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Deep Web vs. Dark Web: What's the Difference?

by Chris Brook on Tuesday October 17, 2023

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While the dark web and the deep web may be used interchangeably, they're not one in the same. Today's blog post digs into differences between them, which is larger, and more.

Understanding the deep web vs. dark web is of the utmost importance for IT admins, especially if you’re looking to grasp the potential benefits and risks associated with either of these integral portions of the internet.

Differentiating between the deep web and dark web allows you to better understand the challenges involved in preventing hacking attempts and complications arising from the need for data privacy online.

The deep web is largely used to protect personal information, safeguard databases and access certain services, whereas the dark web is often used to engage in illegal activities. It is also used for military/police investigations, political protests and anonymous internet browsing.

In this article:

  • The Deep Web vs. the Dark Web
  • The Deep Web
  • The Dark Web
  • Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

a desk with a laptop, desk lamp, mouse, and cell phone  

Photo by Bich Tran via Pexels

The Deep Web vs. the Dark Web

The deep web refers to hidden web pages that are not indexed by search engines. This lack of indexing is intentional on the part of many service providers, as it helps to protect private information.

The dark web is a guarded subspace within the deep web, hosting encrypted websites that are accessible only via specific browsers. This portion of the web is commonly associated with illegal activities - see above - such as arms and drug trafficking, scams, and espionage.

There are significant threats associated with illegal activities on the dark web, especially when it comes to implicating users and exposing their information. Consequently, accessing the dark web raises safety concerns and requires significant caution.

a keyboard with orange lighting underneath

Photo by Fandy Much via Pexels

However, the dark web is also used by individuals seeking online privacy or to bypass censorship in their home countries. Specialized browsers like Tor enable anonymous access to this part of the web.

We'll cover both the deep web and the dark web in greater detail below to help you understand what makes them such important facets of the modern internet.

The Deep Web

The deep web is essentially the unindexed portion of the web that search engines cannot access.

This part of the web contains everything from password-protected sites and data not accessible via public web pages to private intranets, academic content, and more. It makes up about 99% of the entire web and is largely inaccessible to normal users.

Here is a simple rundown of the deep web's individual parts:

  • Password-protected sites (like email accounts and some social media platforms)
  • Unindexed web databases and resources
  • Servers storing data inaccessible via public web pages
  • Data broker repositories for marketing purposes
  • Company intranets and governmental websites
  • Academic content handled by universities

For more information about the deep web, check out the following video:

The Dark Web

The dark web is actually considered to be a small part of the deep web. It can only be accessed through special networks like Tor or via static IPs shared privately.

As a rule, this side of the internet hides content, identities, and locations from third parties that are common throughout the 'surface web' (mainstream, public websites). In Tor's case, this is facilitated by routing encrypted traffic through layers of relays around the world.

While the dark web offers anonymity and access to websites that are not inherently illegal in nature, it also hosts illicit sites for restricted materials and enables censorship-resistant browsing.

Parts of the dark web include:

  • Tor network and .onion suffix sites
  • Darknets like Freenet and I2P
  • Exit nodes connecting darknets to the regular internet
  • Illicit drug and material marketplaces

a glowing laptop opening

Photo by Federico Orlandi via Pexels

Both the deep web and the dark web share recognizable traits with other portions of the web, but they are used for completely different purposes. Knowing how these parts of the web mix with the more common spaces can help develop secure web-native applications and more.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Which is bigger: the deep web or dark web?

The deep web is significantly larger in size than the dark web. In 2001, the deep web was estimated to be 400-550 times larger than even the 'surface web' and its expansion has continued exponentially.

On the other hand, the dark web is relatively small, consisting of only a few thousand sites.

Is it okay to look at the dark web?

It's important to be careful when browsing the dark web; it can pose a risk as it serves as a popular hub for hackers and cybercriminals. It is crucial to exercise extreme caution when accessing the dark web.

Downloading files from this environment can potentially expose your devices to a variety of threats and malicious content.

What is Silk Road dark web?

Silk Road was a pioneering darknet market, established in 2011 by its founder Ross Ulbricht who was known as 'Dread Pirate Roberts' in online circles. Managed entirely on Ulbricht's personal laptop, this online black market facilitated a slew of illicit transactions until it was shut down by the FBI.
 

Tags:  Cybercrime

Chris Brook

Chris Brook

Chris Brook is the editor of Digital Guardian’s Data Insider blog. He is a cybersecurity writer with nearly 15 years of experience reporting and writing about information security, attending infosec conferences like Black Hat and RSA, and interviewing hackers and security researchers. Prior to joining Digital Guardian–acquired by Fortra in 2021–he helped launch Threatpost, an independent news site that was a leading source of information about IT and business security for hundreds of thousands of professionals worldwide.

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