Last update: 06.21.2019

Well, you may throw your rock and hide your hand
Workin’ in the dark against your fellow man
But as sure as God made black and white
What’s down in the dark will be brought to the light

When it comes to the web, old folk songs might prove to be no longer true. In the case of the infamous dark web, finding the information alone might prove a daunting task even for law enforcement, not to mention accessing it.

As hard as it is, let’s try to bring at least some facts about the dark web to the light. It’s best to start by learning about the other two web content layers first.

The three web content layers

All web content can be roughly divided into the following three layers:

  • Surface web – indexed content that can be found using popular search engine tools. It takes up a minor part of the web.
  • Deep web – non-indexed content that can be found using specific search engines. It takes up 95% of the entire web.
  • Dark web – non-indexed and actively hidden content, often related to illegal activities. It takes up a minor part of the web. The only light you’ll find here is that of a Sea Devil.

We’ll discuss each layer in more detail, so put on your diving suit and follow us beyond the Google-friendly surface, where we’ll show you the differences between the deep and the dark.

Surface web

This is the minor part of the internet where you’ve been spending most of your days, browsing, torrenting, streaming, chatting, and gaming. All of its content is indexed so that everyone can find what they’re looking for with a search engine like Bing or Google. These search engines also act as filters, removing some results that violate copyright law or are deemed too obscene for your eyes.

To navigate this part of the WWW (World Wide Web), you’ll need a web browser. Chrome, Firefox, and Safari are among the most popular ones. These are free and generally safe to use apps that are readily available on all major platforms and multiple devices.

Contrary to the deep web, surface web is made of static pages that don’t depend on a database that can display dynamic results. This means that surface web pages are uploaded to a server and sit there waiting to be retrieved by you. If the site owner wants to make some changes, she uploads an updated HTML file of the page.

Deep web and dark web – understanding the difference

While the deep web seems fairly benign, the same can’t be said about the dark web. The two terms are often used interchangeably by commentators and the public, leading to confusion about where the dividing line between them lies.

Therefore, it helps to have a clear idea in mind about both. Because just like Siamese twins – the two are connected, but they aren’t the same.

Non-indexed vs hidden

While the deep web includes all data held on the internet that isn’t indexed by search engines, the dark web only includes information that has been intentionally hidden via sophisticated encryption tools. That doesn’t include corporate sites which erect barriers against search engines. These would fall under the deep web content category.

The deep web could include a wide range of content. Some streaming sites index their content in ways that Google can’t see, email services conceal users’ inboxes to provide security, and many companies, schools, or medical bodies bury data behind log-in portals.

The dark web includes a slightly different content. We can start with gambling websites, continue with some drugs (you’ve probably heard about the Silk Road), and abruptly finish our stay after stumbling upon an underage video archive.

Ease of access

While you only need to use a specific search engine, such as Archive.org, to access the deep web, seeing in the dark relies on using tools like Tor.

Some of the dark web search engines work only on the Tor browser, which means you should probably start by installing it first if this is gonna be your debut in the depths so black where even light itself refuses to fall.

Legality

The deep web isn’t anything illegal or particularly dangerous. It’s just a huge amount of data held on web-connected servers which hasn’t been indexed by major search engines. Unfortunately, that cannot be said about the dark web.

The unprecedented level of privacy delivered by the dark web has led to it becoming associated with activities that would be deemed illegal on the surface. Sites like the Silk Road became notorious for users dealing in drugs and other banned materials. The dark web is also used to dump personal details from site hacks, and as a repository for illegal images.

So if you happen to buy a gun on some unindexed website that has more numbers than letters in its domain, be prepared to explain where you got it in case a highway patrolman asks to open your glovebox.

What is the deep web used for?

The deep web is used for a variety of purposes. Here are some of the most popular ways it can help.

1. Create a barrier between a web page and search portals

This is popular in business settings. For example, if you’re looking for a hotel on a site like Booking.com, you’ll get all the available options. But if you try to Google a link to that page, you’ll be disappointed to learn that’s not possible.

