Today the answer to every problem seems to be pretty simple; "Google it". You hear it all the time, but mainly from people who think the entirety of all human knowledge can be found through a search engine. They aren't too far wrong but it's important to remember, that all the information on the internet alone isn't available through Google. Google only links to certain websites, what is referred to as "The Surface Web", but there is another trove of information "The Deep Web" that isn't quite as easy to access.
"The vastness of the deep web...completely took my breath away."
Estimates range from claims that the surface web we see everyday makes up only 20% of the overall internet to allegations that the deep web is up to 500 times bigger than its counterpart. Michael K. Bergmen, an American academic claims that its size alone is staggering. "I remember saying to my staff, it's probably two or three times bigger than the regular web. But the vastness of the deep web...completely took my breath away. The deep web is currently 400 to 550 times larger than the commonly defined World Wide Web...internet searches are searching only 0.03% of the total web pages available."
The vast majority of content on the deep web is mundane: Databases and dynamic pages make up the majority of the 91,000 terabytes that it is estimated it contains. The main source of interest and speculation are the communities that exist away from the curious eyes of the average web user. Rumours abound of forums containing assassins for hire, of pages filled with genuine snuff films and sites where serial killers discuss how to dispose of their victims most effectively. Most of these are widely exaggerated of course. The reality is still interesting, if a little less terrifying.
The deep web actually contains some things which are harmless, some which are harmful, and some that are very sinister indeed. It is probably best known for Silk Road, the largest drug distribution service on the net. Transactions are conducted anonymously, of course, through the sites own currency, bitcoins. Despite only launching in March 2011, the site is known as one of the most popular sites on the deep web. US Senator Charles described the site as "A certifiable one-stop shop for illegal drugs that represents the most brazen attempt to peddle drugs online that we have ever seen. It's more brazen than anything else by lightyears."
"The site contained over 100 gigabytes of child pornography."
The deep web is also home to large databases of pirated software, music and movie that is easily accessible, but much of the content is far more harmful than that. The network is popular with child pornography rings, as media can be traded with far greater anonymity than on the surface web. It's far more difficult to track users or the information they pass to one another. In October 2011, the online vigilante group Anonymous was involved in a raid on one of these sites that lead to the site being taken offline and investigated. "Lolita City" had 1,589 of its members usernames and information posted online by anonymous hackers who claimed that the site contained over 100 gigabytes of child pornography.
In spite of these negative aspects to its existence many believe that the Deep Web has an important part to play in relation to web censorship. In a time where people are increasingly aware of how their information is targeted online, anonymous browsers such as TOR that are used to access the deep web are becoming increasingly attractive. Many web users now seek to use software that protects their privacy, even if they are only participate in legal activities online.
Web users are also becoming increasingly tech-savvy. It isn't unusual for young people to have a grasp on more complicated online techniques such as using web proxies while surfing or employing software such as the TOR browser to protect their own anonymity. Other software designed to protect privacy has proved to be increasingly popular. Ian Clarke's browser "Freenet" was built with protecting the privacy of its users in mind and has been downloaded over 2 million times from his website. With their information more under threat with every day, an increasing amount of people are heading for the deep, to places, unknown.