The deep web is the largest, but least understood segment of the internet. Estimates vary but a frequently cited figure puts the deep web at about 7,500 terabytes of information compared to just 19 terabytes for the surface web - not so much the submerged base of the iceberg, but the sea in which it floats.
A search on the deep web may turn up content such as an article from the Daily Mail screeching, ‘The disturbing world of the Deep Web, where contract killers and drug dealers ply their trade on the internet’, which is, in classic fashion, a misrepresentation of the facts. What the Mail is intending to refer to here (if only they could muster the energy to do basic research, bless ‘em!), is in fact the dark web.
This is a corner of the deep web which is intentionally hidden from casual perusers of the world wide web. It’s only discoverable through the use of certain internet browsers (mainly Tor) and is home to a host of illegal and vile, and not so illegal and vile sites. For a lot more information on the dark web, how to access it and why you might want to, read our article here.
But now, to the difference between the dark web and the deep web. To make the distinction, it helps to start firstly with the section of the internet we are all most familiar with, ‘the surface web’. This is the first layer of the ecosystem - where sun still penetrates, where flowers grow, where bands of merry woodland creatures prance and preen. This is the area of the internet which is discoverable by search engines - the millions of results that jump up when you type in queries about that humiliating medical issue (for example). These sites are indexed by search engines such as Google and therefore can be stumbled across by someone on a breezy internet stroll.
Now, beneath this first layer, there are the many submerged layers of the deep web, and the only difference between these and the surface web is that they are not indexed by search engines.
And before you shout ‘Why not? They must be filthy caves of depravity where fork tailed devils dance hand-in-hand around smoking pyres’, stop. There are many reasons why information is not discoverable by search engines. Just think, would you want someone to be able to pull up your online banking information with a Google search? Thought not. This is just one example of deep web information, with others being certain databases, workplace intranets and archived information which you have to search for on a particular site rather than a search engine.
So there you have it, the deep web is nothing to fear, but is rather a necessary part of how the internet works.