What’s the Difference Between the Deep Web and Dark Web

You’ve heard the terms Dark Web and Deep Web but did you know there is a difference? Here’s a look at the comparison between the two.

There are aspects of the internet, not nearly as familiar as others. Two of these, the so-called dark web and deep web, sound the same but are very different. Where one has mostly been designed for positive reasons, the other is much more nefarious. Here’s a look at the differences between the two.

Deep Web Vs. Dark Web

Before moving forward, understand that the deep web is just one part of the dark web. In general terms, the latter refers to any website or page that’s not registered with a search engine, such as Google or Bing. The former includes a mix of criminal enterprises and privacy tools. Each is mostly untraceable by individuals and governments alike.

The Deep Web

As noted, the deep web can include webmail, online banking, social media pages and profiles, web forums, and anything else that is private from the public. It can also feature anything behind a paywall, like an online newspaper or magazine. Accessing deep web content requires entering a password or another type of security access. These can include fingerprints, retina scans, or other requirements.

Sometimes called the invisible web, the deep web is primarily broken down into two types of information or data, primary and secondary.

Primary Content

The contextual web features information that is beyond what you might have searched online. For example, in December, you might search for Christmas decorations and later see information about last-minute end-of-year vacation ideas. Conversely, in July, you might be looking for Fourth of July fireworks and also see back to school content.

There’s also dynamic content, which shows up after you submit a query or access a form online.

Meanwhile, limited access content includes sites that limit access using technical tools such as the Robots Exclusive Standard or CAPTCHAs. The latter is a type of challenge-response in computing that can separate a human from an AI. You’ll see CAPTCHAs often on websites you’re signing on for the first time.

None-HTML/text content is multimedia files such as images or video files that aren’t handled by search engines and, thus, also part of the deep web.

Moving on, you’ll also find private web content. Perhaps the most recognized deep web content, this is online information that’s protected by usernames and passwords. Think banking or other account information.

Secondary Content

With scripted content, you’ll find pages that much be accessed using JavaScript or content dynamically downloaded using old school Flash or Ajax software solutions.

Then, there’s online content that requires software beyond a web browser for access. The Tor browser is an example of specialized software for this purpose.

The deep web also includes unlinked content. As the name implies, these are pages not linked anywhere else online. Because they don’t include backlinks, these pages are typically immune from traditional web crawling.

Finally, there are web archives such as the popular Wayback Machine, which has been designed to keep snapshots of web pages at different points in time.  These archives aren’t searchable through any public web engines.

The Dark Web

Noting above that software is secondary content when it comes to the deep web is perhaps deceiving. It’s this software, after all, that opens up the doors to the dark web. This area of the internet as been created and maintained by the so-called “darknet,” which requires specific software, configurations, or authorization to access. The dark web isn’t entirely evil, although it does contain dangerous and illegal locations.

To access the darknet, you need to use networks like Tor (called “The Onion Routing” project) and I2P (“Invisible Internet Project”). The former typically includes content identified by the “.onion” domain, although you can’t access these pages through a commercial browser like Microsoft Edge or Google Chrome. Tor provides anonymous access to the internet, while I2P offers anonymous hosting of websites. Together, they have created a faceless system that has multiple layers of encryption provided by intermediate servers spread throughout the world. These servers make it impossible for websites to track geolocation and the IP of their users. The combination means users can ultimately talk, blog, and share files confidentially.

The Dark Web includes two primary functions: criminal enterprise and data/information protection.

The Bad Stuff

The kind of information you can find on the dark web isn’t for the faint of heart. It can include illegal activities such as media exchange for pedophiles and terrorists; the selling and buying of drugs; and software exploits also highlight the dark web. Content here typically falls in one of a handful of categories, none of them good.

On the bad side of the dark web, you’ll find computer exploits, illegal file sharing, and the selling of illicit goods and services,

The Better Stuff

The dark web isn’t all wicked. However, the degree in which some of its better uses are good largely depends on where you’re located. These uses include protecting political dissidents, providing an off-the-grid forum for whistleblowers and news leakers, and opportunities for users to circumvent network censorship and bypass governmental firewalls. Parts of the dark web can also provide privacy for citizens in countries where targeted, and mass surveillance is plentiful.

Bottom Line

Deep web content isn’t necessarily secret or illegal, unlike the similar-sounding dark web, which is full of content that’s not for everyone and often inappropriate. Instead, it’s only content that for whatever the reason isn’t searchable online. The dark web, by contrast, has an ugly underbelly, although it’s not completely bad. You’ll need to decide how to use it, or even at all.

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