What is the Dark Web and Deep Web?

Dark Web and Deep Web
Dark Web and Deep Web

The Dark Web is a term that refers specifically to a collection of websites that are publicly visible, but hide the IP addresses of the servers that run them. Thus they can be visited by any web user, but it is very difficult to work out who is behind the sites. And you cannot
find these sites using search engines.

Almost all sites on the so-called Dark Web hide their identity using the Tor encryption tool. You may know Tor for its end-user-hiding properties. You can use Tor to hide your identity, and spoof your location. When a website is run through Tor it has much the same effect.

Indeed, it multiplies the effect. To visit a site on the Dark Web that is using Tor encryption, the web user needs to be using Tor. Just as the end user’s IP is bounced through several layers of encryption to
appear to be at another IP address on the Tor network, so is that of the
website. So there are several layers of magnitude more secrecy than the
already secret act of using Tor to visit a website on the open internet
– for both parties.

Not all Dark Web sites use Tor. Some use similar services such as I2P
– indeed the all new Silk Road Reloaded uses this service. But the
principle remains the same. The visitor has to use the same encryption
tool as the site and – crucially – know where to find the site, in order
to type in the URL and visit.

Infamous examples of Dark Web sites include the Silk Road and its
offspring. The Silk Road was (and maybe still is) a website for the
buying and selling of recreational drugs. But there are legitimate uses
for the Dark Web. People operating within closed, totalitarian societies
can use the Dark Web to communicate with the outside world. And given
recent revelations about US- and UK government snooping on web use.

Dark Web or Deep Web? (Or Deepnet, Invisible Web, or Hidden Web?)

Although all of these terms tend to be used interchangeably, they
don’t refer to exactly the same thing. An element of nuance is required.
The ‘Deep Web’ refers to all web pages that search engines cannot find.
Thus the ‘Deep Web’ includes the ‘Dark Web’, but also includes all user
databases, webmail pages, registration-required web forums, and pages
behind paywalls. There are huge numbers of such pages, and most exist
for mundane reasons.

We have a staging version of all of our websites that is blocked from
being indexed by search engines, so we can check stories before we set
them live. Thus for every page publicly available on this website (and
there are literally millions), there is another on the Deep Web. The
content management system into which I am typing this article is on the
Deep Web. So that is another page for every page that is on the live
site. Meanwhile our work intranet is hidden from search engines, and
requires a password. It has been live for nearly 20 years, so there are
plenty of pages there.
Use an online bank account? The password-protected bits are on the
Deep Web. And when you consider how many pages just one Gmail account
will create, you understand the sheer size of the Deep Web.

This scale is why newspapers and mainstream news outlets regularly
trott out scare stories about ’90 percent of the internet’ consisting of
the Dark Web. They are confusing the generally dodgy Dark Web with the
much bigger and generally more benign Deep Web. Mixung up the act of
delibarately hiding things, with that of necessarily keeping pages away
from search engines for  reasons of security or user experience. 

Wait, what about the ‘Dark Internet’?

Confusingly, ‘Dark Internet’ is also a term sometimes used to
describe further examples of networks, databases or even websites that
cannot be reached over the internet. In this case either for technical
reasons, or because the properties contain niche information that few
people will want, or in some cases because the data is private.

A basic rule of thumb is that the phrases ‘Dark Web’ or ‘Deep Web’
are typically used by tabloid newspapers to refer to dangerous secret
online worlds, the ‘Dark Internet’ is a boring place where scientists
store raw data for research. The Deep Web is a catch-all term for all
web pages that are not indexed for search, the others refer to specific

How to access the Dark Web

Technically, this is not a difficult process. You simply need to
install and use Tor. Go to www.torproject.org and download the Tor
Browser Bundle, which contains all the required tools. Run the
downloaded file, choose an extraction location, then open the folder and
click Start Tor Browser. That’s it. The Vidalia Control Panel will
automatically handle the randomised network setup and, when Tor is
ready, the browser will open; just close it again to disconnect from the

Depending on what you intend to do on the Dark Web, some users
recommend placing tape over your laptop’s webcam to prevent prying eyes
watching you. A tinfoil hat is also an option.
The difficult thing is knowing where to look. There, reader, we leave
you to your own devices and wish you good luck and safe surfing. And a
warning before you go any further. Once you get into the Dark Web, you
*will* be able to access those sites to which the tabloids refer. This
means that you could be a click away from sites selling drugs and guns,
and – frankly – even worse things.

Aggregation sites such as Reddit offer lists of links, as do several Wikis, including http://thehiddenwiki.org/ 
– a list that offers access to some very bad places. Have a quick look
by all means, but please don’t take our linking to it as an endorsement.
Also, Dark Web sites do go down from time to time, due to their dark
nature. But if you want good customer service, stay out of the dark!

And do heed our warning: this article is intended as a guide to what
is the Dark Web – not an endorsement or encouragement for you to start
behaving in illegal or immoral behavior.

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