The internet is a vast and expansive web of information. It is that to which we connect when we use a computer connected to the internet, whether it is in our home or for work. It is easy to become overwhelmed by the volume of information and quickly get lost in a myriad of links.
There are two basic divisions of the internet, which are known as the Surface Web and the Deep Web. To understand these concepts, it is important to have some background knowledge regarding the internet itself.
What is the Internet?
The internet is a global system of interconnected computer networks that use the standardized Internet Protocol Suite (TCP/IP) to serve several billion users worldwide. It is a network of networks that consists of millions of private and public, academic, business, and government networks, of local to global scope, that are linked by copper wires; fiber-optic cables; wireless connections; and other technologies.
When two computers communicate over the Internet, they follow a set sequence:
- Computers exchange information by packaging data into small chunks called packets.
- Each packet includes source and destination addresses so it gets routed through various switches. The internet uses routers to direct each packet toward its destination while avoiding any congestion on the network.
- Information packets travel at the speed of light.
- This process is called internetworking and enables computers to communicate over long distances.
Information sent through the Internet may be in hypertext form, which is a presentation system that consists of text interspersed with graphic images, videos, sounds, and other multimedia elements that are displayed on Web browsers. Hypertext documents contain links to other documents or places within the same document. Users select these links with their mouse to jump from one piece of information (or page) to another across the computer network in an easy-to-use format. A typical click can send you anywhere on Earth where there is an Internet connection available for you to access information in an instant’s time!
But there is another layer to our interconnected world of information; it is called the Deep Web.
What is the Deep Web?
The deep web consists of all web pages that search engines cannot find, such as user databases, registration-required web forums, dynamically served content, and pages behind paywalls. These are sometimes referred to as “invisible” pages on the internet.
Search engines do not index them because they are not able to crawl the pages with their bots due to the dynamic nature of these web pages. If you are not logged in or cannot pay for access, most search engines will be unable to find it.
There is an estimated 500 times more data on the deep web than what can be found on the surface web.
To visualize this, imagine 500 highway exits that lead to 500 parallel universes where information exists beyond our sight using only a map and GPS coordinates. Each parallel universe might contain different websites than another’s, some similar, while others drastically different. The only way you could access any of this information would be if someone told you exactly which exit leads there…or if you had an invitation key code saying how to get access.
However, this is not an accurate analogy for the Deep Web, as it is like having 500 highway exits that all lead to one general area and then there are different businesses with their private parking lots within that area; but we can’t see what’s in those private parking lots without an invitation code – which would be like a password or special access key.
These hidden sites range from personal blogs and social networking pages (Facebook) to shopping carts (eBay) and user forums (Yahoo). Some of these web pages require passwords; most hide behind paywalls, and some obtain information by signing you up for newsletters at the bottom of their page while sending other promotional offers via email. This type of spam could potentially affect your email inbox and your computer’s performance.
The Deep Web can also contain pages that some may find distasteful or offensive; but these items are not indexed by search engines, so they don’t affect the rest of us browsing on the surface web. Search engine companies like Google do not go into this area themselves due to legal concerns such as defamation, libel, and invasion of privacy, along with theft or piracy of copyrighted content.
Is The Deep Web Safe?
It is important to remember that the Internet is not printed on stone tablets. Just because the information isn’t on Google or Bing doesn’t mean it’s safe or shouldn’t be shared. This holds true for both the surface web and the deep web.
For example, if your personal blog was set to private with a password on WordPress, you are only sharing that information with other people who have access to that blog at that moment in time. If you share this information with another person via phone or email, they would only have access to what was given through those modes of transmission; but if they went onto your WordPress site while logged in as you, then they could access all of your online content without any restrictions. That same principle can be applied to the deep web.
In addition, it is important to remember that certain search engines may crawl all information from your site whether it’s on the surface web or in a password-protected section of your WordPress installation. So even if you were to block specific parameters from Google, Bing, and Yahoo with robots.txt, there are ways around this protection system through sites like Technorati and Open Site Explorer.
What’s The Difference Between Surface Web & Deep Web?
The surface web is what we use every day when we surf the Internet to look up movie reviews, restaurant menus, and other things that can be found in indexed search engine results. The deep web (or invisible web) is comprised of information that has been intentionally hidden from public view but would still be available to anyone with a login and an access key.
For example, a search for a website with the name “David Cameron” on Google might result in a Wikipedia page as one of our first indexed results. However, if you were to put that same URL into Bing’s search engine, it would not appear at all because that page is password-protected.
That means the only way to access this information from Bing would be through an invitation code or login and passkey – which some people might find their way around as they do not consider this hacking, although others consider finding ways to uncover hidden information without proper authorization as unethical. Thus, it’s the difference between looking up something on Google vs. going onto David Cameron’s private business page on Facebook under an assumed name without his knowledge.
However, don’t make the mistake of thinking that because something is on the deep web it’s automatically better than what you’ll find on the surface; but equally, don’t assume that if it’s not indexed by Google or Bing then there’s no value in it (such as personal blogs and social networking).
Keeping Yourself Safe Online
The Internet is a vast place with information from every country and culture around the world, including groups that may have an agenda that goes against yours. In general, it’s best to keep yourself safe online by not revealing too much about your personal life or your business, using common sense, and keeping your software up to date with patches for security vulnerabilities.
Here are 3 ways you can keep yourself safe on the surface web or the deep web:
Use a VPN (Virtual Private Network)
A VPN will encrypt the data sent between two points, so even if your information was intercepted it would be unreadable without decoding. Make sure to choose a VPN provider that doesn’t keep any logs on its users’ activities.
Run a Public Data Check on Yourself Regularly
A public data check will go through all the publicly available information on the Internet about you and let you know what’s out there. It will not only alert you to any problems, but it can also help you prevent issues before they happen by noticing patterns in user behavior that could indicate a security threat.
Use Antivirus Software & A Firewall
Most websites are designed to have security measures in place, but hackers are constantly coming up with new ways to penetrate these firewalls so it’s important to keep your antivirus software updated. It is best practice to use layered protection by installing a firewall at the same time you install an antivirus program.