What are the deep web and the dark web?

What are the deep web and the dark web?

The dark web is the hidden set of internet sites that can only be accessed using a specialized web browser. It is used to keep Internet activity private and anonymous, which can be useful for both legal and illegal purposes. While some use it to bypass government censorship, it has also been known to be used for highly illegal activities.

What are the dark web, the deep web, and the surface web?

The Internet is quite large, with millions of web pages, databases, and servers running 24 hours a day. However, the famous “visible” Internet (also known as the surface web or open web), the sites you can find with search engines like Google and Yahoo, is just the tip of the iceberg.

There are several terms for the hidden web, but it’s worth knowing the differences if you plan to surf off the beaten path.

The surface web or the open web

The open web or surface web is the “visible” surface layer. If we continue to visualize the entire web as an iceberg, the open web would be the top that is above the water. From a statistical point of view, this set of websites and data constitutes less than 5% of the total Internet.

Here are all the publicly available websites accessed through traditional browsers like Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, and Firefox. Websites are often identified by registry operators such as “.com” and “.org” and can be easily found by popular search engines.

Shallow websites can be found because search engines can index the web through visible links (a process called “crawling” because the search engine crawls the web like a spider).

What are the deep web and the dark web?

The deep web

The deep web lies below the surface and accounts for approximately 90% of all websites. This would be the part of an iceberg underwater, much larger than the surface web. In fact, this hidden web is so large that it is impossible to determine exactly how many pages or websites are active at any given time.

Continuing with the analogy, the big search engines could be thought of as fishing boats that can only “catch” websites close to the surface. Everything else, from academic journals to private databases and more illicit content, is off-limits. This deep web also includes the part that we know as the dark web.

While many media outlets use the “deep web” and the “dark web” interchangeably, much of the deep end as a whole is perfectly legal and safe. Some of the biggest parts of the deep web include:

  • Databases: protected private and public collections of files that are not connected to other areas of the web, so that the search can be performed only within the database itself.
  • Intranets: internal networks of companies, governments, and educational facilities used to communicate and control private aspects within their organizations.

In case you’re wondering how to access the deep web, you probably already use it on a daily basis. The term “deep web” refers to all web pages that search engines cannot identify. Deep websites may hide behind passwords or other security walls, while others simply tell search engines not to “crawl” them. Without visible links, these pages are hidden for various reasons.

On the larger deep web, your “hidden” content is generally cleaner and safer. Everything from blog posts under review and pending web page redesigns, to the pages you go to when you do an online banking transaction, is part of the deep web. Furthermore, they do not pose any threat to your computer or security in general. Most of these pages are kept hidden from the open web to protect user information and privacy, such as:

  • Financial accounts such as banking and retirement
  • Email and social messaging accounts
  • Private company databases
  • HIPPA-sensitive information such as medical documentation
  • legal files

Delving further into the deep web brings a little more danger to light. For some users, parts of the deep web offer an opportunity to bypass local restrictions and access TV or movie services that may not be available in their local areas. Others go a little deeper to illegally download music or steal movies that aren’t in theaters yet.

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On the dark end of the web, you’ll find the most dangerous content and activity. Tor websites are at this end of the deep web, which is considered the “dark web” and are only accessible with an anonymous browser.

Security on the deep web is more relevant to the average internet user than security on the dark web, as you could end up in dangerous areas by accident: many parts of the deep web are accessible with regular internet browsers. This is how users can navigate enough bypasses and end up on a hacking site, a politically radical forum, or viewing disturbingly violent content.

The dark web

The dark web refers to sites that are not indexed and can only be accessed through specialized web browsers. Significantly smaller than the tiny surface web, the dark web is considered part of the deep web. Using our ocean and an iceberg as a reference, the dark web would be the bottom tip of the submerged iceberg.

The dark web, however, is a very hidden part of the deep web that few will interact with or even see. In other words, the deep web covers everything below the surface and is accessible with the right software, including the dark web.

Analysis of the construction of the dark web reveals some key layers that make it an anonymous haven:

  • There is no indexing of web pages by search engines from the surface web. Google and other popular search tools cannot discover or display results from pages within the dark web.
  • “Virtual traffic tunnels” through a random network infrastructure.
  • Inaccessible to traditional browsers thanks to its unique registry operator. Furthermore, it is hidden by various network security measures such as firewalls and encryption.

The dark web’s reputation has often been linked to criminal intent or illegal content, and “merchant” sites where users can purchase illicit goods or services. However, legal parties have also made use of this platform.

