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Though terms like the Dark Web and Deep Web are often used interchangeably, they aren’t the same place at all – read on to learn everything you need to know about both.

Dark Web

The term Deep Web is used to describe any content that is not indexed by Google. These are typically not the disgusting, creepy sites that might contain illegal images, drugs, and other nefarious information.

Instead, the Deep Web contains any gated content that requires user login credentials. Sites like this might include a company’s backend intranet site or a university site where only students can access the content. Organizations that host their own intranet cannot be crawled by Google Bots and therefore are considered part of the Deep Web. Even your Gmail account cannot be indexed by Google Bots and so it is considered Deep Web content.

The Dark Web is a subset of the Deep Web. This is like the Back Alley of Main Street USA, where all sorts of (often) illegal interactions take place. There, you’ll find a wide range of seedy content and illegal activities, along with products and services that most folks would prefer to avoid.

The Dark Web requires a special web browser and other tools that can protect your identity. The most common browsers used to access these areas are Tor (the Onion Browser), Freenet and I2P. Though many people are curious about the content on these sites, just a single visit to one of these sites may place you on an FBI watchlist, so proceed with caution.

How Big is the Internet?

Some experts say that only 4 percent of the whole Internet is readily available to users. The other 96 percent is hidden behind walls that require special tools to access. Much of this content is not illegal or unethical; it’s just content that the creators do not want to be made public for whatever reason.

On the other hand, there is a huge amount of content that is of questionable origin. For instance, one very well-known black market online site called Silk Road was highly popular on the Dark Web. At Silk Road, people all over the world could purchase illegal drugs, fake IDs, and other such items. Silk Road was finally shut down by the FBI in 2013, when the owner Ross W. Ulbricht was arrested. Other similar sites have tried to spring up, but the FBI keeps close tabs on this type of illegal drug trade on the Internet.

Proceed With Caution

You should never visit a site like this without a VPN, which will mask your identity. Many other precautions are usually recommended, such as enabling “noscript” in the TOR browser and turning off your webcam. Even with all precautions in place, just one visit to a Dark Website can alert local police. Sites like this always deal in Bitcoins and rarely take credit cards. No one wants a $50,000 transaction to hire a hitman to show up on their credit card statement.

Many people, even savvy Internet users, are very uneducated when it comes to the Dark Web and that’s actually a good thing. It means they haven’t gone searching for content that is probably illegal or unethical. It’s also a topic that has been so taboo in the past that users simply couldn’t or wouldn’t go looking for answers. Though there are a great many Dark Web sites, how do you find them?

As mentioned above, you need a special browser, but often word of mouth is one way people find out about sites that might deal in unlawful activities. There are a number of forums and directories that also make mention of Tor activities, such as Reddit.

The Tor network hosts many clandestine or hidden services that you can’t find using a regular browser, including hacking software.

How to Access the Deep Web

Typically, those who want or need access to corporate content already know how to access it. Other examples include webinars or forums that require registration. This includes online classrooms and other teaching materials owned by schools and universities. Most company databases cannot be indexed by search engines. Academic journals and scientific papers are also excluded from the indexing process. Your banking information and most other personal financial information is not indexed by search engines and therefore considered deep web content. It is possible to exclude your website from search engines and sometimes people do this to protect their privacy.

How to Access the Dark Web

First of all, not all sites on the Dark Web are associated with illegal activities. The well-known site, WikiLeaks first began on the Dark Web as a secret place where whistleblowers could vent. In addition, the FBI has been cracking down on sites that deal in illegal drugs and dozens of these sites have recently been closed down.

Tor software encrypts web traffic in layers that allow it to bounce traffic around the world. With each pass, a layer of encryption is deleted before the data moves to the next network. Though it isn’t foolproof, it’s the best-known way to prevent anyone from spying on computers that enter the Dark Web.

Below are the step-by-step instructions for accessing the Dark Web. Remember to tread carefully. Enter at your own risk:

Step 1: Install the Tor browser on your computer. The download begins with the Tor bundle and you’ll need to install all of this onto your system.

Step 2: After the download is complete, install all files. Follow the screen prompts to correctly install everything.

Step 3: After installation, open the Tor browser.

Step 4: Install an Advanced VPN Service. There are numerous VPN services available today, such as ExpressVPN, PureVPN, and Hotspot Shield. These services charge a monthly fee ranging from just a few dollars per month to $30 per month. The rates are typically based on how many countries you can access, whether streaming services and games are included and other perks like that.

Step 5: Type something into your Tor browser that indicates your interests.

Security Tips

In spite of all precautions you may take, the Dark Web can be a dangerous place to hang out. For that reason, it’s a good idea to take certain precautions:

  • Cover your webcam.
  • Be sure to turn on the “NoScript” extension in the Tor browser and enable “Forbid Scripts globally”.
  • Never trust anyone you meet on the Dark Web.
  • Create a virtual identity.
  • Be aware that government law enforcement organizations may still be able to track your activities.