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Surface web vs deep web vs dark web

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Spiderman villain connotations aside, there has been considerable confusion about what these terms really mean and when we are actually accessing them. The media can be largely blamed with blurring the lines between the three, using ‘surface’, ‘deep’ and ‘dark’ to describe the World Wide Web interchangeably in their news articles.

It is best to imagine the Web as an entire ocean: the surface web is the top of the ocean which appears to spread for miles around, and is the easiest part of the ocean to see or "access"; the deep web is the deeper part of the ocean beneath the surface; the dark web is the bottom of the ocean, a place accessible only by using special technologies.

Skimming the Surface

The Surface Web has been part of the World Wide Web since the first browser was first invented in 1990 by Tim Berner-Lee and is the part of the web you will be most familiar with, as it anything that can be discovered through your internet browser using any of the main search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo etc.). This is what you use when you read the news, buy something on Amazon, or visit any of your usual daily websites, and is also the area of the web that is under constant surveillance by governments across the world.

Making up under 5 percent of the total World Wide Web content that is known to exist is a figure that is already miniscule, but estimates suggest that the Deep Web could be anywhere from 500 to 5000 times larger. In perspective, there are roughly twenty terabytes (TB) of data and roughly one billion documents on the surface web compared to 7,500 terabytes (TB) of discovered data and almost 600 billion discovered documents on the deep web.

Time to dive deeper

The Deep Web was also part of the web at its conception, and in basic terms it is the opposite of the surface as it anything that search engines cannot find. This is the key difference between the two in real data terms; sites on the surface internet are indexed for search engines to find, but the deep web is not indexed. However both are also accessible by the public, they just require different methods to access them - usually a specific password encrypted browser or a set of log in details.

Despite containing the Dark Web, it isn't actually so bad and without it we wouldn't be able to use the internet as we do today: the Deep Web contains all of our medical records, financial records, social media files, and plenty other important information we want and need to keep secure. It is this need to keep secure files that gave rise to the need to keep a portion of the web secured away from being "Googled" at the whim of anybody at any time.

A good example is when you have to either generate a pin number or have memorable information to enter to access your bank accounts online. This information is stored on the Deep Web and you have to use your details to allow you special access, but as you can see you can (and do) still have relative access to the Deep Web, and it isn't the entirely illicit, dangerous part of the web it is often confused with.

Exploring the Darkness

The Dark Web IS part of the Deep Web, but it has one major difference in that it has been intentionally hidden and is inaccessible to normal web browsers. The technology to create the Dark Web was initially created (and still funded) by US Military Researchers in the mid-1990s to allow spies and intelligence agencies to anonymously send and receive messages. Named "The Onion Router", it was quickly coined with the shorter "Tor" with its name coming from application layer encryption within a communication protocol stack; many layers representing the layers of an onion.

If the US Military built it, why is it accessible to anyone with the right tools? The strategy was to release Tor into the public domain with simple logic; you can't hide messages if there is nothing to hide them behind therefore if more people had access to send anonymous messages, the harder it would be for counter-intelligence to discover their messages.

Another perceived benefit was to help people in nations where they are seen to be oppressed, with impossible freedom of speech laws, to allow them to voice themselves freely where they cannot be tracked and punished. A good idea in theory however it has primarily been filled with crime and the ability to find these criminals is extremely difficult - the whole point of the original Tor project was to be impossible to find.

The easy view


Surface Web

-Indexed for Search Engines
-Little illegal activity
-Relatively small in size

Deep Web

-Accessible by password, encryption, or through gateway software
-Not indexed for Search Engines
-Little illegal activity outside of Dark Web
-Huge in size and growing exponentially

Dark Web

-Restricted to special browsers
-Not indexed for Search Engines
-Large scale illegal activity
-Unmeasurable due to nature

Take home?

You will most likely never come across the Dark Web, but always remember to keep your details safe and your antivirus software up to date when browsing the web, and always be careful when following links that don't look safe!
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