Open web/Surface web
is the “visible” surface layer. If we continue to visualize the entire web like an iceberg, the open web would be the top portion that’s above the water. From a statistical standpoint, this collective of websites and data makes up under 5% of the total internet.
All commonly public-facing websites accessed via traditional browsers like Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, and Firefox are contained here. Websites are usually labeled with registry operators like “.com” and “.org” and can be easily located with popular search engines.
Locating surface web websites is possible because search engines can index the web via visible links (a process called “crawling” due to the search engine traveling the web like a spider).
All online content not indexed by traditional search engines, which includes legal and non-secretive information.
The deep web refers to all the web content that is not indexed by traditional search engines like Google, Bing, or Yahoo. This includes content that is behind paywalls, password-protected websites, private databases, personal email accounts, and other online resources that are not accessible through a standard web search. The deep web is not inherently illegal or secretive; it simply consists of information that is not publicly visible to search engines.
If you can’t find it on Google (search engines never point directly to your email inbox) but can access it by knowing a link and a password, it’s on the deep web. The deep web sites can be:
- Private social media profiles;
- The inside of your bank account;
- Email inboxes;
- Confidential corporate web pages;
- Internal company and school systems;
The dark web is the World Wide Web content that exists on darknets: overlay networks that use the Internet but require specific software, configurations, or authorization to access.
A subset of the deep web that is intentionally hidden and accessible through specialized software, often associated with both legal and illegal activities.
Using Tor(the onion router) browser or visiting the Dark Web are not unlawful in themselves. It is of course illegal to carry out illegal acts anonymously, such as accessing child abuse images, promoting terrorism, or selling illegal items such as weapons.
An example that you have likely heard of is the Tor Network (The Onion Router). Others, like the Invisible Internet Project (I2P), exist, but Tor is the most famous darknet in the world. It hosts .onion websites that require having the Tor Browser to access. That’s right, not only is the dark web not accessible via search engines, it’s not even enough to have a link and password — you need a special browser to access it.
All this secrecy is important because the dark web contains:
- Crime. Dark web marketplaces — like Silk Road — for guns, drugs, and whatever other stuff a bored cop doing an entrapment is willing to come up with are probably the most well-known feature of this network;
- Copyrighted books. Tor and such don’t have the speed to run pirated game and movie sharing, but it’s still enough for sharing scanned books outside of the reach of DMCA-armed publishers;
- Drop sites for whistleblowers. Whistleblowing is dangerous even when there’s no law against it, and dropping some incriminating evidence of corporate wrongdoings is something best done as securely as possible;
- Dark web versions of mainstream news sites. This is one way to get the news very securely. Very important in oppressive states since they’d have a hard time blocking access to it (though ISPs — Internet Service Providers — can detect Tor usage);
- Dark web forums. Of course, the nature of the medium means that subjects might quickly turn criminal. While some spaces act close to your regular forums, you don’t go through all the trouble of accessing the dark web to complain about the newest Pokemon release;
- Weird blogs. Maybe you’re just someone who has a dark web blog for novelty reasons, or maybe there’s a deeper reason for it. For example, tech enthusiasts made blogs dedicated to questionably-legal things like exploring university maintenance tunnels, an idea so cool it made it onto our list of 10 Tor websites to experience;
- Dark web search engines. They exist, but due to the nature of the places (websites go down constantly), they are not even close to approaching the usability of, say, Bing.
Dark Web scanner
Cybersecurity service providers have a more precise definition of the Dark Web. Some sites and forums on the Dark Web are used by hackers to buy, sell, and share data stolen from businesses – specifically, login credentials, online identity data, such as social security numbers, and financial account information, such as credit card numbers. Not all of these sites are configured on the Dark Web. Some are Clear Web sites and some are Deep Web sites.