Web phishing attack during a transaction. In other words, don’t expect honesty from people selling questionable items on the Dark Web.
- Don’t believe that buying goods or services with Bitcoins will protect your anonymity. TheEuropol report on the Dark Web contract killer case proves that Bitcoin transactions can be unmasked.
- Never share your personal information on the Dark Web. You should also create a temporary email address to use on Dark Web pages.
How to access the Dark Web on iPhone
You’ll need to follow the same precautions listed in the section above to access the Dark Web safely from your iPhone. For example, you should have a list of safe Dark Web websites and you must take steps to protect your security and privacy. In addition, you’ll need:
TOR Browser – Dark Web: This specially designed onion browser for iOS allows you to securely access the Dark Web.
Malwarebytes for iOS: Download cybersecurity software for iOS to protect your device from malicious websites, online scams, and unsafe platforms that may carry ransomware, phishing scams, and other threats that target Safari.
VPN for iPhone: Use the Malwarebytes Privacy VPN app for iPhone to secure your connection and stop eavesdroppers from snooping on your activity.
Inside the Dark Web: How to search the Dark Web
You can access the Dark Web after downloading the TOR browser. Websites on the Dark Web will end with “.onion” instead of “.com,” “.net,” or another common URL. To find such darknet websites, you must use a darknet search engine. Please do so after considering all risks.
What happens if you go on the Dark Web?
The Dark Web is a bit like the Wild West of the Internet. Your computer won’t explode as long as you browse the roads less traveled safely. Take the wrong turn, though, and you may:
- Download malware.
- Unknowingly share sensitive personal information with a bad actor.
- Get in the bad books of law enforcement.
- Come across media that traumatizes you for years.
- End up on a Dark Web page created by a scammer to blackmail you.
How big is the Dark Web?: How much of the internet is the Dark Web?
Researchers estimate that there are hundreds of thousands of websites on the Dark Web. However, the Dark Web is just a tiny portion of the Internet. While the exact figure is undecided, some experts believe it is as much as 5% of the Internet.
Dark Web tools
Dark Web browser
A Dark Web browser like Tor allows you to access the Darknet websites anonymously. It routes your web page requests through layers of proxy servers to mask your IP address.
Dark Web search engine
There are several Dark Web search engines to choose from in the wild, though they don’t always offer accurate or up-to-date results. Most experienced Dark Web users rely on Dark Web forums to access the newest resources.
Dark Web websites
Dark Web websites are like regular websites but look and feel simplistic, and often have URLs that look like gibberish and end in “.onion.” Many Dark Web websites are unsafe and should be browsed with caution.
Risks of the Dark Web: Is the Dark Web dangerous?
Dark Web hackers
Manyhacker groups use the Dark Web to sell hacking services, stolen intellectual property, and stolen passwords. Some also sell hacking tools like ransomware strains and other hacking toolkits. A few of these tools are sophisticated enough to allow inexperienced users to carry out cybercrimes.
There are all types of pirated research papers, ebooks, and software on the Dark Web available for download. Dark Web users download these files to avoid paying licensing fees. Some of these downloads can be infected with malware, such as keyloggers, spyware, ransomware, viruses, and Trojans, though.
Although accessing the Dark Web isn’t illegal, accessing any illegal website is unlawful. Since much of the Dark Web is a hub for illegal content, you could get into trouble with the law if you’re not careful.
Harmful or criminal action
The Dark Web has become a safe haven for all types of criminal activity. In response, not only are law enforcement agencies utilizing innovative strategies and technologies to stop Dark Web criminals, but they’re also cooperating more extensively with agencies globally. For example, they’re sharing information, resources and coordinating operations with partners worldwide to stop bad actors on the Dark Web.
While world governments seldom agree on a single issue, they all accept that child pornography is a heinous crime that should be punished with severe consequences. To securely engage in the trade of child sex abuse content, away from the long arm of the law, groomers and abusers turn to the safest and most anonymous corner of the Internet. Some advocates argue that the Dark Web has given rise to child abuse, with abusers feeling safer exchanging pictures, videos, methodologies, and services with each other.
The dawn of the Internet has proven that anonymity is something of a double-edged sword. Although Dark Web anonymity can shield at-risk people such as victims of abuse, activists, whistleblowers, political targets, and journalists, it can also empower trolls, abusers, doxxers, drug traffickers, child pornographers, and other people who thrive in environments that are free of any legal consequences.
How to find out if my information is on the Dark Web
Dark Web websites can sell stolen user information such as pictures, videos, credit card data, usernames, passwords, addresses, bank account information, social security numbers, and more. There are a number of free security tools and websites that can notify you if your data is on darknet marketplaces. Since these tools are far from perfect, you should watch out for the following signs of a privacy breach:
- You receive login security alerts from your financial institutions, social media pages, or email account.
- Your private media is published online.
- You’re locked out of your accounts.
- There is unusual activity on your credit reports.
- You receivephishing attacks that carry your confidential information.
- Threat actors use your sensitive data to blackmail you.
- You’re the victim of a swatting attack.
What to do if your information is on the Dark Web
- Contact the major credit bureaus for advice on fraud prevention.
- Freeze your credit.
- Regularly review your latest credit reports for suspicious activity.
- Change your passwords and the answers to your secret questions.
- Download the latest cybersecurity tools to defend your security.
- Learn how toprotect your digital footprint from future attacks.
