The dark web represents only a fraction of the rest of the internet

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The dark web is often portrayed as a hidden corner of the internet where cybercriminals exchange information and plan cyberattacks but how does it compare to the rest of the internet?

To answer this question, Recorded Future analysed 260,000 onion pages to better understand the reach of the Tor network from a starting set of onion sites pulled from public lists and its own content. The threat intelligence company quickly realized that the dark web is actually tiny when compared to the “clear web” used by consumers and businesses.

Recorded Future's crawling found 55,828 different onion domains but only 8,416 were observed to be live on the Tor network during its investigation.

The company's findings disprove the misconception that the relationship between the surface web and dark web has an iceberg shape with the surface web being a small portion of the World Wide Web above the water and the dark web below accounting for the majority. The opposite is actually true and the surface web is vastly larger than the dark web.

There are an estimated 200m unique and active surface web domains which means that the current live onion site network makes up less that 0.005 percent of the size of the World Wide Web.

The dark web

Recorded future also found that the onion sites that make up the dark web are disorganized, unreliable and plagued with scams.

One such popular scam called typosquatting has been used to successfully defraud users of over 400 popular onion sites, earning thousands of dollars in Bitcoin from victims.

Uptime is also an issue on the dark web with popular onion sites well below the 99.999 percent or “five nines” availability expected from reputable companies on the surface web. Onion sites also regularly disappear permanently with or without explanation.

When it comes to the languages used on the dark web, onion sites are far more homogeneous than the surface web. Recorded future observed that 86 percent of onion sites have English as their primary language followed by Russian at 2.8 percent and German at 1.6 percent. On the surface web though, researchers report that English is the top language used at only 54 percent.

By better understanding the origin and nature of the dark web, common misconceptions surrounding it can be dispelled while at the same time greater awareness can help consumers avoid falling victim to the scams and other illegal activity it contains.

Anthony Spadafora

After working with the TechRadar Pro team for the last several years, Anthony is now the security and networking editor at Tom’s Guide where he covers everything from data breaches and ransomware gangs to the best way to cover your whole home or business with Wi-Fi. When not writing, you can find him tinkering with PCs and game consoles, managing cables and upgrading his smart home.