The Layers of the Web – Surface Web, Deep Web and Dark Web

The Layers of the Web – Surface Web, Deep Web and Dark Web

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What is the Web? Is it Google? Or, Facebook? Emails, messenger, Yahoo? Well, these and all other forms that we are aware of barely constitute 4% of the whole world wide web! So, are we just looking at the tip of the iceberg? What constitutes the remaining 96% of the web? Find all answers here as we uncover the different layers of the web for you – Surface Web, Deep Web and Dark Web. Is your mind racing through a host of questions? What is the Surface Web? What is the Deep Web? What is the Dark Web? What are they used for? Read on to know more.

An Insight into the Layers of the Web

The World Wide Web is a web of interlinked HTML pages accessible over the internet. Technical jargon aside, imagine it as a network of online content. But is the internet the web, or is the web the internet? No! The Internet is actually the connection that enables access to the World Wide Web.

The web holds far more secrets than what we can comprehend or perceive. It contains 3 layers – the surface web, the deep web and the dark web as explained by Data Scientist, Denis Shestakov, in his iceberg analogy.

Layers of the Web - Surface Web Deep Web Dark Web

Surface Web – The visible part of the iceberg containing all the content that is indexable by search engines. Search engines cannot index the pages on Deep Web and it requires a special authorization to access it. Finally, the deepest layer – Dark Web, is accessible ILLEGALLY only using special software and ensures high anonymity and encryption.

What is the Surface Web?

The surface web represents the tip of the iceberg that is visible to all. The ‘surface web’ is accessible via web crawlers and search engines such as Google, Bing, Yahoo etc. Wait, did you just read something about ‘crawling’? Wondering what that it? Basically, search engines crawl and index the webpages available on the web to make it available for users. They then rank these websites to display the most relevant results to the user.

To summarize, Surface Web is the part of the web that we are all aware of and use on a regular basis! Even this article that you are reading right now is a part of the surface web.

BUT, as we said before, this is just 4% of the entire web! Know what constitutes the remaining 96% in the ensuing sections.

What is the Deep Web?

Deep Web is a part of the invisible, underground web that a normal user cannot access. This is so because it contains data that are not crawled and indexed by search engines. One can access the Deep Web only if one has the authorization or login credentials to do so!

The data stored in the deep ranges from personal information (military data, cloud data or any organization’s personal data) to financial records, academic databases, legal dossiers, medical records, social media profile information, and scientific and government records.

Accessing the Deep Web is NOT Rocket Science

It is a misleading belief that accessing the Deep Web requires a special prowess. No. It’s not rocket science! In fact, it is legit to access the Deep Web.

Here’s an example. You normally generate a PIN or OTP to access your online banking account, right? It is only once you enter the PIN/OTP that you are able to log into your account. You cannot get into your account by typing ‘John Doe’s Banking Account’ on a search engine. Voila! That’s what the accessing the Deep Web is all about.

You just need a special authorization or access credentials to access the information on the Deep Web. This is because there are certain confidential data that needs protection for the sake of mankind!

How to Access the Deep Web?

Contrary to popular belief, accessing the Deep Web is not illegal. Following are some ways in which one can access the Deep Web.

People Search Engines

Wish to look up an individual on the Deep Web? People search engines such as MyLife and Pipl extract data from databases that normal search engines cannot index.

Scholarly Articles

Full search engines such as Google Scholar, the Library of Congress, and JSTOR, enable searching through otherwise-isolated records of articles and books. This gives access to the academic section of the Deep Web.

Search for the Database

Often a ‘searchable’ database contains ‘hidden’ information. In such cases, try describing the ‘type’ of information on a typical search engine such as Google. On locating that database, you may be able to access information otherwise available on the Deep Web.

What is the Dark Web?

Thinking of the Dark Web immediately conjures up gory images and ideas, doesn’t it? Well, a part of what you may know is true and a part is completely fictitious, rather unconfirmed! The Dark Web is the deepest layer of the web and a subset of the Deep Web. However, unlike the Deep Web, the Dark Web is COMPLETELY illegitimate. BANNED. PROHIBITED. UNLAWFUL.

