Come with me now on an expedition deep, deep, deep into murky depths of the … well, the internet. So far as we can see, the internet is immeasurably vast and seemingly endless. But did you know that there is an even more incomprehensively immense portion of the internet that you and I will never, ever see?
Let’s use a fishing analogy. If you trawl the ocean with a net, you’re going to catch only the fish that are relatively near the surface; yet you know that, deep beneath you, there are many, many more fish. You just won’t see them. The same is true when you’re trawling the internet using a search engine such as Google. The results you get come from what is known as the “Surface Web,” or simply, the “Web.” The information that is NOT returned on your search, but most certainly exists, is referred to as the “Deep Web.” And in some cases, it’s the “Dark Web,” where the most illicit or illegal activity is intentionally hidden from the general public.
Due to the nature of the Deep Web, no one knows exactly how much data exists there, but experts say that the Surface Web comprises about 4.37 billion web pages, which represents only about .03% of all the data on the internet, roughly 0.00237 ZB (zettabytes) of data. The Deep Web, then, makes up the other 99.97% of the internet’s data, an astounding 7.89 ZB. Let that sink in for a moment.
The terms “Deep Web” and “Dark Web” (or “Darknet”) are sometimes used interchangeably, but that’s not really proper usage, so let’s address the difference. Anything that is not returned by a search engine would be considered part of the Deep Web. This may include, for instance, personal medical records that you access by logging in to a patient portal. Another small portion of the Deep Web are private networks intended to hide traffic and activities from the general public; this would be considered the Dark Web, and it’s where you would find the majority of illegal or illicit activities on the internet (child porn, drug and gun rings, for example). Another differentiator: Deep Web content can often be viewed with standard applications and browsers (Firefox, Chrome, etc.), whereas Dark Web content often requires a specialized browser (the most well-known is the TOR browser), because it’s part of a highly encrypted network.
It’s important to note that, although some traffic on the Dark Web may be considered “bad,” it is just as likely to include things protected by our freedom of speech here in America. And for some people around the world, the Dark Web is the only method available to organize, express opinions or form militias against oppressive governments without fear of prosecution.
So, to summarize: Deep Web = anything not returned by your search engine, mostly due to security measures protecting this data. Dark Web = the most secure part of the Deep Web where possibly illegal or illicit activity happens. But perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the Deep Web is its mind-blowing vastness … immenseness that can barely be quantified.