The deep and the dark web have been in the news a lot lately. There are reports that terrorists and criminals are using the dark web for all sorts of nefarious purposes. It sounds scary and mysterious, but in reality, the concepts are easy to understand and there are some real benefits to both the deep and the dark web.
First, let me describe the surface or open web. The surface web is made up of all the sites you can access using a search engine (i.e. Google, Bing, etc.). In order for a search engine to ingest a website and make it available to its users, it must be able to find the site without using a password or a website’s search capability. It is estimated that search engines can only get to 5 percent of the information on the internet. This invokes the image of an iceberg with only a small fraction visible on the surface. What you cannot see is the larger part under the water and in the case of the internet, this is called the deep web.
The deep web contains all the web sites and data that cannot be reached by search engines. This includes intranets, password protected sites, and data on sites that require site-specific search engines. For example, when you go to your favorite airline to find a flight, the airline web page is on the surface web. When you put in the flight parameters, a search of the website’s data is completed and a webpage is returned. This webpage is not available to the surface web search engines. This data is part of the deep web. When you set your security parameters on social media sites so that only your friends can see your posts, these posts are restricted and not searchable by surface web search engines, so they are part of the deep web. There isn’t any mystery here and in general, the deep web is just a normal part of the internet. Most of us spend a lot of time on the deep web without ever realizing there is a difference between the surface web and the places we are visiting. There isn’t anything disreputable here at all, but now we will turn to the dark web.
The dark web cannot be accessed by your normal internet browser (i.e. Chrome, Firefox, Explorer etc.). You need to download a different browser. The most popular is called Tor. These browsers hide your real IP address giving you anonymity. They also encrypt every transaction, so that the transactions cannot be traced by outside entities. The sites also have their IP addresses hidden, so you do not know who they are or where they are. This anonymity is what has led to the association of the dark web with criminal activity and there is a lot of truth in this. The flip side is that this anonymity allows the citizens of totalitarian regimes to freely communicate with the outside world, because their governments are unable to track who they are and take retribution. I have a good friend who uses Tor to communicate with her college friends in some of these countries. Using the dark web enables them to communicate, unmonitored, with the free world. As with most technologies, the dark web is one that can be used for both good and evil.
Just a final warning, if you want to try out the dark web, do some serious research before you load a browser on your computer. It’s important that you know how to maintain your anonymity and there are reports that there are a lot of viruses on those sites. It’s the wild, wild west and you don’t want to leave civilization unprepared.