When we use Google and Bing, or enter a web address starting in WWW, we are only exploring a tiny fraction of the internet.
Like the surface of an ocean, there’s a huge amount of material hidden away in the depths.
And while much of this is harmless, or intriguing, a great deal of it isn’t fit for public consumption.
The Deep Web
The Deep Web is the term for any internet content which can’t be indexed by search engines.
It’s generally material that wouldn’t make much sense viewed in isolation, or which isn’t meant to be seen by anyone other than a specific individual.
Common examples of deep web content include:
- Secure portals, like the dedicated browser windows that open after logging into online banking websites
- Firewalled content, which is only visible once someone supplies login credentials. (If it was on the surface web, a simple Google search would display these contents in full)
- Draft pages, such as blog posts saved onto a WordPress server but not yet published
- Ecommerce product databases, which wouldn’t make sense viewed in their raw formats
- Archive material – the Wayback Machine stores historic screen grabs of websites, but its 335 billion stored pages would be far too much for Google to index.
The Dark Web
Like the Deep Web, this portion of the internet is designed not to show up in search engine results, because it contains material its creators don’t want the general public to see.
That’s where the similarities end, however.
Dark Web content is often illegal or obscene, according to the laws in its creator’s home country – though laws do vary widely around the world.
Content is generally hosted on webpages featuring .onion suffixes.
These are chiefly viewed on the anonymous Tor Browser – an increasingly popular web browser part-funded by the American Government, and favoured by security conscious users.
Tor is capable of finding .onion sites, whose addresses are generally published on message boards rather than being indexed by search engines.
Having said that, Tor’s in-built DuckDuckGo browser sometimes displays .onion results.
What lies beneath
Dark Web content includes websites where people can hire the services of a hitman, buy illegal narcotics and firearms, or watch violent and abusive pornography.
Some of these sites are police or security service honey traps, while many others are fraudulent platforms intended to fleece unwary punters.
Fraud is facilitated by reliance on Bitcoin – an untraceable cryptocurrency favoured by career criminals, and treated as a stock market commodity more than as a conventional currency.
Of course, some Dark Web content justifies its existence.
Its anonymity often benefits society as a whole, protecting users from the prying eyes of repressive regimes or corporate interference.
Political dissidents, investigative journalists, whistle-blowers and pro-democracy campaigners are all regular inhabitants of this mysterious realm.
Even so, venturing into the Dark Web offers few guarantees – but plenty of risks.