In this way, companies can make sure that customers use their sales systems (or sales funnel) to find prices and make purchasing decisions. And they can also use cookies to deliver prices that suit their business model.

Another barrier type is a paywall where premium content is shown only to subscribers. But making money isn’t the only use of the deep web.

2. Protect confidential data

By protecting confidential data behind encryption and authentication systems, site owners can keep users’ data safe. That’s why there’s no way (or at least there should be no way) to google your bank account or medical records.

Essentially, it works the same way as the barrier we described above, the difference being its non-commercial nature.

3. Academic research

With a tool like Unpaywall, a researcher can access the JSTOR database, Archive.org, Library of Congress, and other resources that are a great aid in doing academic work on any subject. While not all resources will be available for free, accessing them from a library that subscribes a particular journal can still be possible.

The best VPN for deep web browsing

If you want to use the deep web to remain anonymous, bypass corporate filters, or set up private web sites, there are some things to remember about how to access the deep web safely.

  1. Protect your online identity at all stages. Even if a website isn’t accessible to Google, if your IP address leaks or your computer itself isn’t secured, your online activity can be vulnerable to outside snooping.
  2. Find the right VPN (Virtual Private Network) for deep web browsing. When choosing a VPN, go for options which keep zero logs, are based in privacy-friendly jurisdictions, use high-level encryption and modern protocols like OpenVPN or IKEv2, while delivering solid speeds. You might also want to choose a service which accepts anonymous payment options.
Flawless privacy practices, advanced security features, and reliable geo-unblocking capabilities make NordVPN the undisputed industry leader. Whatever your needs, this VPN has you covered – all starting from just $3.49/month.
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Embracing the dark web

The dark web is often regarded as a marketplace where you can find everything. By everything, we mean you can buy legal goods or involve yourself in getting something that’s not. Here people trade drugs, guns, gold, counterfeit items, hacking services… and other people.

That said, darknet is not all about selling and buying drugs. As a highly anonymous network, it can be used to communicate privately for journalists and politicians when hiding their identity or location is of utmost importance. When your office or phone can be easily tapped, darknet might prove to be the best option to have a private conversation.

Even if you’re not a janitor who’s overheard Trump bidding Alaska to Putin, the darknet can be used to communicate with whistleblowers as news sources. Also, there are multiple political discussion forums where you might find more exciting thoughts than in “anonymous” comments on Reddit or other platforms.

How to navigate the dark web safely

Now that you know there’s more to the dark web than revenge porn, let’s see what do you need to do to access some truly fun and useful sites, like the local chess club.

We must warn you that you’ll never be 100% safe on the dark web, so please be cautious even on completely legal sites. You never know when that local chess club will turn out to be a terrorist base for recruitment.

1. Use the Tor browser

Dark web vs deep web tor

Tor browser is probably your best way to start on the dark web. It’ll allow you to access hidden onion sites like that chess club link you’ve already tried opening on your Chrome. Just don’t expect to effortlessly find everything you want with some noir version of Google. Search results in the dark web are often irrelevant or outdated.

2. Pay with cryptocurrencies

Dark web vs deep web cryptocurrencies

In the dark web, some fraudsters use it as a platform to trade stolen credit card, debit card, and bank information. Such data is used to hack unsuspecting people and rob them of their money. So it makes perfect sense that using either a credit or debit card to pay on the dark web is risky business.

Instead, we recommend paying with cryptocurrencies that don’t require giving away your personal info to Boris the arms dealer from Serbia.

3. Protect yourself with a VPN

Dark web vs deep web vpn

A VPN is used to hide your true IP address, encrypt your entire connection, and unblock restricted internet content. Without a VPN, your ISP will know that you’re using Tor and snoopers from the darknet might track down your IP.

Therefore, we recommend getting a service that features Onion over VPN – this way, you will be able to use the full potential of both tools and ensure maximum safety.

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