What is the Deep Web? How do you Access it? Is it Dangerous?

Laptop on a table showing locked page with authorized access only and browser window pages in the back
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Summary: What is the Deep Web?

The deep web refers to all sites and pages that have not been indexed by search engines. This means that you can’t access deep web sites by searching for them on Google or Yahoo, and for good reason. You don’t want someone Googling the balance of your online banking account or finding a private photo you sent through email.

Estimates suggest that the deep web comprises nearly 96% of all online content, which is much larger than the surface web and the dark web combined. Since deep web sites tend to host personal and sensitive information, you often need to authenticate or verify your identity before getting access.

While the deep web is not inherently dangerous (like the dark web), it still exposes users to similar online risks. Malware infection and hackers remain a threat on the deeper web.

To protect yourself, we recommend the following steps:

  1. Have a reliable and secure antivirus scanner installed to detect and weed out any malware.
  2. Use a VPN when accessing the deep web to keep your information safe and encrypted. We recommend ExpressVPN as it’s our highest-ranked VPN of this moment.

Learn more about the deep web’s features and differences between the deep, surface and dark webs by reading the rest of this article.

The deep web is a blanket term that refers to parts of the internet you can’t reach with search engines like Google, Yahoo, or Bing. Estimates suggest that only about 4-5% of the internet is indexed and searchable — this is what we refer to as the surface web.

This means that the majority of the internet is considered the deep web. Actually, if you use email, online banking, social media, or Netflix, you’ve already accessed the deep web. You’ve probably also heard of the dark web, an unindexed and unsearchable part of the internet notorious for illegal activities. Many online users get the dark web and deep web mixed up, but they’re very different entities.

So what is the deep web, exactly? Is it dangerous? What’s the difference between the deep and dark web? It can all be quite confusing, so we’ve answered these questions for you below.

What is the Deep Web?

Fishing hook with worm and fishes in the backThe deep web refers to the part of the internet that is not indexed by search engines. As the name suggests,  it lies just below the surface layer. It contains a lot of confidential and private information.

This part of the internet is sometimes referred to as the “invisible web,” or “hidden web,” as well.

Let’s summarize some of the essential elements that make content part of the invisible web.

  • The deep web does not show up in search results because pages and sites that make it up are not indexed.
  • Accessing deeper content usually requires some form of authentication. For example, logging into your email, social media or banking account with a user ID and password gives you access.
  • A lot of personal data and sensitive information is stored on the deep web. This is also why it’s not indexed and searchable.

A quick example: Facebook

You can get an idea of what the deep web is through a simple two-step example. Consider your Facebook account:

  1. If you go to Google and type in “Facebook” + your exact username (you may have to add some numbers if your name is not particularly unique), you will likely find your profile among the search results. That is, unless you have changed your Facebook settings to make sure your account doesn’t show up in search engines. This public profile Google result is the surface web.
  2. Click on the Facebook profile. Now you’re on Facebook’s website. When you click on “pictures” or “friends” and view those pages, you’re accessing deep web content.

If you search for  your Facebook “friends” or “pictures” pages on Google or another search engine, you won’t be able to find them — even if you copy the exact URL and put it in Google’s search bar. Just try it and see. That’s because these pages of your Facebook account are part of a deeper level of the web, and as such, Google doesn’t index them.

More examples of deep web content

Facebook isn’t the only popular place that has pages that are considered part of the deep web. In fact, you’re likely using the deep web every day. Other examples include:

  • Your personal emails
  • Content of your online banking, investing, or cryptocurrency accounts
  • Your private social media content
  • Paid subscription content, such as news or streaming services
  • Medical records
  • Public records and databases
  • Legal documents
  • Personal data that companies store for customers on servers and in databases
  • Academic and scientific research and information in databases

Difference Between the Surface, Deep, and Dark Web

The entire landscape of the internet can be broken down into three parts: the surface web, the deep web and the dark web. All layers work together and often overlap as well, but they are very different from one another.

Types of Web Infographic, Iceberg in the sea

While anyone with an internet connection can access the surface web, you’ll need authorization and verification to access deep web content. To get to the dark web, you’ll even need a special set of online tools.

Surface web vs deep web

Image presenting Surface web illustration VS Deep web illustration

The surface web comprises the sites and pages that search engines like Google and Bing have indexed. It’s the regular, freely accessible internet that you use most days.

