Going Underground: the secret world of the Deep Web

We can only see 10% of the internet, the rest is invisible “Deep Web”. Is this really full of drug dealers, pornography and hitmen?


What is “Deep Web”?

Let’s face it; the internet is vast. Type a phrase into Google (other search engines are available) – it tells you how many results link to that phrase. Even searching your own name can find tens of thousands of results (try it!)

However, what many people don’t know is that what we see is only the tip of the iceberg.

Only around 10% of the internet is “indexed”, which means search engines like Google and Bing can find it.

The other 90% of “hidden” content is the Deep Web.

The deep web has received a lot of negative press recently. Various articles focus on how it is full of dodgy illegal sites selling drugs, passports and weapons. As we’ll see, this isn’t providing the full story.


How does Deep Web work?

Deep Web: a laptop screen, password typed in

Password protected; most pages accessed via a password are part of the deep web

When we google something we’re actually searching an index. Think: a massive library of different web pages.

Stuff like your email inbox, online banking and website databases can’t be indexed. Anything which you go through a login page to access.

Deep web is more difficult to index as information is stored on databases, not specific web pages. Put simply: it’s hidden. With us so far?

So if most of the deep web is just harmless private material, why all the bad press? It’s all to do with people using it to become anonymous. It’s time to go underground;

Now you see me, now you don’t

Deep Web: a tracker puts her nose to the ground and sniffs

Using normal servers means your online activity can be tracked

When you visit a website using a regular browser you access the website data direct from that webpage.

This is quick, but your location and information you download is logged.

Meaning people (the government) can track where you are and what you look at. Creepy or what?

In the 1990s the US government developed a programme for anonymous file sharing.

They called it “Tor”, short for “The Onion Router” (we’ll explain the name, we promise).


This is how Tor accesses the deep web;

Scene from Goldeneye where Natalia tries to access deep web to reach Boris

Tor bounces your request from country to country; making it hard to trace

First you make a request to find a web page. The request to find the intended destination is wrapped in layers of encryption or code – like the skin of an onion. Onion layers, onion router – those computer guys sure had some wordplay skills.

Instead of going direct to the web page your request is bounced randomly across a network relay of computers all across the globe.

As your request arrives at a new location a level of encryption is unlocked. All the relay computer sees are instructions to send the request on to the next location.

In real world language; bouncing across different locations makes it near impossible to trace the user. Meaning you become anonymous. There’s even a version for smartphones. Ooooh, exciting.

Yes, using deep web to surf the web anonymously is legal. However, if you use it for illegal activity… well, go figure.

Is Deep Web the same as “Dark Web”?

Yes, and no. There’s a lot of confusion as “deep” and “dark” sound pretty similar, and lots of people use the terms interchangeably.


Screen shot of Deep Web site Silk road selling drugs, weapons and porn

Silk Road: the Amazon of the deep web.

The dark web is actually a section of the deep web. Dark web is used to describe a specific group of websites which use Tor encryption to hide their location.

Whilst dark web is part of the deep web, it is very different. Simples.

The most famous dark web site was Silk Road, described by the press as “Amazon for criminals”.

It was an anonymous online marketplace selling anything from illegal drugs to plastic explosive.

There’s even been reports of hitmen offering their services on the deep web. Mostly drugs though… or so we hear.

Deep Web: a gif of a cat in a pirate suit

If the deep web isn’t all drugs and porn… does this mean it’s all cat pictures?

Before it was closed by the authorities Silk Road users paid for their goods using an online currency called BitCoin. Rumoured to be the “next big thing” in the currency world, BitCoin also offers some anonymity if you’re clever with computers.

Is the majority of the web filled with pornography, hitmen and drugs? Not really. It’s been estimated that the dark web makes up only 0.01% of the internet.

So although 90% of the internet is deep web, only a tiny fraction of this is naughty sites like Silk Road.

Why all the fuss over people being anonymous?

With stories about spy agencies intercepting images from people’s webcams it’s no surprise that some of us want a little more privacy. Going anonymous can give us that.

Deep Web: activitists in guy fawkes masks protest against internet censorship

Activists use the deep web to spread their message

Despite creating Tor the US government now wants it shut down to stop criminals trading anonymously on the deep web. Oh, the irony.

Yet the dark web isn’t just used by criminals.

Activists and journalists working in China and other countries with strict censorship laws use Tor and deep web to spread their message.

Even Facebook got in on the act. It created a dark web version of the site for those living in countries like Syria and China which ban Facebook.

The website Wikileaks was set up by activist Julian Assange to expose government and corporate misconduct. It used deep web encryption so that whistleblowers could anonymously supply evidence.

The problem: though some see whistleblowers and activists as freedom fighters, others see them as lawbreakers.

Seems like this argument will continue going round in circles.


Deep Web learnings; the internet is not just for porn.

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