There are many stories about what lurks on the dark web, ranging from drugs to hit men, but not many people know exactly what the dark web is or how to access it.
According to experts, there are eight levels of the internet, ranging from the surface version you access every day to the lowest levels where the entire web is assembled. Dark web users bypass the normal surface level of the internet in order to steal data, solicit illegal substances, and pursue other nefarious purposes. While the deep web uses complex layering (called "onion sites") to remain hidden, it is relatively simple to access. If you know where and how to look, all the creepiness of the deep web can be yours to peruse at your own risk.
Sites on the dark web are hidden and can't be indexed by search engines like Google, so normal browsers can't access them. In particular, dark websites include a top-level suffix indicating a hidden service reachable only with Tor (The Onion Router) or similar software.
Tor hides your information by routing browser traffic through an overlay network that has access to more than 7,000 relays. That way, your location appears to change multiple times, virtually placing you anywhere from Sweden to Nicaragua. Ironically, Tor was invented by the US Naval Research Laboratory to protect the identities of whistleblowers and individuals who oppose to their countries' political regimes.
The immense size of the web is typically portrayed as an iceberg. The tip of the iceberg everyone sees is the surface web, which makes up only 10% of the information that exists on the internet as a whole. There are an estimated 980,000,000 legal websites on the on the surface web.
The deep web is the submerged part of the hypothetical iceberg; it makes up 90% of all internet information. While the surface web holds approximately 19 terabytes of information, the deep web contains roughly 7,500 terabytes and is home to an unknown number of websites.
Everything on the surface web is indexed by search engines. These engines collect information by deploying automated spiders or crawlers that follow the thread of a domain to other related or linked domains and catalog the content.
Since the deep web uses Tor, which is not rooted in a fixed domain, search engines are unable to make sense of deep websites or follow their threads. To further mask their existence, hidden sites like these may also require passkeys or passwords. Normal search engines limit internet users to surface web content.
The surface web consists of sites like YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook - sites that most people encounter every day. The dark web, however, contains sites that are purposely hidden, sites that occupy the last page of search engine results, and sites that are no longer indexed.
Despite it's size, the dark web remains largely hidden. While the surface web has an estimated two billion users, the dark web has roughly 960,000. Far fewer people seek out encrypted websites, and most have no idea how to find the dark web at all.