The terms “deep web” and “dark web” are ones often thrown around in the media pretty much interchangeably, but there are some very important distinctions to be made between the two. In today’s blog post well do just that, providing comprehensive definitions for both so that you can better understand what cybersecurity risks your organisation faces from those willing to exploit the anonymity certain parts of the internet offer.
Surface web definition
Before we get onto defining the deep and dark web for you, we need to define what neither of them are part of: the surface web. To put it into terms anyone can understand, the surface web is made up of all the pages your typical search engine like Google, Bing or Yahoo! can display in their search results.
The way search engines work to bring their users the most relevant results is by “crawling” websites that have given them permission to do so, analysing the written content and indexing the links they contain. This is the information they can display in their search results. Search engines can’t use onsite search bars to find all pages but rather, they can only access pages with links pointing to them.
What comes as a surprise to many people is what a small part of the internet is made up of this “surface” web that can be indexed by search engines – the majority of the world’s web pages exist on a level below this, on the deep web.
Deep web definition
Hold on, you might say after reading the last paragraph, how could most of the internet exist on the deep web – isn’t that where all this illegal activity I’ve heard about takes place? Well, yes and no.
The deep web is simply an umbrella term that encompasses all web content not indexed by search engines, and there are many completely legitimate reasons for not making a web page accessible to search engines. The dark web is just a small sliver of the deep web – more on this in a little bit.
Content that exists on the deep web where it can’t be indexed by search engines includes, among other things, pages that have sensitive information, content behind a password or a paywall and resources only relevant to certain people. This means you have to know the exact URL of a piece of content on the deep web and/or have the login credentials to access it.
This category of content on the dark web includes the internal sites and intranets of educational institutions, businesses and government agencies. It also includes content on websites you need to be a user of, including streaming services like Netflix and newspapers you need a subscription to in order to read them, like The Telegraph.
A lot of the content on the deep web is information you wouldn’t want to be accessed by just anybody on the internet: your passwords, online banking accounts and medical records are just a few types of information for you or about you on the deep web that should definitely stay private and only be accessible to you and your bank or doctor.
Dark web definition
As we already mentioned, the dark web is a small sliver of the deep web. It’s a part of the internet you can’t access using a standard browser – instead, you need special software to access it. The fact this part of the internet is not indexed by search engines and you need special tools to access it means it’s anonymous, making it a popular breeding ground for all kinds of illegal activity.
This illegal activity includes the buying and selling of leaked data, including trade secrets, online banking passwords and credit card details, illegal weapons and pornography, fake documents and both illegal and prescription drugs. There are also plenty of scams that exist on the dark web, too, including things like hitman services and live snuff films – most of these listings, if not all of them, are completely fabricated and put up for the sole purpose of stealing money from the people seeking these illegal services.
Much of the illegal trade on the dark web is done using cryptocurrency because of its untraceable nature. In the past, the most famous marketplace on the dark web was the Silk Road, whose founder was arrested by the FBI in 2014, and though many imitator sites have surfaced since, none of them seem to have garnered the longevity or the level of infamy Silk Road had.
Browsing the dark web or downloading the software needed to access it is, in itself, not illegal. What’s illegal is soliciting services or buying products on the dark web that are against the law. There are certain groups of people who have a legitimate reason to use the dark web, including government and big business whistleblowers working with investigative journalists and political dissidents living under oppressive governments. That being said, the vast majority of people would be much safer steering clear of the dark web.
So what now?
Now that you know what the dark and deep webs are all about, you need to learn how to effectively protect yourself and your organisation from criminals exploiting the anonymity of the dark web to try and gain access to your financial details, passwords and other forms of data.
To help you do just that, make sure to check back in on our blog over the next few weeks for more articles about managing the dangers of the dark web. And if you’d like to talk about strengthening your small business’ cybersecurity, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our IT experts directly.