Surface Web vs. Deep Web vs. Dark Web

Last Updated: August 4, 2022By

woman using laptop on bed

We’ve all heard of the terms “deep web” and “dark web” before, but few of us know what they really mean. Of course, everyone tells a different story about them.

For some, these terms simply refer to the exclusive, hidden side of the internet. Others, however, paint a much darker picture- calling them hot spots for illegal cyber activities across the globe, i.e., the distribution and purchase of illicit drugs, child porn, weapons, and more.

There are also folks out there who use the terms “deep” and “dark” web interchangeably, thinking that they refer to the same thing. This sort of confusion is exactly what we’re here to clarify.

Read this article until the very end, and we will tell you everything you need to know to understand the fundamental differences between the surface, deep, and dark web.

The Surface Web – The Things You Can Access Through a Simple Search

Let’s start with the category we’re all familiar with, the surface web. As the name suggests, the “surface web” refers to that territory of the internet that you can easily access via a simple search through a search engine, i.e., a google search.

This is the search engine that actively indexed this data, which is why it is available for public access. If you’re wondering what the term “indexed” means, here is a simplified explanation:

The internet is filled with information- even about a singular topic. Needless to say, if search engines are to effectively find the information you’re looking for and retrieve it back to you quickly, there has to be a system to organize data. This is what indexing is all about.

It is kind of similar to how a library works. Every book in the library is assigned a unique code number determined by a number of different things, i.e., the genre of the book, the author’s name, etc.

Books in a library are organized into shelves according to this code, and anyone who wants to retrieve a specific book only needs to know their desired book’s code. Similarly, using the indexing process, search engines organize the data over the internet and retrieve the data you search for from its database.

So, when we say the surface web is the territory of the internet that is indexed by search engines, we mean that it is the only part of the internet that search engines have organized and stored in their databases.

Surprisingly, the surface web only happens to be 4% of the entire internet. Imagine that! There is so much that you can access through search engines; in fact, most of everything you’ve seen over the internet so far is only part of the surface web, and, if that is just 4% of the entire internet, just imagine how humongous the rest of it would be.

This leads us to the discussion of the deep web.

The Deep Web – Password-Based (Exclusive) Accounts

google homepage on phone

The deep web comprises about 95% of the internet. Yes, you read that right! There is no way any of us imagine just how much data must be in there, but it’s safe to say that it’s probably larger than however big you think it is.

As we mentioned earlier, only the surface web’s data is indexed by search engines. This means you can’t access the dark web’s data through a simple google search.

So, how does one access the data of the deep web? And what kind of data are we talking about here? Well, the deep web simply refers to the things you can do online which are exclusive, i.e., can’t be accessed by everyone.

This includes banking services, your email, password-based websites, subscription-based services, online accounts, and anything that requires you to use your email and password to log in.

This means that you’ve already accessed the deep web without even knowing about it. What makes the deep web exclusive, though, is the fact that you can’t access anybody else’s accounts on different websites unless you have their log-in credentials. This means you won’t be able to access most of the deep web in your life.

The Dark Web – Encrypted Data

Also commonly referred to as the dark net, the dark web is the term we use to refer to sites with TOR URLs. TOR websites are highly secretive. Their URLs are impossible to guess, understand, or remember.

More importantly, you can’t access anything over the dark web unless you employ specific software programs. This is because the data on the dark web is encrypted, and the sites over there are hosted anonymously.

The dark web is everything you’ve heard about from the people around you. A lot of the sites hosted on the dark web exploit their anonymity to build platforms for black markets where everything from illicit weapons, pornography, drugs, child pornography, human trafficking, and pirated things are sold.

Activities over the dark web aren’t all bad, though. Sometimes, to avoid censorship, a lot of secret communication between journalists, human rights activists, and other humanitarian groups takes place through the dark web. Governments also use the dark web to exchange intelligence reports, political records, and other sensitive data.

As with anything, the dark web is just a tool. It is not good or bad by nature; it just depends on the person using it. So, how does one access the dark web? Well, those who dare to surf the dark web use special programs and browsers designed to make the user anonymous over the internet.

They hide your IP addresses and encrypt your online activity, making it next to impossible for anyone to trace back to you.


To sum up, the surface web is everything that is publicly accessible by anyone surfing through the internet- the data that search engines have indexed and stored in their databases. Examples include Google, New York Times, Amazon, The Guardian, and more.

The deep web comprises 95% of the internet. It includes all the data that can only be accessed by unique credentials. Examples of items on the deep web include medical records, subscription data, scientific reports, legal documentation, and more.

Lastly, the dark web comprises websites with encrypted URLs, which means they can only be accessed through special programs and software. Examples of data over the dark web include black markets for things like illicit weapons and drugs, child porn, sex trafficking sites, private journalistic communication, communication between humanitarian groups, and more.