What is the Deep Web?

Last edited: August 11, 2020
Reading time: 5 minutes, 33 seconds

Perhaps you’ve seen the words ‘deep web’ being thrown around before. The deep web is a specific, and huge, part of the internet that isn’t freely visible through regular search engines. Search engines, for example Google and Bing, don’t save all websites and pages in existence to their databases. This means that some pages aren’t shown in the search results. In fact, this is true for the majority of internet content, as we will see in a bit.

You can visit most pages on the deep web with a regular browser, as long as you have explicit access or know the exact URL. Often, authentication is necessary in order to reach a page on the deep web. This may sound difficult, but is actually quite logical. Filling in a username and passport is a form of authentication. Think of your private messages or pictures on Facebook or a document you share with someone via OneDrive. Only those specific people with access, are able to see these pages. Generally, a lot of social media content is part of the deep web. More on this later.

The deep web: what will you find there?

The name ‘deep web’ might make you suspect this part of the internet is especially exciting – perhaps even dark. That’s not at all the case. A lot of people confuse the deep web with the dark web, where you can run into some crazy stuff. More about this later. The point is, despite its adventurous name, the deep web doesn’t differ all too much from the regular, freely accessible, internet, which we call the ‘surface web’.

The level of accessibility makes the real difference between the surface and the deep web. On the deep web, you’ll find 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, the deep web houses very ‘normal’ web pages, but ones that not everyone has access to.

And that’s a good thing! These pages are usually not meant for all eyes. Instead, they should only be visible to a specific group of people. The difference with an openly available webpage is that deep web pages aren’t shown by regular search engines. You often have to be authorized to visit them.

The deep web: an example

Some of you might still feel a little unclear on what the deep web is exactly. For those we’ll offer a simple example here. Let’s use your Facebook account to illustrate what the deep web is. If you go to Google and type in “Facebook” + your exact username (note you may have to add some numbers if your name is not unique to you, which it likely isn’t), you will probably find your profile among the search results. If you click on it, you can click on “pictures” or “friends” and view those pages. However, you cannot find these two specific pages by looking for them in Google, even if you copy the exact URL. Try it. That’s because these “deeper” pages of your Facebook account are part of the deep web and as such Google doesn’t index them.

Dark Web Surface Web Graphic Iceberg

How big is the deep web?

As you can see in the image above, the deep web is absolutely gigantic, especially compared to the surface web. Some estimate the deep web is about 400 or 500 times bigger as the regular web. Others even claim that 96% of all online content can be found on the deep web and not on the surface web.

At the moment of writing, it’s estimated that Google has about 4.5 to 5 billion web pages in its database. That’s the number of pages that you can find and visit through Google (which is by far the biggest and most well-known search engine). However, back in 2016, Google already indicated that the company knows of the existence of over 130 trillion web pages! That’s a huge increase from the 5 billion pages that Google actually shows its users. All the pages that make up this difference (and in the meantime there are likely many more than 130 trillion) are part of the deep web. This gives you an idea of the enormous proportions of the deep web.

Is the deep web dangerous?

The deep web is not inherently more dangerous than the surface web. Of course, just like anywhere online, the deep web contains pages that are dangerous or best avoided, but this has nothing today with the deep web’s nature in general. Remember “the deep web” is simply the term used for all pages that aren’t indexed by Google and the like, such as your online banking page. Obviously, it’s important to take the same safety measures on the deep web you would take on the surface web. Especially because some deep web pages contain information which shouldn’t fall into the wrong hands.

You don’t want to find out there’s a keylogger on your device (dangerous malware which registers whatever you type) while you’re logging into your online banking account for example (deep web). This is why you should always use good antivirus software. Similarly, you don’t want hackers to intercept your sensitive data in this scenario. That’s why we also recommend using a VPN, such as ExpressVPN, which will encrypt and thus protect your data.

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The deep web versus the dark web

Many people confuse the terms ‘deep web’ and ‘dark web’. As you can see in the image above the previous section, the dark web is part of the deep web. Therefore, every page in the dark web is also a deep web page, but not every deep web page is part of the dark web. There’s a big difference between deep and dark web: the dark web takes its obscurity a lot further. Not only do dark web pages get excluded from search engine results, they arn’t accessible with most browsers. To visit pages that are on the dark web, you’ll need a special browser that can guarantee your anonymity, such as Tor, Freenet, or I2P.

Moreover, the dark web has become quite infamous due to the many illegal activities that take place on this part of the internet. This doesn’t mean that all pages on the dark web are illegal. It only means that illegal things do happen on the dark web, even if they don’t happen on every single page. In terms of size, the dark web is significantly smaller than the deep web. Estimates suggest the dark web only takes up 0.01% of the deep web.

The deep web: frequently asked questions

Have you got a question about the deep web? Have a look at our FAQ!

Simply put, the deep web is an umbrella term for all web pages which are not indexed by search engines, such as Google or Bing. These are pages which you can only reach if you know the exact URL and even then you often 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 just dangerous by nature. Just like the surface web, of course there are deep web pages you’d rather avoid, but the deep web is not inherently more dangerous. Do note you should always take basic safety measures when browsing the deep web though (like you would in any situation), such as using antivirus software and a VPN.

The deep web is not really one specific place online where you can “end up” in that sense. 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.

This difference is way too large to explain in a short paragraph, but it comes down to this: 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 to get access to the dark web (the Tor Browser. Also, you’ll have to take a few extra precautions to safely reach the dark web. To learn more about the deep web and how it’s different from the dark web, you can read this article.

Cybersecurity analyst
David is a cyber security analyst and one of the founders of VPNoverview.com. Interested in the "digital identity" phenomenon, with special attention to the right to privacy and protection of personal data.

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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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