The terms deep and dark sound glamorous and forbidding, maybe criminal. Both terms just mean that we can’t reach a site on that portion of the web via a conventional search engine.
The Surface Web, the part that we can reach via a conventional search engine like Google, DuckDuckGo, or Brave, is estimated roughly to be 0.03% of the internet (Britannica).
The Deep Web contains email accounts, bank statements, health records, and other services that can only be accessed by passwords. It’s the main reason that our private business can’t be accessed just by searching on our names. Both the Surface Web and the Deep Web are growing as more people go online.
Now, about the Dark Web:
By comparison, the Dark Web is pretty small: Dark Web sites number only in the thousands. The websites in the Dark Web are characterized by their use of encryption software that makes their users and their locations anonymous. That’s why illegal activity is so common on the Dark Web: users can withhold their identity; the owners of illegal websites can hide their location; and data can be transferred anonymously. This means that the Dark Web is full of illegal drug and firearm transactions, pornography, and gambling.
Cyndy Grannan, “What’s the Difference Between the Deep Web and the Dark Web?” at Britannica
Possibly, the best-known of the criminal sites was Silk Road (2011–2013), known for “narcotics trafficking conspiracy, computer hacking conspiracy and money laundering.” Its founder Ross William Ulbricht was sentenced to life in prison:
WhatIs.com tells us that pedophile rings have their own dark webs, apart from the main one.
One of the best-known criminal activities on the Dark Web was the Netwalker ransomware scheme, busted in 2021. Here’s a short explanation of how it works:
NetWalker ransomware has impacted numerous victims, including companies, municipalities, hospitals, law enforcement, emergency services, school districts, colleges, and universities. Attacks have specifically targeted the healthcare sector during the COVID-19 pandemic, taking advantage of the global crisis to extort victims.
Justice News, “Department of Justice Launches Global Action Against NetWalker Ransomware” at U.S. Department of Justice (January 27, 2021)
But much of the Dark Web is not criminal. It is also used by journalists, political activists ,and whistleblowers who fear retaliation for incriminating scoops or data. It’s accessible by a browser called Tor that protects the privacy of the user:
Most people who use Tor use it to browse the clear web while preserving their privacy and anonymity. The network allows users to visit a normal website without revealing the types of information that are often used to track people as they make their way across the internet. Tor’s privacy-preserving features can be particularly vital to journalists, human-rights advocates, or political dissidents operating in countries hostile to their work.
Kaveh Waddell, “The Dark Web Isn’t All Dark” at The Atlantic (November 2, 2016)
The Dark Web is also extensively used by Wikileaks, founded by Julian Assange, to protect sources of confidential leaking information from governments, etc.
Although it’s not illegal to use the Dark Web, cybersecurity firm Kaspersky warns that it hosts markets for malware. Because anonymity is “powerful but not infallible,” adventurers risk being targeted by specialists in making bad things happen to our software and lives. If all we need is privacy, we might be better off with a search engine like Brave that does not track or sell our data.
You may also wish to read: The Brave search engine survives; so does privacy still matter? Despite Google’s overwhelming dominance, Brave clocked 2.5 billion searches since this time last year. Not content just to survive, Brave is pioneering Goggles, which enables the user, rather than the company, to customize the search.