The web we all use every day (Google, Wikipedia, Facebook, blogs) is just "the surface" that accounts for 1-3% of the Internet. The enormous network of invisible websites underneath it is the Deep Web (aka Hidden web, Invisible web, or the Deep Net). The Deep Web is another level of the Internet – the deepest, and the widest, reaching an estimated 97-99% of the World Wide Web. Its content is hidden away from search engines and includes:
Being on the Deep Web is not unlawful in itself, but it depends on what you end up doing there, since visiting some pages could lead to illegal actions, for instance, viewing or purchasing child pornography. If you check your personal bank account, Yahoo email or social media profile, you're navigating the "good side" of the Deep Net. That information is concealed from the general public but it's perfectly legal. The illegal part of the Deep Web starts when you enter the Dark Web (and its ultimate online Black Markets) and you purchase counterfeit money, stolen credit card numbers, drugs, fake IDs, hacking tools or if you hire hackers to steal vulnerable data, commit malicious cyberattacks, data theft or break into people's computers.
A Deep Web search is the deepest, most substantial type of web search that reveals information impossible to find with a standard Internet search. The searching mechanism is capable of accessing all the unreachable parts of the deep web. Conventional web search engines like Google, Bing, or Yahoo only scratch the surface. Their search results are basic, limited, and not excessively useful, offering an incomplete range of information. Everything that's not available in a standard search is comprehensively revealed by a simple Deep Web search, including hidden internet or social profiles, leaked, stolen, or hacked personal data or secret online activity, blogs, websites.
According to the University of California, the size of the Deep Web is estimated at around 7.500 terabytes (or 7.5 petabytes) of data, split across more than 200,000 deep web sites. By comparison, the Surface Web has 19 terabytes. The 60 largest Deep Web pages hold together almost 750 terabytes of information, exceeding the size of the Surface Web 40 times. And while the Surface Web grants access to approximately 1 billion individual documents, the content featured on the Deep Web allegedly contains between 500 and 550 times more public information records than the common Internet we access via regular search engines.
The Deep Web is the space that has all the non-public information that requires a login, from blog admin pages to chat messages, Netflix accounts, email inboxes or personal banking accounts. The Deep Web is frequently used as a communication channel and info source for whistle-blowers, journalists, activists or residents in oppressive political regimes because it provides the freedom of anonymously sharing sensitive data. The Dark Web is a more secret part of the deepnet, exclusively reachable through specialized, anonymizing browsers such as TOR, I2P, GNUnet, Freenet, Zeronet, and CJDNS that mask an Internet user's IP address. Although not illegal, the "black web" is where the most unlawful marketplaces lie, selling:
The TOR browser (an acronym of "The Onion Router") guarantees one of the highest degrees of real anonymity and is extremely effective at hiding user location. The information circulates through a complex circuit of heavy-duty encrypted layers to protect the inquirer's privacy. That's why it's almost impossible for TOR network traffic to be tracked. The online activities carried out through it cannot be traced back to the initiating user and their devices.
Using TOR is not against the law in the United States since it's not illegal for people to wish to keep their privacy safe. Unfortunately, the thriving black markets take advantage of this anonymity to hide behind it. TOR can be used for illegal purposes, but this doesn't mean TOR is illegal – only some criminal actions carried through it are, such as:
The TOR browser doesn't actually hide your IP, but it simply transports the information through such a complex web of secret connections while encrypting it, that's it's impossible to follow anything back to its origins. This method is known as the "avalanche effect". TOR is often compared to a "network of virtual tunnels" given the fact that it was initially created by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory to route top-secret information and protect confidential government communications.
Google might have the answer to most questions, but it cannot perform a search on the Deep Web because most of the data available there is only reachable through login pages, therefore fully protected by passwords. Public search engines like Google don't index sensitive data and Deep Web content falls under Google web crawlers' radar.
Although the Deep Web is not dangerous, there's a subpart of it called the Dark Web that can be scary as it's a mysterious gateway to the most hazardous, evil and forbidden illegal niches, including viewing, distributing and selling pedophilic content, software/computer viruses, guns trading hubs, animal abuse, stillborn babies, sex-slave trading, human leather, paid assassins, tax fraud schemes or human experiments. The more you engage or purchase merchandise sold on its black marketplaces by cybercriminals, terrorists, hackers, and sex offenders, the more you're exposing yourself to scams, hacks and real-life threats that could even get FBI's attention at some point. Whatever you do, is at your own risk.
Dark web's troubling content and its exploitation by cyber criminals makes it much worse than the Deep Web, as you can tell from the following:
Conclusion: if something is within the Deep Web, it's there for a good reason and before engaging with it, make sure you are fully protected.