When it comes to dark web security, the dangers of the deep web are very different from the dangers of the dark web. Illegal cyber activity does not have to be easy to find, but it tends to be much more extreme and threatening if it is sought. Before revealing the threats of the dark web, let’s explore how and why users access these sites.

How to access the dark web

This website was once a hotspot between hackers, security forces, and criminals. However, with new technologies such as browser-based encryption and anonymity software such as Tor, anyone can now venture into the dark web if they wish.

The Tor web browser (“The Onion Routing” project) provides users with access to visit websites with the “.onion” registry operator. This browser is a service originally developed in the late 1990s by the United States Naval Research Laboratory.

Realizing that the nature of the Internet meant a lack of privacy, an early version of Tor was created to hide communications from spies. Over time, the platform was redefined and has since gone public in the form of the browser we know today. Anyone can download it for free.

Think of Tor as a web browser similar to Google Chrome or Firefox. Notably, instead of taking the most direct path between your computer and the deep parts of the web, Tor Browser uses a random path of encrypted servers known as “nodes.” This allows users to connect to the deep web without fear of their actions being tracked or their browsing history being exposed.

Sites on the deep web also use Tor (or similar software such as I2P, the “Invisible Internet Project”) to remain anonymous, meaning you can’t find out who runs them or where they’re hosted.

Is it illegal to enter the dark web?

Simply put, it is not illegal to access the dark web. In fact, some uses are perfectly legal and support the value of the “dark web”. On the dark web, users can look for three clear benefits of using it:

  • User anonymity
  • Virtually untraceable services and sites
  • Ability to take illegal actions for both users and providers

In this way, the dark web has attracted many parties who would otherwise be at risk by revealing their identities online. Victims of abuse and persecution, informants, and political dissidents have been frequent users of these hidden sites. But, of course, those benefits can easily be extended to those who wish to act outside the limitations of the laws in other explicitly illegal ways.

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When viewed through this lens, the legality of the dark web rests on how you as a user engage with it. You can fall on the edge of legal lines for many reasons that are important to the protection of liberty. Others may act illegally for the protection and safety of others. We will explain both concepts in terms of “dark web browser” and the websites themselves.

Is it illegal to use Tor?

As far as software is concerned, the use of Tor and other anonymous browsers is not strictly illegal. In fact, these so-called “dark web” browsers are not linked exclusively to this part of the Internet. Many users now take advantage of Tor to navigate both the public Internet and the deeper parts of the web privately.

The privacy offered by Tor Browser is important in today’s digital age. Currently, both companies and governing bodies are involved in the unauthorized surveillance of online activity. Some simply don’t want government agencies or even Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to know what they’re seeing online, while others have little choice. Users from countries with strict access and user laws are often prevented from even accessing public sites unless they use Tor clients and virtual private networks (VPNs).

However, you can still perform illegal actions within Tor that could incriminate you regardless of the legality of the browser. You could easily use Tor in an attempt to hack copyrighted content from the deep web, share illegal pornography, or engage in cyberterrorism. Using a legal browser will not make your actions on the right side of the law.

Is it illegal to use and visit dark websites?

On the network end, the dark web is a bit more of a gray area. Using the dark web often means you’re trying to do something you couldn’t otherwise do in public view.

Government critics and other outspoken supporters may fear a backlash if their true identities are discovered. Those who have suffered harm at the hands of others, may not want their attackers to discover their conversations about the event. If an activity is deemed illegal by the governing bodies to which it belongs, then it would be illegal.

That being said, there is a dark aspect to anonymity, as cybercriminals and malicious hackers also prefer to operate in the shadows. For example, cyberattacks and trafficking are activities for which participants know they will be incriminated. They take these actions to the dark web to hide for this reason.

Ultimately, simply browsing these spaces is not illegal, but it may be a problem for you. Although not entirely illegal, nasty activity lives on in many parts of the dark web. It can expose you to unnecessary risks if you are not careful or an advanced user, or computer expert, aware of its threats. So what is the dark web used for when it is used for illegal activities?


Types of Threats on the dark web

If you are considering using the dark web for basic privacy purposes, you may be wondering: “Is using the dark web dangerous?” Unfortunately, it can be a very dangerous place to be. Below are some common threats that you may face during your browsing experiences:


Malicious software, i.e. malware, is fully active all over the dark web. It is often offered on some portals to give threat actors the tools for cyberattacks. However, it also persists throughout the dark web to infect unsuspecting users just like it does the rest of the web.

