Falling into an internet rabbit hole is easy to do. A page you're reading may have an interesting sounding link, which has another and then another. It can seem endless.
In truth, what most of us see online and call the "internet" is just the surface web — and it’s actually the smallest part of the internet. Today’s article focuses on two lesser-known areas that house the majority of online content: the deep web and its smaller subsect, the dark web.
Data on, and uses for, the deep and dark webs
Let's start by exploring what kind of information is stored on the deep and dark webs and why people visit these portions of the internet. Once you understand that, it's easier to grasp technical distinctions between them, which largely center around accessibility.
You might be surprised to know that you keep a lot of records and information on the deep web. If you use any web-based email (say, Gmail or Yahoo), all your emails are stored on the deep web. Your bank stores many of your records on the deep web, as do many government agencies, like the DMV or Social Security Administration. Even though they don't store all their data on the deep web, they do store portions of it. All those streaming services, like Netflix and Hulu? Yep. All that content, plus your account information, is stored on the deep web.
While the deep web is vast, the dark web is tiny and is often associated with criminal activity. The Silk Road was its most infamous black marketplace, where people could buy drugs and other contraband — such as stolen data. The FBI shut it down in 2013, but other, smaller dark web marketplace sites have stepped in.
The dark web does, however, have legitimate uses. For example, political dissidents in oppressive regimes can use it to more safely communicate with each other and journalists.
Discoverability and accessibility: what separates the surface, deep, and dark webs
Everyone knows how to find content on the surface web. You type a domain name in the address bar or type a query into a search engine. Popular search engines such as Google and Bing will never return sites that exist on the deep and dark web. That's because the surface search engines learn about websites through "web crawlers" or "web spiders."
Think of an index in the back of a book. Web crawlers create the index of the surface web. Why only the surface web? Web pages on the deep and dark webs are purposefully hidden from bots. As a result, deep and dark web pages aren't easily discoverable.
Most of us access a deep web page through a login website that is indexed, e.g. a Gmail or bank login page. We log in to this page on the surface web, and the protected pages we see once we're in, such as our inbox or account information, are pages on the deep web.
Accessing content on the dark web is another matter entirely. First, it requires the use of a software program called Tor, which provides the user with an anonymous connection to the dark web and is also the browser through which users access dark web sites.
Dark web search engines do exist, but they often change. It's the nature of the dark web for sites, including search engines, to exist one day and become dead links the next.
How to protect employees from the dark web
The first step is understanding the dark web exists and why it’s important your employees’ data doesn’t end up there. You can work with IT and contribute to prevention efforts by training employees on best practices for creating passwords and avoiding phishing emails.
Of course, employees also have private data outside the company network, like emails and personal records housed on the deep web. Companies can help protect their employees by introducing them to online security services that monitor the dark web for any of their personal information.
For more information on what’s housed on the dark web, and how you can help protect your employees, check out our other article.