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What Is the Deep Web? [INFOGRAPHIC]

The Deep Web consists of all the websites that can’t be accessed via search engines. Most people use search engines to navigate the internet and, because of this, will never come across the mysterious, disorganized and occasionally seedy network known as the Deep Web.

How Do Search Engines Work?

Search engines want to cover as many websites as possible, but the automated methods they use to catalog the internet inevitably exclude some types of sites. Each search engine assembles databases about available websites by sending out crawlers, programs that automatically discover and scan websites by following links from one site to another. These crawlers adeptly catalog most sites, but they have trouble navigating the contents of searchable databases, password protected sites and sites deliberately programmed to keep out crawlers. Search engines actually miss much more than they catch: for each site accessible via search engine there are 4,000 to 5,000 Deep Web pages that aren’t accessible.

What’s on the Deep Web?

The Deep Web’s secrecy allows for some frightening content, though most of the network’s 550 billion documents are harmless: phone books, databases, professional lists and the like. But for people who know how to look, the Deep Web holds child pornography, weapons sales and criminal networks. Here are some of the seedier sites of the Deep Web:

  • Before the FBI shut it down in 2013, the Silk Road was a famously gigantic drug marketplace. For a place that sold crystal meth, the site was surprisingly legit, with buyers rating sellers on their reliability. The site worked kind of like Amazon, except for drugs.
  • The White Wolves Professionals are scary people with a nice-looking website, but Web design chops and criminal enterprise aren’t mutually exclusive. Their prices for an assassination range from $25 thousand to knock off an average citizen to $15 million to hit a politician.
  • On the Human Experiment site, medical professionals detail the medical experiments they’ve performed on kidnapped homeless people and unregistered citizens. Their work is gruesome enough that some people think the site is a joke. If so, it’s a sick one.

How Can You Access the Deep Web?

To start with, you’ll need to download a browser that can handle the Deep Web. Google Chrome and Internet Explorer can’t go there. Tor is the most popular Deep Web browser. Since it promises anonymous browsing, it’s also popular with privacy aficionados who use it to protect their privacy on other parts of internet as well. And if you’re planning to do any shopping, you’ll need to get some bitcoins, an encrypted virtual currency that lets you buy anonymously online. Just be careful: bitcoins are unregulated and take a lot of know-how to use.

Can the NSA Track This Stuff?

The Deep Web is supposed to be totally anonymous and untraceable, but the National Security Agency can track some of what goes on there. According to the Edward Snowden documents, the NSA takes advantage of flaws in Deep Web infrastructure to track users. For example, the NSA takes advantage of the fact that the Tor browser requires people to volunteer their routers to process its data; by allowing the browser to use its own browsers, the agency accesses a certain percentage of all Tor browsing. The NSA has also used bugs in the browser and ads to track some users as they navigate the Deep Web. The network may be mostly anonymous, but sometimes there’s someone watching!

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