Key Points

  • The dark web requires a special browser like the Tor Browser to even access while the deep web is accessible from any browser.
  • The deep web makes up between 90% and 95% of the internet and has many similarities to both the surface web and the dark web.
  • Neither the deep web nor the dark web are indexed by search engines.
  • The dark web is entirely unregulated by any entity.
  • The dark web requires that you know the exact URL of the page you are trying to visit if you are not following a link from another location.

Deep web and dark web are two terms that some people use almost interchangeably. In actuality, they have many differences between them, and they are used for extremely different purposes. The biggest similarities between the two are that neither are cataloged by search engines, and they both require extra steps to access. In fact, the dark web is only accessible by using specialized browsers like the Tor browser. The dark web is primarily geared towards anonymity and is more of an underground network while the deep web consists of components of websites that are on the surface web but are restricted by one of several means.

Deep Web vs. Dark Web: Side-by-Side Comparison

Deep WebDark Web
Accessibility:Any browser with the proper credentialsTor Browser and other specialized browsers only
Regulatory controls:Content controls set by the ISP and user’s home countryUnregulated
Anonymity:ISP and other entities regularly track activityMany browsers make access less traceable but not truly anonymous
Examples:Confidential information, employee-only websites, student and teacher portals of educational institutionsBlack market exchange sites, certain email servers, forums, and other relay services
Indexed by search engines:NoNo
VPN use:User preferenceHighly recommended
Anti-virus use:RecommendedNecessary

What Is the Deep Web?

While the deep web sounds mysterious, it’s extremely common and makes up over 90% of the internet. The surface web is any website that is publicly available and readily indexed by search engines. On the other hand, the deep web is any page that is not indexed by these same search engines. That includes websites that block search engine crawlers but do not otherwise restrict access, and it also includes sites that require a subscription, username and password, or other credentials to access certain portions of the page.

Two of the most readily available examples would be the customer side of your banking website and any portion of your work website that is for employee use only. Neither of those site owners would wish the content of those pages to appear on a Google search, and they have taken steps to conceal the content of those pages from said search engines.

deep web vs dark web diagram
This graphic clearly illustrates that the majority of the internet is in the deep web.

The Dark Web and Its Contents

The dark web has a more sinister, underground reputation that is not entirely without merit. There are plenty of lawful uses and reasons to access it; however, some of the best-known incidents have colored many peoples’ perceptions of the dark web and its users. Originally created as a way for government agents and their contacts to communicate with one another, the dark web has morphed into a decentralized network of sites that are unreachable by all search engines and most browsers.

One of the biggest differences is that you must know the exact URL of the website that you are trying to reach, or you must know the URL of one of the dark web indexes of websites. The indexes add a layer of uncertainty as it’s extremely difficult to verify the authenticity of a site on the dark web prior to accessing it. Illicit black markets have found a home on the dark web where you can purchase everything including novelty items, weapons, drugs, compromised credit card accounts, and even human trafficking victims. Some of these markets have abruptly closed and absconded with their customers’ money, and several have been seized by US and European law enforcement agencies. While anonymity is key to the dark web, it’s important to remember that it’s nearly impossible to be truly anonymous on the internet.

There are also many legitimate websites populating the dark web. Users living in countries that heavily restrict internet access can reach sites like the New York Times using the Tor Browser to access information that their government might otherwise block them from seeing. There are also Tor-hosted email servers like Proton Mail that assist free communication when it might not be otherwise possible for a number of reasons. This is a great way to further the freedom of information around the globe.

The dark web has morphed from a tool used by government agents and their contacts into a decentralized network of sites that are unreachable by all search engines and most browsers.

©Alexander Geiger/

Why Would You Use the Deep Web or the Dark Web?

Virtually everyone that uses the internet will use the deep web rather frequently, and the similarities to the surface web are apparent. Any part of a website that is password restricted is a part of the deep web. From the service side of your bank to an employee-only area of your work website to a closed and password-protected forum, these are all examples of the deep web. You can access all of it using any available browser provided that you have the proper credentials, and it simply is used to prevent anyone without those credentials from accessing the information that is on the page. There are even unprotected pages that have added web crawler blocking extensions that prevent search engine crawlers from cataloging the information contained within them.

The fundamental difference is that the dark web is primarily used for more underground purposes that have a higher need for anonymity. Whether a journalist is compiling information from a corporate whistleblower or a government intelligence agent is receiving information from an asset, neither party would really wish that information to become public without having a say in the matter. Furthermore, residents of authoritarian-controlled countries can access the free press available to the rest of the world and thereby gain knowledge or share details of their lives that would otherwise remain unknowable.

There are also many more nefarious reasons to use the dark web. That is why any user should do their due diligence before accessing it to avoid inadvertently violating the law in their own country.

The Dark Web in the News

  • May 10, 2023 — Today, Google announced that all U.S. Gmail users will soon be able to perform a scan to see if their email address can be found there. If they find their email address, they can follow Google guidelines to protect their data. Users will also be able to check whether their email address is linked to any data breaches that ended up on dark web cybercrime forums.
  •  May 2, 2023 — Police arrested 288 dark web drug vendors and buyers and seized $55.9 million in cash and cryptocurrency. The vendors participated in the “Monopoly Market,” a marketplace that sold drugs to customers globally in return for cryptocurrency.
  • January 30, 2023 — Between March 2020 and June 2022, Kapersky analyzed 200,000 hacker and developer jobs that were advertised across 155 dark websites. Kapersky found that these jobs offered salaries up to $20,000 per month plus paid time off and sick leave.

Deep Web vs. Dark Web: Full Comparison FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

How do I access the dark web?

The dark web can only be accessed by special browsers. Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, or Microsoft Edge are all unable to access websites on the dark web. Dark web sites with the upper-level domain .onion can only be accessed by the Tor Browser or other browsers using a Tor interface, such as the Brave browser. There are other browsers that are able to access these pages, but the Tor Browser is the most common by far.

Which is bigger, the deep web or the dark web?

Despite their differences, the dark web is actually a segment of the deep web, and therefore, the deep web is the larger of the two. In fact, it’s estimated that the deep web may comprise as much as 95% of the total internet with only a very small percentage of that being attributed to the dark web.

Which is more dangerous, the dark web or the deep web?

The dark web is vastly more dangerous than the deep web. While not inherently illegal, the dark web is entirely unregulated, and due to the lack of traditional search engines, it’s exceedingly more difficult to research what site you are accessing on the dark web to verify its authenticity. The dark web is known for its anonymity, but it is important to remember that nothing you do on the internet is truly anonymous. Illegal activity and content are rampant on the dark web, and accessing the wrong site inadvertently could not only compromise your device and personal data but also violate the laws of your country.

What percentage of the internet do the deep and dark webs make up?

It is estimated that the deep web encompasses anywhere between 90% to 95% of the internet. The surface web and dark web make up the remainder of that 5% to 10% with the surface web accounting for the vast majority of that space. It’s impossible to estimate the true size of any of the web components with exact data.

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