One can easily write at length to describe the differences between the deep net, dark net, and the open net, but they can also be summed up simply as follows.
The open net is what you would call the “regular” internet. If there is a phrase on the open net , such as the name “Olivia Wilde,” then you can simply google it. If the name only appears once on the open net and its in a news article on cnn.com, then Google will find that article with a quick search.
The deep net generally refers to information or records that are stored in databases and cannot be discovered via Google. These databases, known as deep web databases, often store government records and can only be accessed via specific websites that exist on the open net as portals to the deep net. For example, properties records are stored in deep web databases. Therefore, if one “Olivia Wilde” owned a house in Miami-Dade County, you would never find that record by googling the person’s name. You could ONLY find that record by going to the Miami-Dade County Government website.
There is a specific page (see picture above) in that website, where you can search for a name in that deep web database of property records for the county. This is the ONLY place on the entire internet where you can search for that record. This is because this is the only access point for the public to search in that database.
TOR AND THE DARK NET
TOR is a free service that enables users to have secure and anonymous internet activity. Here is how it works. When a person uses TOR, from their perspective they merely open a TOR browser and type in a website’s url to connect. This is similar to any other web browser, but with a very slow connection.
Behind the scenes, instead of directly linking the person’s browser to the website, TOR redirects the person’s internet traffic through three proxy nodes and then connects to the website. TOR has a network of several thousand proxy nodes around the world that is uses for this purpose.
This is illustrated below where Alice is using TOR, which means that her internet traffic takes a circuitous route to its destination.
The TOR browser also encrypts the traffic from the person’s computer to the first node and the second and the third node. TOR does not encrypt the internet traffic from the third node to the website. This is demonstrated below where the encrypted parts of the path are highlighted in green but the last hop from the last TOR node is unencrypted.
Because the last leg of this internet trail is not encrypted, the website can only see that an anonymous person is connecting to the website from a TOR node. TOR nodes are more or less publicly known, so websites will known when the traffic is coming from the TOR network.
Dark net websites will only allow traffic coming from these TOR nodes. By contrast, some open net websites will not allow traffic from TOR nodes.
As a result of the encryption and proxies it is almost impossible for any government to monitor the content of a TOR user’s internet browsing. The government can see that the person is accessing TOR, but not what they are doing. Many regimes try to prohibit the public from accessing TOR so that it can better monitor their internet traffic.
Public focus often centers on the seedier and criminal side of the dark net but there are many legitimate uses for it as well. For example, charitable groups use the dark net to provide people that are living under authoritarian regimes with secure and anonymous access reputable news sources, which are often repressed under various regimes.