I’m pretty sure at some point we’ve all idly sat at the computer or on our phone, feeling as if we’ve browsed the entire internet. You’re constantly refreshing Twitter, watching cat videos on YouTube at 3:00 in the morning, and jamming out to some Pandora station you didn’t know existed 20 minutes prior. But, you really shouldn’t be bored with the known internet because it would take you 226,532 years at 250 words per minute to read everything currently on the internet (excluding Facebook posts, emails, audio/video content, and any posts in foreign languages, all with the assumption that any new uploads to the internet are frozen once you begin to read). Additionally, what I found extremely interesting is that this comprises only a tiny portion of the internet. The known internet is around 760 exabytes! (For those wondering what an exabyte is, it’s 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes; UC Berkeley estimates that “all words ever spoken by human beings” could be stored in 5 exabytes, although that would likely have to be in text format.)
Besides the known web, there’s something called the Deep Web, which is literally several thousand times larger. Pretty mind-blowing stuff. A comparison often made is to an iceberg; only a small fraction of it is visible above the surface.
Continuing with an ocean analogy, search engines such as Google and Bing are fishing boats, skimming across the surface of the sea. Their nets scoop up a lot of information and display it in their search results, but there is plenty that is left untouched. The majority of material on the Deep Web is completely legitimate; it’s where banks and large companies store sensitive information (obviously you wouldn’t want your banking information to appear in a Google search). The Deep Web can be accessed through a browser known as Tor, initially designed by the U.S. Navy to protect internal government communications. Tor is a browser that allows you to mask all of your online activity: your location, I.P. address, identity, history, etc. (You can download it here: https://www.torproject.org). There are plenty of legitimate uses for this; for one, it allows individuals in restrictive and censored countries to access and share information without fear of reprisals. However, what’s truly unique about Tor over any other browser is its ability to access the Deep Web.
Take the following URL:
You probably just clicked on it, and noticed that it takes you nowhere. You’re probably also scratching your head over the funky name–especially the .onion address. This is an example of a Deep Website page; it’s only accessible through browsers that have this capability. If you install Tor and open this URL inside of it, it will take you to a directory of various .onion websites.
Now a word of caution:
Just like the surface internet, there’s a lot of sleazy material on the Deep Web. While it is in no way illegal to use the Deep Web in the United States, there are sections of the Deep Web where truly horrible things reside: websites where you can order assassinations, drugs, weapons, child pornography, fake ID’s, passports, and a ton of other vile content you would never want to see. These individuals are protected by anonymity and conduct their transactions in untraceable currencies such as Bitcoin. (By the way, this isn’t a foolproof way to protect identity for said illegal transactions; in October the FBI arrested the man behind The Silk Road, a multi-billion dollar website specializing in shipping illicit drugs, and shut it down.)
The point of this article was to expand your knowledge of what the internet is actually comprised of. You can decide for yourself whether or not you want to access the deep internet, but at least now you know that there’s a lot more to the internet than you have ever imagined.