What is Tor, the Deep Web, and the Dark Web?

New to the dark web? Learn more about these hidden internet terms below.

Any data that can be searched within conventional search engines like Google and Bing is considered indexed, surface web content—but this only covers about 10% of all content on the internet. Where is the other 90%, and how can it be accessed?

Deep Web

The terms "deep web" and "dark web" are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same. The deep web includes websites and online data that are non-discoverable by surface web search engines. This includes dark web content, encrypted networks, internet archives, and password-protected or dynamic pages like private online banking or email pages. The deep web is estimated to be at least 400-500 times the size of the surface web.

Dark Web

Like the deep web, the dark web contains unsearchable web pages—but is designed intentionally to create user anonymity and requires special tools to access. User anonymity allows illegal activities to flourish, which is how the dark web gets its bad reputation.

The dark web isn’t exclusively used for selling drugs and having open discussions about neo-nazism—it can be used by anyone seeking anonymity. This could include whistleblowers protecting their identity when releasing information, or users searching the web freely in a country where certain content might be censored or blocked.

As long as a user knows where they’re going (ie. they have a link), they can easily access an unindexed page on the deep web. However, most dark web links (which use .onion as their top-level domain) are constantly changing, difficult to find, and can’t be accessed in a conventional browser such as Chrome or Firefox. Enter: Tor.

Tor

Tor is an internet browser, which looks much like any other internet browser, but gives users anonymity. It does this through a process called "onion routing" (the acronym "Tor" stands for "the onion router").

The Tor browser was created by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in the 1990s with the aim of enabling secure government communications. Tor forces a computer to run its communications through a large number of other computers, called nodes, before they are directed to the final computer. Nodes, also called relays, can be just about any computer that has been set up with Tor software (you can actually download it here).

Travelling through multiple nodes means that by the time a communication gets to its destination, it is impossible to determine its original location or IP address. This gives users total anonymity while browsing. The multiple nodes routing communications represent multiple layers of "the onion" in Tor.