Drugs, death, and depravity probably come to mind whenever you hear about the dark web. Or, is it the deep web? Is it both? You might find yourself conflating the two terms, with the assumption that both the dark web and the deep web are the same place for illegal and generally shady activities. But while the dark web is a part of the deep web, the deep web isn’t really the dark web.
What exactly is the dark web?
Let’s start with the type of internet you likely think of with the phrases “dark web” and “deep web.” You probably imagine an underground, secretive network of sites, where illegal activities are aplenty, passing drugs, contraband, and illicit media with reckless abandon. These sites surely exist, and they’re one part of what’s known as the “dark web.”
However, the dark web isn’t solely a playground for the perverse. While those sites take all the attention, the dark web isn’t actually defined by the contents of its sites (even if most of us define it as such). Instead, the dark web is simply a collection of private networks that can’t be accessed by traditional methods.
What is the “surface web”?
The internet as most of us know it is called the “surface web.” Essentially, it’s a collection of sites that are indexed by search engines. If it pops up in a Google search, it’s a part of the surface web. That’s not the case with the dark web. You can’t open Chrome, type “drugs, please” and expect to find these sites. In fact, you can’t use Chrome at all, nor any traditional web browser.
How to access the dark web
If you want to access the dark web, you need special tools to do so. (You can find out more on accessing the dark web here.) A specific browser, such as Tor, for example, is required to get started. Just as you use Chrome to access public internet sites like Facebook or Lifehacker, you use one of these browsers to access dark web pages.
It’s not only the browser that makes the dark web unique, however: Since you need special protocols to access these sites, that traffic is often private and anonymous. That’s what makes the dark web an attractive option for illegal activities — the site activity isn’t traced back to individual user accounts. Crypto, like Bitcoin, is the currency of the dark web, since it also protects your privacy during transactions.
That said, it isn’t all bad. While the most common use-cases for the dark web might be against the law, anyone with a reason to be anonymous can utilise the networks. Common examples of “good” on the dark web are whistleblowers who need a place to leak their information without having the governments and organisations responsible for that data knowing who they are.
So what exactly is the “deep web”?
The dark web is simply a subsection (a small one, at that) of the deep web. Also known as the “hidden” web, the deep web is the collection of sites that aren’t indexed by search engines. While that definition includes dark web pages, it also includes entirely innocuous sites as well. Most of these sites are hidden behind login pages, and can range from banking and email, to paywalled content like streaming. Sure, you’ll find Netflix via a Google search, but you won’t find the player for Better Call Saul, Season 1, Episode 5 unless you log into the site first.
It also consists of protocol pages, responsible for identifying user accounts when you log in to a site, running payments when you make a purchase, and other sites you never need to see. In short, it’s both the backbone of the internet, as well as a part of the internet you regularly see yourself. Deep web pages aren’t indexed, but they often have URLs that can be linked to directly, accessible from traditional web browsers like Chrome or Firefox.
In short, the deep web is not a scary place. The dark web can be, but not necessarily.