- Learn thedefinition of cyber security and its best practices to reduce your risks.
What is Dark Web monitoring?
Dark Web monitoring is a threat intelligence practice that involves tracking and monitoring the shadows of the Internet for private information. Dark Web monitoring can include scanning for data such as leaked login credentials, stolen credit card numbers, swiped social security numbers, leaked banking data, and other compromised sensitive information.
Organizations typically use Dark Web monitoring to protect themselves from data breaches and cybercrime proactively. By tracking the Dark Web, organizations can quickly find out if their data has been compromised and take steps to mitigate the damage.
Dark Web monitoring can be expensive and complicated, but it is becoming increasingly critical as more private data is bought and sold in the Internet’s underbelly.
Who runs the Dark Web?
No single entity runs the Dark Web. Instead, it is a collection of secret websites that are not accessible through standard web browsers. However, the roots of the Dark Web can be traced to some technological innovations from the U.S. government.
As mentioned, websites on the Dark Web are usually only accessible through special software known as the TOR network. The TOR network was originally created by the American Navy to protect secret communication between service personnel.
As TOR grew in sophistication, it was also adopted by criminals and others who wished to remain anonymous online. The anonymity afforded by the TOR network has made it a popular place for illegal activity, such as the sale of drugs, weapons, and other illegal goods.
Why does the Dark Web exist?
The Dark Web exists to protect user anonymity. It thrives because it serves users around the world who need to remain anonymous to carry out illegal transactions or communicate in secrecy. So why doesn’t law enforcement take the Dark Web down?
Well, the Dark Web itself isn’t illegal. Technically, it’s just a network for anonymous activity. In addition, the Dark Web is as global as the rest of the Internet — taking down every network on the Dark Web would be impossible.
Instead, law enforcement teams dedicate resources towards seizing and shutting down notorious Dark Web marketplaces. For example, you may have heard of the Hansa Market Dark Web seizure. Traders on Hansa Market sold illegal drugs, malware, illegal services, and banned chemicals.
Remember, the Dark Web can also be a space for people to share information and ideas without fear of censorship or retaliation. In countries with authoritarian governments, the Dark Web is an important space for freedom of expression in some parts of the world.
Best practices and safety rules for Deep and Dark Web browsing
- While a regular browser is fine for most parts of the Deep Web, you’ll need TOR for the Dark Web.
- Protect your network with a firewall and a VPN. A VPN will also mask your IP address for added privacy.
- Avoid illegal websites, even if you’re curious. Such websites may carry malware, phishing traps, or traumatizing content.
- Don’t download files unless you trust the source.
- Safeguard your computer with anti-malware software.
- Disconnect your microphone and webcam. Use afree anti-spyware scanner & removal tool to check your system for spyware, stalkerware, and keyloggers after browsing unknown websites.
The history and future of the Deep Web and the Dark Web
While web content not indexed by standard search engines is as old as the Internet, the term Deep Web itself was coined by Computer-scientistMichael K. Bergman in 2001. As mentioned, The Onion Router, which helped fuel the Dark Web, was a creation of the US Naval Research Laboratory in the mid-1990s to shield the identity of intelligence agents.
The Deep Web isn’t going anywhere. Not only is the Deep Web useful for honest activity, but it also could be500 times bigger than the surface web. So, even if there were a legitimate reason to, shutting down the Deep Web would be impossible.
The Dark Web isn’t going anywhere either. The technologies that helped launch the Dark Web can’t be scrubbed from the Internet due to their widespread usage and complexities.
Expect the Dark Web to remain a tiny but active part of the Deep Web, supporting criminal activity but also civil liberties in countries where governments crack down on freedoms.
FAQs about Dark Web
Is the Dark Web real?
The Dark Web is as real as the rest of the Internet. While Dark Web websites aren’t indexed and require special tools to access, they function like other websites. They’re just in a hidden and more secret corner of the web.
What does the Dark Web look like?
At first glance, websites on the Dark Web look like regular websites. Look closer, and you may notice some differences:
- Low-budget design with simple graphics.
- Less attention to spelling and grammar.
- A .onion address instead of a .com address.
- Slower performance.
As mentioned, some Dark Web content can be unsettling, which is the biggest difference between websites on the Dark Web and Surface Web.
What is the Dark Web used for?
To sum up, the Dark Web is frequently associated with illegal activities, such as selling drugs, weapons, and child pornography. It is also used for communications between journalists and their sources or citizen activism. For example, citizens in countries where Facebook is banned can use the onion version of the social networking platform to share their views or reach out to people in other corners of the world.
You may also find plenty of stolen scientific research, blogs, and pirated software on the Dark Web.
What can you buy on the Dark Web?
- Illegal recreational drugs
- Banned chemicals
- Stolen passwords
- Forged documents
- Unlicensed pharmaceuticals
- Unlawful services
- And more
What does CP mean in the Dark Web?
CP stands for Child Pornography on the Dark Web. Sellers and buyers of the media typically use the term when communicating with each other on the Dark Web. Experts estimate that nearly 80% of Dark Web traffic is dedicated to this illegal pornography. Thankfully, law enforcement has arrested many buyers and sellers of child pornography on the Dark Web through sting operations, shutting down some of the biggest marketplaces.
How many people use the Dark Web?
It’s difficult to say precisely how many people use the Dark Web. Some experts say that between two and three million people use the Dark Web. This number may grow as cyber crimes rise in the wake of the pandemic.