What’s The Difference Between The Dark Web & The Deep Web?
Michelle Wilson - November 16, 2021
Maybe you’ve heard these terms before but have no idea what they are. You might have heard the terms thrown around interchangeably, or you’ve seen references in documentaries unpacking seedy black markets and dangerous weapons. There’s a good chance you believe these places host dangerous people, malicious hackers, or worse. But what exactly is the dark web? Is it different than the dark web? You’ve likely got several questions about both networks, especially if you’ve never traveled beyond the surface with your Internet browsing.
Can ordinary people access either of these platforms and if they can, do they want to? Is it dangerous on either network? How do you access them?
Before panicking, let’s break down both of these terms, how they function, and the main concepts surrounding them.
Table of Contents
What Is The Deep Web?
The deep web is the largest expanding category of new information on the internet, despite not being indexed by search engines. According to reports, the content within the deep web is nearly two thousand times greater than the number of surface web pages (the content indexed by search engines).
Although the deep web and the dark web are not the same things, it’s important to understand that there are significant overlaps between the two terms. The deep web refers to any pages which are not indexed by popular search engines. In effect, they won’t appear on traditional search results, as the crawlers don’t see the pages (making them invisible, despite being online). To access these pages, users will need the exact URL or link or visit the page through another page once in the deep side of the internet.
Many mainstream websites use deep web links, as they are customized pages for individual accounts. These URLs aren’t accessible through search engines, as they are personal account pages offered only to account holders.
What is The Dark Web?
This layer of internet pages is considered a subsection of the deep web, classified as intentionally hidden pages from standard search engines. All data on the Dark Web is encrypted, making it untraceable through standard browsing. Users will need specific authorization, configurations, or specialized software to access these pages. Custom browsers like Tor (also known as the Onion browser) provide access to these encrypted pages. The dark web uses masked IP addresses, making usage untraceable.
The dark web often relates to illegal activities and services, although many legitimate platforms exist on the browser. The anonymity offered through the platform makes it ideal for anyone wanting to access illegal items, including drugs, weapons, blueprints, and WikiLeaks documents (just to name a few). Membership accounts are also available for purchase online, with users buying access to unlimited accounts, Netflix accounts, Prime memberships, and more. Users can also purchase or sell an individual’s identity, financial accounts, or credit details, typically for pennies on the dollar. Currency on the dark web is attached to cryptocurrency, thanks to its untraceable nature.
What’s The Difference Between the Dark Web and The Deep Web?
Although the terms are often interchanged, they are very different items when it comes to organization and content. The deep web refers to any web page that isn’t indexed by popular search engines. These pages include legitimate sites through user registration (Amazon Prime’s recommended channels or products). The dark web refers to the pages online that are both non-indexed and involved in illegal activities. Essentially, the dark web is much deeper than the deep web, as the content wants to be hidden.
Is it Legal to Access the Dark Web?
Currently, it is not illegal to visit or use non-indexed pages online. It’s also not illegal to access any high-privacy platform or browser like Tor (which provides access to deep and dark web pages). As the deep web includes content that is no longer relevant, there are plenty of harmless search results. For example, outdated blog pages might appear in deep web pages, despite the innocent nature of the content.
Illegal use of these platforms includes browsing illegal services and products online. These might include looking up drug or weapons purchases, hacking things without permission, or attempting to solicit otherwise illegal services. Remember, it’s not the browsing that’s illegal with these types of pages, it’s the deliberate and intentional searching and purchasing of illegal products.
Despite these browsers being legal, it’s likely not a good idea to visit the deep or dark web without proper safety protocols in place. For example, a non-technical individual might want to visit the dark web out of pure curiosity. Unfortunately, personal data is one of the most transacted items on the dark web. This includes identity theft, credential stuffing attacks, or other compromised information. What may seem like harmless permissions might jeopardize your personal information or password. It might also download malware onto your account.
Staying safe online isn’t the same on the dark web. If you’re going to visit these pages, it’s important to remember that these are the very people who work hard to expose your information. You’re entering their playground by visiting.
How to Stay Safe from the Dark Web?
One of the easiest ways to stay safe from the dark web is simply not visiting. Unfortunately, unless you have a specific reason for visiting, there’s a good chance you’ll find whatever information you need through surface web pages.
If you choose to visit, always safeguard your data very well. Don’t mindlessly give permissions on the platform. Be careful with your passwords and ensure they’re always alphanumeric and difficult to guess. The majority of criminals are experienced at guessing passcodes; giving them easy passwords is literally handing them information.
Understand that eventually, your information will spill into the collections of personal details for sale on the dark web. Unfortunately, the only thing you can do is try to protect your data (by keeping your personal information up-to-date, secure passwords with multi-factor authentication, and having high-quality malware installed on all mobile devices). The less information accessible, the less likely your details will be sold online.
If you need to visit the dark web, always use an encrypted browser to access the sites. Never share personal information, don’t talk to anyone on the dark web, and never share personal information about yourself while you’re there. Inexperienced users should avoid using the networks, especially if they’re unfamiliar with the capabilities of the users on the dark web. That’s not to say that all users on the dark web are there for illegal purposes (as some genuinely want to remove government censorship or browse anonymously), but treating everyone as a potential threat is always a good idea.
While visiting, never download anything from the web—these downloads will likely contain malware or other illegal content. Always disable java scripts and webcams when visiting the dark web pages (especially if permissions are requested before viewing pages). If you can’t disconnect the webcams and microphones, always cover them with paper or tape.
The Deep and Dark Web Aren’t For the Inexperienced
While the deep and dark web seems interchangeable, they’re very different platforms and should be treated as such. The deep web currently offers many legal and personalized web pages that are otherwise non-indexed. The deep web includes all unindexed web pages, including outdated content. Neither section is accessible through standard web searching, but encrypted browsers will allow browsing and more for those wanting to see them first-hand.