What’s the surface web?

We rely heavily on the surface web every day, yet it’s only a tiny part of the wider internet

Thursday, 18 April, 2024

When we look out at an ocean, it’s tempting to assume we can see it in its entirety, even though we’re only glimpsing the surface.

Below those rippling waves and reflections lies a deep body of water, including a section shrouded in near-permanent darkness beyond the reach of light.

This is a perfect analogy for the internet.

We’ve previously explained how the Deep Web hosts content which isn’t meant to be viewed by search engines – databases, unpublished content, secure portals and archive material.

Below it lies the Dark Web – a perilous place full of dubious content, but also a vital resource of content you simply won’t find anywhere else.

Yet the Deep Web isn’t meant to be found, while the Dark Web isn’t meant to be found by the faint-hearted, which is why it’s accessible exclusively via the Tor browser.

So what’s left?

All surface no feeling

Without the Deep Web, the surface web as we know it wouldn’t exist.

That’s because the websites we visit using the World Wide Web (the www prefix in most website URLs) and search engines https://broadbanddeals.co.uk/guides/search-engine-alternatives-to-google/ need those databases, unpublished content, secure portals…

The surface web is the visible portion of any website accessible by typing its address into your browser’s address bar, or clicking a link.

Every link takes you to a different corner of the surface web, with many of these webpages interconnecting.

A page with lots of inbound links (links on other pages directing people to it) shows the search engines that it’s a useful or valuable resource, elevating its ranking in future search results.

That’s important, since the surface web is rather crowded.

Netcraft data from February 2024 suggests there are almost 1.1 billion websites across the World Wide Web, though less than 18 per cent of these are currently active.

An inactive website is one whose content hasn’t been updated in the preceding six months, which underscores the importance of regular updates in terms of maintaining visibility and relevance.

Even inactive sites may still be useful repositories of information, though obviously their value and accuracy dwindles with every new fact/story/claim/event which isn’t added in.

Is the surface web safe?

The risks of the Dark Web have been well documented, but it’s worth remembering that the surface web can also be a perilous place.

Between drive-by download malware, phishing emails, online extortion and payment fraud, there are innumerable threats online.

It’s also important to remember that many top-level domains are inherently untrustworthy.

The likes of .surf, .gq and .ru should be approached with great caution, since they could be embedded with malware, spyware, ransomware or other hostile program code.

The best advice for staying safe on the surface web is to retain a healthy scepticism.

Avoid clicking links in unsolicited emails; never attempt to stream illegal content; approach any requests for financial data as suspect; don’t assume an email sender’s name is genuine.

It’s also vital to use antivirus software on PCs and Macs, though it’s rarely needed on smartphones providing they haven’t been jailbroken.

Websites listed in search results are generally safe to visit, as are those linked to from domestic media outlets – if not social media accounts, which can be cloned or inauthentic.

The internet has become inescapable and unavoidable in day-to-day life. Yet it requires care and diligence to navigate it.

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!