The level of accessibility makes the real difference between the surface and the deep web. When you go to the deep or invisible web, you’ll find the content of personal email accounts, Facebook accounts, databases of large companies, some business networks, your online bank account or Netflix account, and so on. In other words, deeper web links and pages are very “normal,” but are ones that not everyone has access to.

And that’s a good thing! This kind of data is not meant for just anyone to look at. You wouldn’t want your bank account information floating around Google. Instead, they should only be visible to a specific group of people who are authorized to see them.

Deep web vs dark web

Image presenting Deep web illustration VS Dark web illustration

The dark web is a tiny fraction of the deep web that takes obscurity and anonymity a lot further. Not only do dark web sites get excluded from search engine results, but they also aren’t accessible with most browsers. To visit pages on the dark web, you’ll need a special anonymous dark web browser such as Tor and a dark website’s specific URL.

Since websites can operate in total anonymity, the dark web has become associated with many illegal activities. While you can find stolen credit cards, hacked PayPal accounts, and ransomware-as-a-service on the dark web, this doesn’t mean that all dark websites are illegal.

Many news organizations have mirror sites and platforms where whistleblowers can communicate safely. Even Facebook has a dark web mirror. Just take a look at our rundown of 20 dark web websites worth visiting to get an idea.

There’s a common confusion between the dark and deep web, but they’re different. The dark web is significantly smaller than the deep web in terms of size, as well. Estimates suggest the dark web only takes up 0.01% of the deep web.

To learn more about the deep web, check out our in-depth article that highlights dark web facts and dispels some common myths about this part of the internet.

How Big is the Deep Web?

The “hidden web” is vast and enormous, especially compared to the surface web. Some estimate the deep web is about 400 or 500 times bigger than the surface web. Others even claim that 96% of all online content can be found on the deeper web, with the remainder being merely the surface.

That’s not surprising when you consider everything that makes up the deep part of the internet. To give you an idea, at the time of writing:

  • It’s estimated that more than 306 billion emails are sent every day. Gmail has more than 1.8 billion users alone. Just imagine the endless emails stored across Gmail, Microsoft Outlook, and ProtonMail.
  • There are more than a million academic papers uploaded on SSRN, countless documents hosted by corporations and firms, and countless private financial information stored by banks and other financial intermediaries.
  • Think about all the private pictures, videos, and posts that Facebook’s 2.89 billion users have uploaded over the years. Instagram has another two billion users posting content. While viral TikTok videos can make their way to the surface web, more than one billion videos are watched every day on the platform. Most are not indexed or searchable.

The size of the deep web is truly staggering, and honestly, a little difficult to fathom. In fact, the deeper web is so big that no one really knows how many web pages it actually contains. Its size is usually estimated by looking at the number of pages Google has indexed, which is currently about 50 billion pages.

Our research suggests that this is only 5% of the total web. There are quite a few massive deep web marketplaces with thousands of listings too! If 50 billion pages constitute just 5% of the web, can you imagine how big the deep web really is?

Is the Deep Web Dangerous?

Is the deep web dangerous iconIn short, no. The invisible web is not inherently more dangerous than the surface web. Of course, just like anywhere online, the deeper web contains pages that are dangerous or best avoided, but this has nothing to do with the general nature of the deep web.

Remember, “the deep web” and “invisible web” are simply terms used for all pages that aren’t indexed by Google and the like, such as your online banking page. Having said that, it’s necessary to take a few precautions whenever you’re accessing deeper parts of the web. This is primarily because you’re accessing and transmitting personal and confidential information, which is what hackers and other malicious threat actors are after.

There’s also always a chance that the deep web link you’re visiting has malicious elements waiting to latch on to your device, such as spyware, keyloggers or computer worms. There are many other dark web dangers that you should know about before you decide to access it.

Take steps to protect yourself

To avoid these risks and keep your data private, we recommend the following:

Infographic showing steps to protect yourself on the Deep web

  1. Install an antivirus scanner on your device. This will ensure that any possible malware from a deep web site is detected and removed as early as possible. Good real-time protection will also spot suspicious sites before you venture onto them. Check out our rankings of the best antivirus scanners for more information on which one’s best suited to your needs.
  2. Always access personal and confidential information on the deep web using a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN encrypts your data and keeps it safe from prying eyes online. This greatly reduces the risk of your personal information being intercepted by a hacker. We strongly recommend ExpressVPN, as it provides unmatched security and privacy without compromising on speed.
  3. Set strong and complex passwords for your accounts. We recommend using a password manager to generate and store your passwords, since remembering complex passwords can be challenging.
  4. Use additional security features and layers where available. One example of such an additional security layer is two-factor authentication, which requires you to authenticate a login through an application on your mobile or other such devices.

