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Dark Web vs. Deep Web: Uncovering the Difference

Because it contains billions of pages and is available to everyone, you might assume that the “Surface Web” makes up most of the Web’s content. Also called the “Clear Web” or “clearnet,” the Surface Web consists of public-facing websites such as YouTube, Wikipedia, Twitter, and Reddit that are indexed by search engines and easily accessible with a web browser.

However, the Surface Web is only a tiny fraction of the Web itself, composing an estimated 1 to 5 percent of all web pages. The rest of the World Wide Web, an estimated 95 percent or more, are websites that are not easily or publicly accessible. These websites are divided into components with ominous-sounding names, such as the “Dark Web” and the “Deep Web.”

Although the terms “Dark Web” and “Deep Web” are often used interchangeably, the two concepts are quite different. In this article, we’ll discuss the 4 most important differences between the Dark Web and the Deep Web.

What Is the Dark Web?

The “Dark Web” is a term for the portion of the World Wide Web that cannot be found in search engines or accessed with regular web browsers. Although websites on the Dark Web use the Internet like any other website, they are only available with special tools, software, or configurations.

One of the most popular ways to use the Dark Web is with a browser known as Tor. The Tor browser encrypts users’ Internet traffic and sends requests through multiple virtual servers before they reach their destinations. This arrangement greatly strengthens users’ privacy and security while browsing the Web.

Unlike Surface Web URLs, the URLs accessible with Tor use the .onion domain name. Websites that use the .onion extension are unavailable via standard web browsers such as Google Chrome, Firefox, and Safari.

Individuals who use the Dark Web are typically attracted to the increased anonymity that it affords them. Thus, the Dark Web has gained a reputation as a haven for illicit transactions: everything from buying illegal drugs to selling stolen credentials and private data.

However, hiding criminal activity is only one reason that people use the Dark Web. The Tor browser is also popular among users who are concerned about privacy for other reasons (e.g., government censorship or surveillance programs).

What Is the Deep Web?

The “Deep Web” is a term for the portion of the World Wide Web that is not indexed by search engines such as Google, Yahoo, and Bing. Thus, the Deep Web necessarily includes all of the Dark Web (since the Dark Web is not available on search engines, but only through specialized software).

However, the Dark Web makes up only a tiny portion of the Deep Web. The World Wide Web contains a highly diverse range of pages that might not be available through search engines but remain accessible through normal web browsers. The Deep Web includes:

  • Websites that require memberships to access content, such as online magazines, forums, and even subscription services like Netflix.

  • Websites that are only accessible to a specific community, such as a company's employees or a university's students.

  • Websites that contain sensitive or private information, such as medical records or enterprise databases.

  • Websites or pages that are protected by a password.

  • Pages that are part of public websites but only available to specific users, such as Facebook messages or bank accounts.

  • Websites or pages that have specifically requested not to be crawled by search engines through a robots.txt file.

Dark Web vs. Deep Web: 4 Crucial Differences

Now that we’ve provided the definitions of the Dark Web and Deep Web, it’s time to break down the essential differences between Dark Web and Deep Web sites.

1. Size

The first major difference between the Dark Web and the Deep Web is the size of the two networks. As mentioned above, the Surface Web is only 1 to 5 percent of the entire World Wide Web, which means that the Deep Web consists of the remaining 95 to 99 percent.

The Dark Web, meanwhile, is entirely contained within the Deep Web and makes up only a tiny fraction of the Deep Web. There are a variety of uses of the Deep Web, from private email accounts to corporate intranets. Websites on the Dark Web are just one potential subset of the Deep Web.

2. Use Cases

The Dark Web has played host to websites such as Silk Road, a former black market that sold drugs, forged documents, and other products until the FBI shut it down in 2013.

However, individuals may have legitimate reasons to seek anonymity on the Dark Web, such as citizens of countries with repressive governments or whistleblowers looking to share information secretly.

Users have even more reasons to browse the Deep Web, just as they do to browse the Surface Web. Whenever you log on to a university course website or watch a movie on Disney+, you are using the Deep Web.

3. Legality

Accessing the Dark Web and the Deep Web could be legal or illegal, depending on your reasons for doing so.

The Dark Web is reputed as a hotbed of unlawful activity, but it has legal, legitimate uses, too. For example, the Tor browser is popular among users concerned about government surveillance. Simply accessing the Dark Web itself is not illegal.

Meanwhile, the Deep Web contains many different legitimate websites that are hidden from search engines or public access. However, accessing pages on the Deep Web may be illegal depending on how you go about it (such as hacking into a private website).

4. Methods of Access

As discussed above, pages on the Dark Web need to be accessed with special tools such as the Tor browser. However, this does not mean that websites on the Dark Web and the Surface Web are completely separate entities. Organizations such as BBC News and Twitter have launched Dark Web versions of their websites so users can access them through Tor.

On the other hand, pages on the Deep Web are available through standard browsers such as Google Chrome and Firefox. The Deep Web does not require special technical knowledge to access.


The most important differences between the Dark Web and the Deep Web are:

  • The Deep Web consists of most pages on the World Wide Web. The Dark Web is a small portion of the Deep Web.

  • The Dark Web requires special tools or software (such as the Tor browser) to access. The Deep Web is accessible through standard web browsers.

  • The Dark Web has a reputation for illegal activity, but it can be used by anyone seeking more anonymity. The Deep Web has many different legitimate use cases.

  • Using both the Dark Web and the Deep Web can be either legal or illegal, depending on your reasons and methods.

Now that you’ve learned about the question of Dark Web vs. Deep Web, it’s time to strengthen your defenses. The Dark Web contains vast amounts of stolen data and credentials, putting your privacy at risk. FYEO's database—one of the largest in the world—contains more than 23 billion leaked credentials, plaintext passwords, and phone numbers.

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