Deep Web vs Dark Web vs Shadow Web: What are the differences?

deep web vs dark web vs shadow web

You may have heard of the terms shadow web, dark web and deep web is used when referencing the internet but aren’t quite sure what they mean. While the media often uses the terms deep web vs dark web vs shadow web interchangeably, they do refer to different areas of the web.

Here you can learn the key differences between Deep Web vs Dark Web vs Shadow Web and what each of these terms refers to.

The Web: A Digital Ocean

When it comes to comparing and understanding Deep Web vs Dark Web vs Shadow Web, it helps to think of the web as an ocean.

Firstly, there is the surface at the top. This layer is familiar to most people. The terms shadow, dark and deep web are used to reference areas below the surface that are not readily accessible to most web surfers. They can only be accessed through the usage of particular technologies. The dark and deep web layers are also not as easily monitored by regulatory bodies.

The top layer is the web which is accessible by default when you purchase the services of an ISP (Internet Service Provider). It can be accessed by using major search engines such as Yahoo, Google and Bing.

This version of the web is used by most of the world’s population for shopping, banking, entertainment and receiving the latest news. It is also heavily monitored by the world’s intelligence agencies and law enforcement on behalf of their governments.

Deep Web

The deep web is more extensive than the surface web familiar to most web surfers. Unlike surface websites, which are accessible and indexed by the major search engines, nothing in the deep web is ever indexed.

The general public can still access it.  However, to do so, you need to use a special browser that is password encrypted.

Being unindexed does not necessarily imply that it is hidden; it simply means it is kept differently from the surface, indexed content.

For example, a search box on an e-commerce site would not appear in a Google results list. Neither would a password that you’ve typed online and that a website needs to remember to provide you access.

These are examples of the deep web — areas of the internet that most people still have access to but cannot be searched for using Google or other search engines.

Dark Web

The dark web is connected to the deep web and is a part of it. However, the difference between the two is that it is hidden on purpose and cannot be accessed using standard browsers.

United States Military researchers designed the technological infrastructure used to forge the dark web in the 1990s to allow intelligence networks and spies to communicate clandestinely.

Also referred to as TOR, or The Onion Router, it utilizes encryption, an application layer inside a protocol communication stack akin to onion layers, hence the name.

Since the United States Military constructed it, why would they make the dark web accessible to anyone using the proper tools? The goal was to make Tor available for public domain use eventually. The logic was that messages couldn’t be hidden if nothing was available for them to hide behind.

Another advantage of Tor and the dark web was to assist political dissidents in countries where they were suppressed by their governments and denied free speech. It is a way of allowing them to communicate and voice their opinions without fear of being monitored, trailed and punished. While the idea certainly sounds noble, criminals worldwide were quick to recognize and take advantage of the anonymity it offers.

How is the Dark Web used?

The dark web is frequently used by those who wish to engage in illicit activities without fear of being easily monitored and caught. Some of the content which exists here can be awful, and some refer to the dark web as a place where humanity’s gruesome side manifests itself.  Just a few of the products or services which can be acquired on the dark web include:

  • Clandestine and illegal services for hire
  • Illegal narcotics and other controlled substances
  • Unregistered firearms and ammunition
  • Rare and hardcore books
  • Buildings plans, blueprints and layouts
  • Videos depicting violence towards animals, children or war prisoners
  • Illicit content, including text and video
  • Pirated software
  • Counterfeit documents or chemicals

While many of these supposed services are scams, some might be real. Authorities from several countries have taken down some networks and sites, arresting the owners, such as Silk Road.

Is the Dark Web illegal?

It depends on your jurisdiction. However, even in places where it is technically illegal, there isn’t much the authorities can do to stop people from accessing it.

Remember, the deep and dark web is encrypted and only accessible in specific ways.  Due to this design, it is difficult for governments to stop it even if they legally prohibit it. What is illegal in every jurisdiction is using the dark web to acquire illicit products or services.

Is the Dark Web dangerous?

From a cyber-security perspective, it can be if you don’t know how to protect yourself. Non-technical people who are interested in satisfying their curiosity can quickly get into trouble. As such, you shouldn’t go looking around this area of the web unless you’re prepared and know what you’re doing.