It is an encrypted section of the web that offers complete anonymity as it is not indexed by search engines. The same is true of the Deep Web also. Then, what’s the difference?

Difference between the Deep Web and the Dark Web

The basic difference between the deep and the dark web is that one can access the former proper credentials and authorization. Dark web, on the other hand, requires a special software/browser with a suitable decryption key to access it. Also, data available on the Deep Web is not hidden on purpose. It’s just difficult for the existing search engine technology to access the information on the Deep Web and make some sense of it.

On the contrary, the sole intention of using the Dark Web is ANONYMITY! Individuals use the Dark Web to hide their data or engage in illicit activities in the guise of anonymity. The Dark Web is mostly used for illegal porn and trading in drugs, weapons, organs and much more.

Accessing the Dark Web

One can access the Dark Web using special software and an anonymizing browser (Tor being the most popular one). Tor is commonly known as an ‘Onion’ browser and contains multiple layers. It enables a user to remain completely anonymous i.e. it neither traces the user’s IP address/location nor records any detail.

The Tor browser the user’s web page requests through a chain of proxy servers that renders the IP address untraceable and unidentifiable. The Tor network works by encrypting every messages and content at every single point. This makes it difficult and almost impossible to track their point of origin or occurrence.

Malicious Uses of the Dark Web

Drug trafficking. Child pornography. Illegal trading of human organs. Weapons. Hitmen.

No, don’t twitch your face yet!

These constitute only SOME of the multiple other illegal activities carried out in the Dark Web.

Most noteworthy is the use of Dark Web for Black Hat Hacking. Hackers not only use the Dark Web for hacking but also for selling the rewards of hacking such as user credentials, financial information, corporate data and much more. It is the chosen platform for illegal trading of weapons, government or scientific databases, malware, drugs, exotic animals, banned movies/literature, fake documents, human/animal organs, dead bodies and much more!

Is the Dark Net of Any Good Use?

So, is the Dark Net associated with all things illegal and dark? Well, not everything on the Dark Net is unscrupulous and nasty! In fact, it was the US Military Researchers who created the technology for the Dark Web in the 90s. The purpose? To exchange sensitive and confidential data anonymously.

A Secret Communication Channel

Furthermore, the Dark Net is still used as an anonymous and secret communication channel. It enables people to express their views in environments hostile to freedom of speech. Such people prefer to remain anonymous due to fear of persecution and litigation. Interestingly, a lot of journalists also use the Dark Web to extract and store sensitive information anonymously.

Gateway to Hidden Literature

Here’s something for the literature bugs! Have you ever read the original Grimm’s Household Tales, also known as the Grimm’s Fairy Tales? Chances are that you have not! Rather, what you have read is only the refined version of this popular children’s fairy tales made available to the world! The original tales are bloodier and are available on the Dark Web. The Dark Web contains a lot of publications that are otherwise banned in the analog world.


The Dark Web is also a haven for whistleblowers who would otherwise face retaliation in the real world. The anonymous nature of the Dark Web allows them to leave messages or documents without revealing their identities. A Dark Web service called ‘Dead Man Zero’ even enabled the automatic publishing of the user’s secrets if they got injured or jailed, or killed! It automatically released the information to a prescribed set of email addresses if the user failed to log in at predetermined intervals.

Discussion Forums

The Dark Web enables the user to remain nameless and faceless. Victims of violence and abuse leverage it to share their stories on public forums. The Dark Net houses forums for victims of rape, racial and religious discrimination, rainbow communities, domestic violence and much more. It allows them to share their grief and personal stories without the fear of identification or harassment.

Government Use

The Dark Web offers the government a safe habitat to store sensitive data such as intelligence reports and political records. Above all, the Dark Web is often used by law enforcement agencies to intercept wrongdoers by posing as anonymous users on illegal sites.

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