What is the Deep Web? How does the Deep Web work
The Deep Web, also 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.
While most of the content on the Deep Web is harmless, a tiny percentage can be malicious. The Dark Web is any part of the Deep Web that’s hidden intentionally, requires special tools to access, and is 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.”
Not all unlawful activity on the Dark Web is necessarily malicious though. For example, activists, dissidents, and even journalists in draconian states use the Dark Web to hide their locations while exchanging sensitive data.
Much of the Deep Web works just like the Surface Web — the only difference is that deb web content is not discoverable through search engines. Creators can use open-source tools like OnionShare to host websites on the Deep Web.
To access specific content on the Deep Web, you may need to pay a publisher, use a password, or follow a direct link.
We highly recommend that you avoid opening strange links, though. The Deep Web link you believe you’re accessing could be an infection vector for malware. Remember, malicious websites can use drive-by downloads to infect users without their knowledge.
Legitimate pages on the Deep Web are safer to access with security tools like Browser Guard and anti-malware software.
You can find some Deep Web content on offbeat platforms or search engines. For example, you can locate academic resources on:
- Project MUSE
- Web of Science
- Voice of the Shuttle
Some infamous search engines, pages, and other sources also catalog the darker corners of the Deep Web. Though you may need special browsers to access the Dark Web even when you have an address.
Tor is by far the most popular tool for browsing the lower depths of the Deep Web and takes steps to hide a user. We also recommend that activists, journalists, and other individuals use a VPN connection for an extra layer of privacy.
Examples of legitimate content on the Deep Web include:
- Social media accounts
- Private databases
- Bank accounts
- Investment accounts
- Legal files
- Medical documents
- Subscription content
- Government records
- Medical bills
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 were buying Covid-19 vaccines from the Dark Web just a few years ago.
The Dark Web has also played a role in ransomware attacks and other hacks, allowing gangs to sell software and services. Hackers may also sell stolen information on these marketplaces, including school children’s personal data.
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.
By the broadest definition, the Deep Web is simply content that’s not indexed. It’s not illegal to access pages not indexed by search engines, or checking emails would be unlawful. However, misusing any content on the Internet can be illegal.
Depending on your country’s laws, consuming some type of content can also be illegal. For example, child pornography is banned worldwide yet, unfortunately, ends up in the depths of the Deep Web.
In cooperation with international partners, law enforcement agencies like the FBI still find a way to take down these bad actors.
Experts speculate that law enforcement activities pressure even the most successful Dark Web sellers to quit while they’re ahead. For example, the infamous UniCC carding marketplace closed abruptly in early 2022 after specializing in credit card fraud for nearly a decade. A few days later, the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) arrested some UniCC organization members.
- 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 on the Deep Web.
- Safeguard your computer with anti-malware software.
- Disconnect your microphone and webcam. Use a free anti-spyware scanner & removal tool to check your system for spyware, stalkerware, and keyloggers after browsing unknown websites.
- Business data security
- Login credential security
- No censorship
The darkest corner of the Deep Web is infamous for illegal activity. Leveraging security and anonymity tools, Deep Web users can trade drugs, firearms, child pornography, stolen credit card data, and illegal services. You should seriously consider all this before making a decision to use this way of browsing, despite of the potential benefits. The risks may not be worth it.
While web content not indexed by standard search engines is as old as the Internet, the term Deep Web itself was coined by Computer-scientist Michael K. Bergman in 2001. Interestingly, The Onion Router (TOR), 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 be 500 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.