The terms ‘dark web’ and ‘deep web’ are often interchangeably used to describe the section of the internet that is home to criminal activities. To understand the difference between the dark web and the deep web, we must understand the different layers of the internet, as detailed below.
Surface web: The first layer of the World Wide Web is the surface web, which is also known as the visible web or the clear web. It comprises websites that are indexed by common search engines such as Google, Yahoo, Bing, and so on. These websites are available for public access without requiring permissions. It is believed that the surface web constitutes only 3-4% of the entire World Wide Web; however, according to Wikipedia, the figure stands at 10%. This means the millions of search results conducted every second are but a minuscule percentage of the overall internet!
Deep web: A step further below the surface web is the deep web. The deep web is estimated to be nearly 500 times the size of the surface web or 90% of the entire internet. This section of the internet comprises websites and data that are not indexed. They are protected from search engines and crawlers by way of encryption.
Any data behind a firewall, be it data servers, organizational intranets, or archives, belong to the deep web. A website in the deep web would require you to enter your unique username and password combination to access. Probably, the simplest examples of a website in the deep web can be web-based email, social media platform, online banking, or web-based subscription service. That brings us to the question – whether the deep web is illegal to foray into? The answer is No.
Dark web: The deepest layer of the World Wide Web is called the dark web. Although a part of the deep web, dark web goes further deep. It is a subset of the deep web and the key difference between the two is that the deep web can be home to both good and bad data, whereas the dark web is mostly illicit.
As per some estimates, the dark web probably constitutes only 0.1% of the entire internet but is the hotbed for many illegal activities. The dark web can be termed the underbelly of the internet, as it facilitates crimes such as sale/purchase of stolen data, fake identity proofs, porn, drug trafficking, contract killers, sale of arms and ammunition, and so forth.
It is the infamous part of the internet where data is intentionally hidden and criminal activities are rampant. It requires special software – such as The Onion Browser (Tor), Freenet, or I2P (Invisible Internet Project) – to access the dark web. This is because the dark web can be accessed only by anonymous users, which common browsers do not allow. Common browsers track the IP address of the users and hence enable identification of the user – something which is undesirable in the dark web.
Access to the dark web is not illegal but is fraught with numerous risks. Therefore, it is recommended to stay away from the dark web, as it can be highly dangerous.