Importance of Understanding the Differences Between Surface Web, Dark Web, and Deep Web


Today, data extraction is one of the most powerful tools enabling you to stay up-to-date with market developments, gain market intelligence, and become competitive in your industry. But extracting data only from surface web pages is usually not enough. There is a deeper extraction process that allows access to high-quality content that’s mostly hidden. Sound dark? To better understand how deep the web can go and what levels of data extraction are available, let’s take a closer look. As a starting point, we’ll differentiate three layers of the net – surface web vs. deep web vs. dark web.

What is Surface Web?

Everything you see on the surface of the internet when going online forms part of the surface web, which comprises just 4% of the entire net. The data available on the surface is purposely indexed by search engines, and this is the reason you can access it easily compared to information on other web layers.

Therefore, surface net is the part of the internet that is always available to the public and accessible via search engines like Google or Bing. You may wonder how search engines work and what “indexed” content means. Let’s get into it.

Indexing web content

Did you know that when you type something into a search bar and press “Search,” the search engine combs through its own database and not across the net? After that, it gets back to you with content that is already indexed and stored in its database—a giant index database where the information is organized in the most accurate way for easy retrieval. To create such a database, search engines use spiders to travel across the net and collect new data to be indexed and stored.

DataOx Web Spiders Crawling the Surface Web

So, when you submit a search, the search engine is looking for your query and responds with results from the search index database. This option works only for the content which is on the surface and can be indexed. But what about the pages that are not open for crawling? Here, we discuss the next layer of the net.

What is Deep Web?

Deep web forms 95% of the net and includes data not indexed by search engines. This means that you will not access this data with a simple search. So, the surface web can be tracked by search engines, while the deep net includes everything that search engines cannot identify, because they are protected with a password or stored behind internet services. This is why spiders are invisible. Actually, you spend a lot of time on deep pages, but you don’t even know it.

Here are some examples of deep sites:

  • Websites which can be accessed with a username and password (email, cloud services, online banking, or paid subscription-based online media sites)
  • Video-on-demand services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, or HBO
  • Companies’ internal platforms
  • Educational or library websites
  • Government related pages or legal documents
  • Medical records

Accessing deep pages is comparatively safe, but your accounts contain personal information valuable for criminals. For this reason, it is recommended to use unique and strong passwords with a hard combination of letters, symbols and numbers. There is another risk when you access your personal accounts using public Wi-Fi, such as when you make online payments. In these cases, it is a good idea to use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to protect your virtual privacy.

Differences in extracting data from surface and deep web

When it comes to data extraction, most organizations scrape data from various sites, focusing on easily accessible content. Here, surface data extraction mainly covers the same domain as search engines, but requires a more powerful tool to target and monitor the information properly. If collecting information from the deep net is required, manual extraction is the main way to do so, as it is not the most reliable method. For deep data extraction, we recommend using automated web scraping.

What is Dark Web?

The dark web (or so-called dark net) includes sites designed to be hidden which mostly have TOR (The Onion Router) urls that are impossible to remember, guess or understand. TOR websites aren’t popular, and they are not accessible without using specific software programs, as a great deal of data is encrypted and hosted mostly anonymously. On the dark net, there are sites related to black markets and illegal activities like:

  • Marketplace for drugs and unregistered weapons
  • Software for deeper browsing (like Onion Browser)
  • Scanned version of unique books and publications
  • Wikileaks documents
  • Racist related information and human trafficking
  • Content depicting abuse towards war prisoners, children, etc.

Apart from special software programs, so-called dark pages can be accessed only with the help of anonymized browsers like TOR, which is the most popular one. When accessing dark pages, a user remains entirely anonymous—no one can trace his IP address, as TOR encrypts every piece of content or action, making tracking almost impossible.

But not everything on the dark net is illegal or deplorable. The dark net is also used as a secret communication channel for journalists, human rights activists, or political activities. Plus, by using the dark net, military services can exchange confidential data anonymously. It is also widely used by governmental entities to store intelligence reports, political records, and other sensitive data.

Difference between deep and dark web

So, let’s rewind and understand the difference between dark web and deep web. Though both deep and dark nets are hidden from search engines, the basic difference between these two concepts is that deep pages can be accessed through credentials and authorization, while dark pages require a special browser and software with a decryption key. Additionally, data of deep pages is not hidden, unlike the dark net whose solepurpose is anonymity.

Surface Web, Deep Web and Dark Web by DataOx

Summing Up Surface, Deep, and Dark Web

To sum up, you now know the difference between surface web, deep web, and dark net. The easiest way to remember these three types of internet webs is to remember the iceberg analogy by Data Scientist, Denis Shestakov. The WWW is like an iceberg, in which the smallest part of the entire network we visit regularly is on the top, but the biggest part is unseen.

Surface, dark, and deep web are connected to each other, forming a base for online operations. While operating on the surface is mostly secure, activities on deeper levels can be suspicious. In the event of the dark net, major operations are anonymous and usually used for shady purposes. For security reasons, it is better to avoid it, if it is not related to your specialization.


At DataOx, we scan both the surface and deep web to extract data and present it in readable, manageable formats. From monitoring news articles all over the world to support customer care specialists, DataOx helps businesses succeed. To discover how you can benefit from surface and deep data extraction and promote your business, schedule a free consultation with our expert.

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