The dark web doesn’t have as many social contracts as website providers follow to protect users from the rest of the web. Thus, users can be regularly exposed to some types of malware such as:

  • Keyloggers
  • botnet malware
  • Ransomware
  • phishing malware

If you decide to continue exploring any site on the dark web, you put yourself at risk of being targeted and targeted by hackers and more. Endpoint security programs can detect most malware infections.

What are the deep web and the dark web?

Online browsing threats can spread to the offline world if your computer or network connection can be exploited. Anonymity is powerful with Tor and the dark web platform, but it’s not foolproof. Any activity online can leave traces back to your identity if someone does enough digging.

government oversight

With many Tor-based sites being investigated by law enforcement authorities around the world, there is a clear danger of becoming a government target simply by visiting a dark website.

Illegal drug markets like the Silk Road have been hijacked for police surveillance in the past. Using custom software to infiltrate and analyze activity has allowed officials to discover the identities of users, both visitors and passers-by. Even if you never make a purchase, you may be watched and framed for other activities later in life.

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Infiltrations can put you at risk of being monitored for other types of activities as well. Evading government restrictions to explore new political ideologies can be a prison offense in some countries. China uses what is known as the “Great Firewall” which limits access to popular sites for this very reason. The risk of being a visitor to this content could lead to being placed on a watch list or being immediately considered for a jail sentence.


Some so-called services, such as professional “hitmen,” may be scams designed to take advantage of willing customers. Reports have suggested that the dark web offers many illegal services, from paid assassinations to sex and weapons trafficking.

Some of these are known and established threats circulating in this corner of the web. However, others may be taking advantage of the dark web’s reputation to trick users out of large sums of money. Additionally, some dark web users may attempt phishing scams to steal your identity or personal information for extortion purposes.

End-user protection against dark web exploitation

Whether you’re a business, a parent, or any other web user, you’ll want to take precautions to keep your information and private life off the dark web.

Identity theft control is critical if you want to prevent your private information from being misused. All types of personal data can be distributed online for profit. Passwords, physical addresses, bank account numbers, and social security numbers circulate on the dark web all the time. You may already be aware that malicious actors can use them to damage your credit, engage in financial theft, and breach other of your online accounts. Personal data leaks can also damage your reputation through social fraud.

Anti-malware and anti-virus protections are equally crucial to prevent malicious actors from taking advantage of you. The dark web is full of information theft from malware-infected users. Attackers can use tools like keyloggers to gather your data, and they can infiltrate your system anywhere on the web. Endpoint security programs like Kaspersky Security Cloud are comprehensive in covering both identity monitoring and antivirus defenses.

How to access the dark web safely

If you have a legitimate or viable need to access the dark web, you’ll want to make sure you’re safe if you decide to use it.

7 Tips for Safe Access to the Dark Web

  1. Trust your intuition. To avoid getting scammed, you’ll want to protect yourself with smart behavior on the web. Not all are what they seem. Staying safe requires that you watch who you talk to and what sites you visit. You should always take steps to walk away from a situation if something doesn’t feel right.
  2. Separate your online image from real life. Your username, email address, “real name”, password, and even your credit card should not be used anywhere else in your life. Create new accounts and disposable identifiers for yourself if necessary. Purchase non-identifiable prepaid debit cards before making any purchases. Don’t wear anything that can be used to identify you, either online or in real life.
  3. Use active monitoring of financial and identity theft. Many online security services now offer identity protection for your safety. Be sure to take advantage of these tools if they are made available to you.
  4. Explicitly prevent file downloads from the dark web. The fear of malware infection is significantly higher in the lawless territory of the dark web. Real-time file scanning from an antivirus program can help you check incoming files should you choose to download them.
  5. Disable ActiveX and Java in any available network settings. These platforms are notorious for being investigated and exploited by malicious parties. Since you are browsing a network full of such threats, you will want to avoid this risk.
  6. It uses a local non-administrator user secondary account for all day-to-day activities. The native account on most computers will have full administrative permissions by default. Most malware must take advantage of this to execute its functions. In this way, you can slow or stop the progress of the exploitation by limiting the account in use to strict privileges.
  7. Always restrict access to your Tor-enabled device. Protect your children or other family members from running the risk of coming across something that no one should ever see. Visit the deep web if you’re interested, but don’t let the kids near it.


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