How to Access the Deep Web

Unlike the dark web, you don’t need a special browser to access the deep web. In most cases, all that’s needed is a browser like Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, or Microsoft Edge (among others) and the correct credentials to authorize your access. For email, social media accounts, and your bank’s website, this usually means knowing your user ID and password.

Accessing newspaper articles, journals, and research papers can require a subscription to get past the paywall. If you want to access your company’s private databases or website backend, you’ll need logins and verification provided by your employer.

In short, accessing the deeper web is pretty straightforward. Just be sure to follow the precautions we’ve mentioned above, especially the use of a VPN and antivirus software to protect you and your company.

How to access the dark web

Submarine with fishes and bubbles aroundAre you interested in accessing the dark web? It can certainly be a dangerous venture. We’ve put together an extensive step-by-step guide to prep and protect yourself before accessing the dark web.

We’ll offer you a quick summary of basic precautions, recommend the best VPN and private browser for getting on the dark web, and provide a 15-step guide for secure browsing.

If you’d like to try it out, check out the full guide here.

Conclusion: The Simple Truth of the Invisible Web

To quickly sum up, the deep, hidden or invisible web refers to all the sites and pages that are not indexed by search engines. Sites that are indexed form the surface web. The dark web is a part of the deep web that requires the use of a special browser to access.

Accessing deeper web content is straightforward and only requires the correct login and authentication credentials. Always remember to use an antivirus scanner and a VPN to protect your information when accessing or transmitting any sensitive information. For more information on the best VPN, check out our updated VPN rankings.

What is the Deep Web? | Frequently Asked Questions

Have you got a question about the deep web? Click on any of the questions below for an answer.

The deep web is an umbrella term for all web pages that aren’t indexed by search engines, such as Google or Bing. These are pages you can only reach if you know the exact URL. You may need login details to get access.

Read our article about the deep web for more information and a few examples of deep web pages.

No, the deep web is not dangerous by nature. Just like on the surface web, there are deep web pages you should probably avoid, but the deep web is not inherently more dangerous.

Do note that you should always take basic safety measures when browsing the internet, such as using antivirus software and a VPN.

The deep web is not really one specific place online where you can “end up.” After all, it consists of over a trillion different non-indexed pages. Once you’re on one of these pages, you’re on the deep web. For more information, read this article.

The dark web is a (very small) part of the deep web. However, the dark web is much more difficult to reach. You need a special browser (like Tor) to get access to the dark web. Moreover, the dark web is notorious for illegal activity, which is not the case with the deep web. Also, you’ll have to take a few extra precautions to safely reach the dark web.

Security research coordinator
Priscilla is VPNOverview’s chief editor and has several years of experience in tech, specifically when it comes to VPNs and product reviews. She helps coordinate the team and ensures that all content on our website is honest and accessible.
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  1. I was recently hacked on all my email addresses, including my socials. Needless to say, everything right down to locking me out of all my devices that had all my email accounts and it took me a week to get access to at least my main phone, but I’m glad I found this to help inform me, cause I am not finished getting all that I need. This is by far not done and over. I am doing my own work to find the person or persons involved in any kind of way of spying on me. So if you have more to help my case, I trust in the lord that I will get justice for getting my absolute privacy violated. The more I search, the more information I get. Fyi this has me upset that it was more than enough to justify my own actions of self protection by filing a police report. It will be published and announced my situation.

    • It’s awful that that happened to you! Hacks can be really troublesome. Especially having your privacy violated like that is so disheartening. If you manage to get your accounts back or have any accounts that are still completely yours, make sure to secure them all with strong, new passwords and use two-factor authentication where possible. There’s a big chance the person who’s responsible wasn’t specifically targeting you, but simply tried to hack as many accounts as possible to benefit from it. Regardless, it can be smart to file a police report so the police will be able to handle the situation. Thank you for sharing your story. We wish you all the best of luck and hope the situation will improve soon!

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