Are you not satisfied with the information that you are getting through Google, or, for that matter, through any search engine? If not, it’s probably time you go deeper.

-Pooja Khanal

The enigma of the deep web is something that has always been fascinating to the surfers of the deep web as well as to the listeners of the stories, which find their plot from the darker portion of the deep web.

It’s a common misconception that the deep web and the dark web are the same. They are not; they are just related. The deeper portion of the deep web can said to be the darker one.

The information that we’ve been given easy access to is only a very small fraction of the whole web system that exists. Now, this is where the media pops in claiming that deep web is ‘this’ percent of the total web. But let’s look at it more generally — the contents on the web are growing; thus the environs of both the surface web and deep web are growing.

A famous analogy can make the concept clearer. The web can be compared to an iceberg. Just like the tip of the iceberg above the ocean, only some percent (without giving a specific number) of the total web can be viewed (indexed) via traditional search engines, referred to as contents of the surface web, and the rest lies beyond the surface exclusively hidden from the general users, outstretched as deep web.

When it comes to the dark web, its hype is so intrusive that people mostly get confused with the terrain of deep and the dark web. I refer to this as the hysteric syndrome of the deep web i.e. whenever the name deep web snaps in, all sorts of illegalities on the internet start making their appearance in the person’s brain.

But what if I say that we are actually using the deep web in our daily lives? You upload a photo on Facebook indexed to ‘only me’. The picture thus can only be viewed by you but is an actual content on the web. You have all your banking credentials stored on the internet but search engines can’t/don’t index them and that place where you log in with your password is also beyond the surface web. The mail drafts that you save, the mail that you send, the mail that you delete, all the contents which aren’t available to everybody, are actually the content stored in the deep web. So, you see, the border of the deep and the surface web is blurry and not as legitimate as the media makes it out to be.

From finding an unpublished journal to sharing a confidential database file with your colleague, from accessing questionable pornography to hiring a hit man, there is nothing that the deep web doesn’t provide. An immense amount of valuable information is tucked away beyond search engines. The deep web actually unleashes the human nature on its extremes: both good and bad. The hysterical portion of the deep web is actually the dark web where the data are buried intentionally, mostly for illegal purposes. Thus, logically, the dark web is the darker subset of deep web.

Explore the infinity

Accessing deep web is something which doesn’t require much of a hard work; but if you panic only at the idea of stumbling upon something extremely weird (Creepy images? Zoophilic pornography? Or, who knows, live murder?), then you might want to think beforehand.

The websites which are popped into the unsearchable mostly contain .onion as their extension and hence are referred to as onion sites. They are only accessible through ‘The Onion Router –bundle’ notable as TOR. What the software TOR actually does is: it passes your IP address through a number of TOR routers encrypting and decrypting the IP address simultaneously, ultimately altering your real IP address to ensure your anonymity. Even the websites you tour won’t get to know the real you. (Sounds better than the incognito??)

The TOR network is actually a peer-to-peer network using cryptographic techniques while picking several random peers for establishing a secured connection. It works as a digital nested envelope — just like an onion — where the layers are slowly unwrapped one by one to reach the final destination. It’s all about underlying routing.

To make things clearer, consider an analogy that I borrowed from Steve, the creator of Cambia research.

Suppose you know a guy named Raul. Incidentally, that’s not his real name and he also wears a disguise and uses a fake accent. But the one thing you do know about Raul is that he hangs out on a certain street corner. You, therefore, have a way to locate Raul. You go to him and ask him what sorts of things he can do for you. He knows the names of certain “businesses” and what they provide, but that’s all. So you tell him that you want something. He says you can get it from “Rummage.onion” which, of course, means nothing to you. Next day you get a box back with the information you requested. You don’t know what Raul did with the box and he doesn’t know what his contact did with the box. But the box could have been transferred between fifty or more different people each one not knowing anything except who the previous and next person was in the chain. And this chain of people is never the same.

The same goes with the TOR junctures, thus to maintain the anonymity which ultimately contributes to privacy.

The good, the bad and the Creepy

Whether you are a research student looking for all the literature for your research or a journalist working anonymously for protesting against something profane, the deep web can serve you at its best. You’ll get all kinds of downloadable academic databases from various universities' servers and you might even get to know what your government is up to. The deep web can be your lime water to quench your internet thirst where the use of internet is censored (North Korea!!). But, be sure to spend your enthusiasm frugally in the deep web, or else you might find yourself stuck in a drug selling website or a place where a dark-hat hacker has set their trap to seize valuable information out of you.

When it comes to deep web, it’s similar to the real world — some things are creepy! People claim to have seen live murder. Some YouTubers even claim to have encountered cannibals. This certainly sends chills down everyone’s spine but what doesn’t? Let’s think of it this way: going bungee jumping can lead to many circumstances, yet you are hopeful of returning home happily but who knows what trouble might come next?

The astonishing part of the deep web is that it shields you from everyone but allows you to be the real you. The colossal information that lies just beyond the unsearchable can be used as you would like to and with complete anonymity. So, the next time you have a crush on someone and want to make sure that they aren’t a creep, you know where to go!

A version of this article appears on our Medium Page.
First Published on Aug 24, 2016.