Shrouded online websites, black markets and hidden content are often referred to as the “deep web” or the “dark net.” There’s naturally a lot of mystery and curiosity surrounding these portions of the Internet, hidden as they are from the average user.
Because hidden web content is so mysterious, a lot of people want to know exactly how to access the deep web. But first, we’re going to need to define what the deep web and dark net actually are, as well as what they are not.
Though many people may think it’s cool to access secretive and clandestine content that average users don’t even know exists, you may want to rethink your intentions because some of the content on the dark net is pretty awful stuff.
Think things like drugs and weapon dealing, but also child pornography and other services catering to some very deviant tastes; the dark net is not for the faint of heart and even visiting it may land you on a government watchlist or two.
On the other hand, a lot of content hosted on the deep web is incredibly mundane, as we’ll discuss in a bit. However, before we define the difference between the dark net and the deep web, let’s first discuss what you’ll need to access it.
What You Will Need to Access the Deep Web
You don’t need a secret password, an invitation from an inside member or hacking tools to access the dark net; all you need is a computer and an Internet connection. That may sound a little anticlimactic, but, as long as the proper tools are downloaded, the deep web is only seconds away to anyone who can access the regular web.
Besides this, you may want to have a few Bitcoins handy if you plan to buy anything, but be warned: even just being on the dark net may raise a few governmental eyebrows, buying something there is very likely very illegal.
Differences Between the Deep Web, the Dark Net and the Rest of the Internet
First off, let’s set one thing straight: the deep web and the dark net are not the same thing.
While the two terms are often used synonymously, the dark net is where illegal things happen, while the deep web is simply all the hidden content that isn’t picked up by Google.
The best way to picture it, is by thinking of the entire Internet as an iceberg. As average users, we can only see the top of the iceberg, which represents the public Internet. Under the surface, there’s a massive amount of data that we can’t see.
The majority of Internet users seem to have the idea that Google is the entire Internet, while in fact it only indexes a very small part of it.
To understand how this works, we first need to see how exactly Google does what it does.
How Google Indexes Websites
Before search engine technologies became what they are now, it was nearly impossible to discover a cool new website without a link (perhaps via email) or a friend who was in the know.
Today, however, we simply type a few keywords into Google and within seconds millions of links to websites pop up. Google finds all these websites by using code called bots, spiders or crawlers.
Essentially, crawlers start combing through an individual webpage. It takes notes and assigns various ranking metrics to the page to determine which keywords it should rank for.
When the crawlers are finished with the first page, they then follow every link on that page, and begin crawling the new pages as well. This process is recursive and because websites are linked with one another, Google can crawl through most of the web pages that were intended for public viewing.
Crawlers are not perfect, and there is a lot of content that they simply don’t have access to. If a crawler can’t access pages or data, it can’t index the page in Google.
Then there’s a massive amount of data that crawlers can’t access. For instance, any website with gated content that first requires a user to enter login credentials isn’t going to be easily indexed by crawlers. This means that most content on social media is behind lock and key, as it should be. In addition, a lot of website data is created dynamically by using back-end databases.
The crawlers don’t have access to this content, either. Furthermore, crawlers lack access to certain pages, content, and services because of security factors. For instance, corporate networks frequently host web pages on their intranet, but they wouldn’t want the public to see those web pages.
To draw an analogy, pretend that the Google search algorithm is like an old telephone book, however, instead of serving as a directory of names, addresses and telephone numbers, Google serves as a directory for URL addresses.
Plenty of websites want to be listed in this phone book, but a fair few do not — some folks just want to keep themselves to themselves. In this analogy, those people make up the deep web.
Generally speaking, the deep web is any website, content, or service that cannot be crawled by Google, and as such, cannot be accessed via a search engine.
So if you’re school, university or place of business hosts an internal website that can’t be crawled through by Google’s spiders, that technically qualifies as one sliver of the deep web. The dark net, however, is much less pedestrian.
The Dark Net Explained
Websites and services on the dark net are a little more secretive, and often intentionally clandestine. They typically use secure browsers like Tor (the Onion Router) and entire networks of VPN tunnels to hide their presence.
Doing so helps them stay anonymous, secret and safe from the prying eyes of the general public. Services like Tor don’t only allow users to surf the web anonymously; they also allow people to host content anonymously.
One example of such a website is Silk Road: this infamous site is really nothing more than a black market in the form of an ecommerce site. People buy, sell and trade all kinds of illicit and illegal items like drugs, weapons and other unsavory services.
This type of website is probably what you were thinking of when thinking of the deep web, as it’s fairly easy on a site like Silk Road to buy and sell whatever you want, far away from the government’s eye.
Interestingly enough, Tor, was originally created as a project by the U.S. Navy. Later, the FBI infiltrated the network to crack down on illegal black market trading, child pornography and other illegal activities.
Morality and Ethics
Many times in life, it’s not whether a question whether something can be done, but whether it should be done. Such is the case with visiting the deep web and dark net.
The ugly truth is that these back alleys of the Internet are filled with some pretty disgusting content.: black markets, child pornography, sex trafficking and plenty of more run-of-the-mill seedy or sordid sites make their home there.
The first thing we need to ask ourselves is whether or not it’s appropriate to view such content. Also consider that if you don’t use the correct tools when visiting these sites, your computer might raise some red flags to the government, and consequently end up on a government’s watch list.
How to Access the Deep Web and the Dark Net
So, if all of these hidden websites are so secretive it’s impossible to find them with a search engine, how do you find them?
One of the best ways to find them is by word of mouth. Some of them are mentioned on forums and directories like Reddit and Tor threads.
You can read our ExpressVPN review, since the service is a great example the results which come from combining a VPN with Tor.
If you don’t want to use the Tor browser, there are Tor plugins for just about every major web browser, too. The Tor network hosts a ton of hidden services that can’t be accessed using other browsers.
Before you go snooping around through the back alleys of the Internet, we’d like to repeat that you do so with caution as not only is the content itself of a dubious nature, some of it is illegal enough that you may be on the receiving end of a police visit if you’re found out.
It’s best not to venture into the dark net out of idle curiosity. That said, there are some interesting news sites and other topical content that you won’t find anywhere else. Just make sure you don’t accidentally visit a site that may make you uncomfortable.
If you exercise some common sense and stay well away from anything that looks overly suspicious, you should be fine. If you have any personal experience with visiting the dark net, let us know in the comments below, thank you for reading.