What is the Deep Web?
Since the World Wide Web became available to the public in 1993, it has continually evolved to be more advanced than ever. The World Wide Web describes the data accessible through websites and links, whereas the internet is a vast network of interconnected computers and servers that facilitates it. With 5.3 billion users in 2022, up from 4.9 billion the year before, it is safe to say the internet has become integrated into our everyday lives.
Most people probably think of the internet as a single-tiered platform used to read the latest news or watch our favorite shows. But the reality is more complicated than that. Like an iceberg, the internet has multiple layers far beyond what users usually see.
Surface web vs. dark web vs. deep web
The internet is an enormous network comprising millions of web pages and databases that operate round the clock. The most well-known layer of the internet is known as the surface web, which describes the information easily accessible through a .com or .org website. In essence, if you can find something on your favorite search engine, it is probably on the surface web. We can view surface web information because search engines locate pages through visible links during a process known as crawling.
What do you think of when you hear the term dark web? If your mind jumps to images of illegal activity or sensitive information leaks, you would not be far off. The dark web is a hidden portion of the internet that forms the bottom part of the iceberg, consisting of information accessible by specialized web browsers that most people will never see. Dark web information is intentionally concealed and impossible to access via standard search engines. Because of its highly secure nature, with added firewalls, encryption, and user anonymity, the dark web is a breeding ground for illegal activity.
The deep web forms the middle section of the iceberg and consists of information not fully accessible through standard search engines. The deep web is often mistaken for the dark web; although it is a section of the deep web, they are entirely different data troves. Deep websites include web pages that are only available with a paid or non-paid user account, private databases, and bank statements.
How big is the deep web?
Making up the largest segment of the iceberg, the deep web accounts for over 90 percent of all websites. In reality, the deep web is so great it is impossible to know how many websites it actually holds. Comparatively, the websites and data available on the surface web make up below 5% of the internet. The dark web constitutes the remaining section, accessible only through specialist dark web browsers.
What is on the deep web?
Most people have probably accessed the deep web without even knowing. Considering the iceberg analogy, standard search engines can only grasp websites near the sea’s surface.
The deep web allows us to access our password-protected email and social media accounts, along with sensitive financial information. Websites offering cloud image storage space or holding medical documentation also count as deep websites.
Moreover, the deep web includes paid websites, or fee-for-service sites, such as streaming services. Database, statistics, and academic research websites are also part of the deep web. Simply put, the deep web holds information people do not wish to be public knowledge.
How to access the deep web?
The deep web stores information intended to remain private and is not linked to regular search engines. As a result, trying to find personal banking details on a standard search engine will return a blank result.
The content of your email inbox, medical files, or favorite streaming service are not public knowledge — you need a password or login identification to access it. There are also specialized deep web search engines that hold deep web information. This level of security is a good thing for users as it means their sensitive data is protected. Government sponsored deep web search engines, like The United States Congress website and the National Library of Medicine’s website, allow users to browse through information on the deep web without compromising their safety. Granted, this information only pertains to what the government thinks is safe to allow to the public.
To go into the deep web without any restrictions, users usually turn to a popular browser called Tor. Using Tor can be extremely risky to one's computer and personal safety, and users may encounter content on the dark web that is displeasing to look at. Tor is not recommended for beginners or those not knowledgeable in computing. For those who intended to use this service, we urge you to do so after thorough research and with safety guidelines set in place. Use at your own risk.
Benefits of the deep web
1) Anonymity and security
The deep web allows us to access a wealth of information unavailable through standard search engines. It helps to protect our personal data, and although our use of the deep web is anonymous to an extent, website owners will still know we have accessed our information.
The dark web, however, is entirely anonymous. When taking relevant precautions, the information shared on dark web spaces is untraceable. As a result, governments or internet service providers are unaware of an individual user’s activity over the dark web.
Information like financial details or email accounts is sensitive and private. The deep web helps us access this information without it being public knowledge, giving us considerable peace of mind.
To maintain user privacy, the deep web uses a combination of server permissions, site redirections, and password protection measures. As a result, only people with a specific login account or password have access.
3) Free speech
To a certain extent, users remain anonymous when using the deep web, as they can post thoughts and opinions through user accounts using a pseudonym. Although freedom of speech is one benefit of the deep web, information exchanged is ultimately traceable, and users should not post any malicious or illegal information.
Drawbacks of the deep web
1) Facilitates unlawful activity
The deep web, and even the dark web, are not illegal in themselves. However, high levels of privacy and anonymity can facilitate unlawful activity. For example, illegal movie streaming websites may be accessible through deep web search engines.
The dark web is known for facilitating both harmless and highly illegal information. This includes stolen information like passwords and login credentials from data breaches or even criminal exchanges. Payments through the dark web are made using cryptocurrency, making users even more difficult to trace.
Consider the amount of information you enter into your smartphone or laptop every day. Data such as account passwords, login credentials, or financial information is stored in a database by service providers. The more information we share, the more we risk falling victim to phishing scams or malware. It only takes one data leak for our precious personal data to end up in the wrong hands, and despite steps to prevent such behavior, cybersecurity is still a huge concern.
3) Access speed
Have you ever tried to log into an account and wondered why the browser speed is suddenly slower than before? The deep web uses a more complex collection of networks than the surface web. As a result, more is happening behind the scenes when we try to access deep web information, and browsing speed may decrease.
What is the future of the deep web?
The online world has evolved massively since its inception, and this will continue as we learn more about its capabilities. As an increasing number of people are concerned with privacy and data security, more deep web information may move over to the dark web. However, the dark web can be a murky place, and a higher number of users means more access to potentially dangerous information.
We are sharing more personal information online than ever before, and tech companies are scrambling to protect it from potential threats. Dark web criminals are developing their criminal activities every day, and they are finding new ways to access and exploit personal data as their appetite for sensitive information grows. Tech companies should continually research dark web activity and develop security measures to protect innocent users from falling victim to crime.
The internet consists of the surface web, the deep web, and the dark web. The surface web describes information that is publicly accessible through standard search engines. The deep web consists of information that is not widely available, and most people will have accessed the deep web before through online banking, private email accounts, and healthcare data. We need the deep web to keep our personal information hidden from others.
Although accessing the deep web is not illegal, it can facilitate unlawful or criminal activity. Deep web users should be mindful of what information they share and take precautions to protect themselves from malware and phishing attempts. As the online world develops, dark web users will become increasingly skillful in their attempts to steal sensitive information. As criminals become increasingly sophisticated, tech companies are responsible for keeping users safe from data breaches and hacks.
Jeni is a translator and writer based in Taiwan. She is passionate about business development and loves helping companies enter international markets. She is fluent in English, German, and Mandarin Chinese, and combines these with her industry experience to provide practical market entry solutions.