Additionally, the dark web can pose a threat even to those who don’t mess with it. The reason for this is because the primary transacted good is the data of users.

There are gigabytes worth of information in the form of leaked data that is for sale. This leaked data helps hackers and other cybercriminals get the info needed for identity theft, stuffing attacks and nefarious activities of all kinds. For example, journalists who researched the dark web were shocked to find that it already had lots of info on them.

How to use the Dark Web safely?

Many experts will recommend not using the dark web at all unless you’re a political dissident living in a hostile nation. Attempting to use the surface web could result in you being apprehended. For most people who do not fall under this category, everything you could want is readily available on the surface web.

However, if you’re determined to access the dark web, there are several steps you should take to protect yourself. The most important is to safeguard your data. Pay close attention to the data permissions you authorize, which means you don’t want to click “yes” each time a popup appears on a website asking for it. Use robust passwords that are difficult to crack.

However, even if you follow these tips, ultimately, some info regarding you will appear on sale on the dark web. Fortunately, if this data is no longer accurate to create harm, you have little to worry about – especially if you use multi-factor authentication. Additionally, using robust anti-malware software is another way of staying safe.

The best browser for accessing the dark web is Tor. It is encrypted and regularly updated, meaning your data won’t be easily accessible to malicious parties. Still, it is critically important to never share any info about yourself with the people you meet and not purchase anything. If you come across software that seems neat and valuable, do not install it.

Shadow Web

The shadow web is the next layer beneath the dark web and is said to be worse. A lot of its information is speculative and conflicting since there is tremendous secrecy surrounding it. The information available on message boards and forums suggests a paywall where users can see truly hardcore and shocking content.

The shadow web is also believed to be the place where significant criminal networks and activities exist. Many dismiss it as just a rumor, although there is good reason to think it’s real. However, any advertisement on the surface or dark web claiming that it can take you into the shadow web for a fee is a scam.

Even if the shadow web already exists, or someone invents it in the future, it is not something you ever want to pay for or see. Any content in this web area will be so horrible that many of those who witness it might be psychologically scarred for life. The only users who have a legitimate reason to access such content are law enforcement agencies looking to identify, arrest and prosecute the criminals using it.

Future Dark Web trends

While the future is mainly impossible to predict, when comparing deep web vs dark web vs shadow web, several trends are being witnessed, particularly in the dark web. The first is that access will become more restricted as time passes. When Interpol or the FBI dismantles a single website, more will sprout up to take its place.

The dark web acts as a conduit for free speech and expression and an outlet for illicit activity. There is tremendous demand for it, even though some of the information is repugnant to most rational and empathetic people.

Globally, governments are increasingly taking an aggressive approach to online surveillance and censorship, even in countries traditionally known for their free speech laws. Therefore, those who want to express themselves freely without fear of reprisal from government bureaucrats must remain hidden.

As a result, dark web enthusiasts will likely create more sophisticated techniques to prevent detection. This may be accomplished by password-protecting sites that are only accessible to those who pay and restricting access to specific IP addresses.

Usage of Cryptocurrencies will increase

There is a strong connection between the dark web and cryptocurrencies since they complement one another. While the dark web was conceived to facilitate confidential communications, cryptocurrency was developed to make untraceable payments.

While this role has traditionally been undertaken by cash, which is still used for transactions that cannot be traced, cash is restricted to the physical world. The adoption of the internet worldwide created a need for making international payments that were digital and could not be traced, and cryptocurrencies were the perfect fit.

It could be argued that the dark web could not exist in its present form without the anonymity that digital currencies provide. The creation of the open-sourced Bitcoin in 2009 by Satoshi Nakamoto played a crucial role in this development.

Bitcoin has become so successful that it purchased questionable goods on the dark web to buying everyday goods on the surface web. Other cryptocurrencies are being invented.

More Private Data will be sold

It is estimated that almost fifty per cent of the world’s population has regular access to the internet. As the cost of personal computers, tablets, smartphones and ISPs continue to decrease, more people will join the digital world, including the private data associated with them.

Consequently, more data will be stored on the web, giving cybercriminals more opportunities to acquire and exploit it. Hackers are also becoming more sophisticated regarding capturing this data, so a continuous effort must be made to safeguard it.

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