how big is the internet

How Big Is The Internet? Understanding The Internet In 2021

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Last Updated on March 18, 2021 by Calvin C.

How big is the internet? According to Global Forecast 2021 Highlights, the volume of internet traffic is set to reach at least 235.7 exabytes per month, compared to 73.1 exabytes per month in 2016.

To get an idea of the sheer size of these numbers, 1 exabyte is equivalent to 1 billion gigabytes!

The number of DDoS attacks is also set to increase, with attacks greater than 1 GBps jumping upwards 2.5-fold in 2021, compared to 2016.

Anatomy of the internet

The above statistics should set off alarm bells because it shows that as internet traffic increases, cybercriminals scale up operations.

In other words, the internet is not getting safer and as a user, you need to take heed of these potential risks.

It’s easy to visualize how vulnerable a regular user of the internet is if we dissect it.

  • Got no time? One proven way to stay safe on the internet is to use a VPN. Our overall best choice is NordVPN:
how big is the internet

The internet is vast and if you are a regular surfer, you only use a small fraction of it.

There are 3 main components of the internet and these are:

1. Internet communication


Email is a popular way to send and receive electronic messages using compatible IT devices.

You can send or receive email messages from anyone around the word, as long as it’s the right email address.

While some email communications are done using specialized email client software, you also find browser based email systems (Webmail).

Examples of Webmail are Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoomail, to name a few.

The aspects of email security were discussed in one article I covered so make sure you check it out.

With an email service, you send text messages and also include files like pictures, videos, documents etc as attachments.


Gone are the days where you rely on a telecommunications company when you want to make a call.

You can now do it at a fraction of a cost and with a better connection, thanks to VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) also called IP telephony.

With this technology, you can make a phone call via a broadband connection.

One downside of VoIP is that if the local power is down, you won’t be able to make calls as opposed to traditional analogue phone connection.

However, the pros are too many and in future we may see VoIP completely replacing analogue phone lines in some regions.

If you are in a country where VoIP is restricted, don’t worry. You can unblock VoIP in any region as highlighted in another section.

2. Usernet

Usernet can be termed as the original social network and was established in 1980.

This is a network communication platform where you can chat, discuss, download content or stream media.

Here users store files, called binaries, on Usernet servers for others to access.

Despite its long existence, Usernet is kept under wraps by a closed community that uses it to this day.

It came before popular social media platforms, forums and even the World Wide Web.

Two university students, Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis, developed Usernet as an alternative to Arpanet, the latter which was in the hands of the military.

Usernet is still operational and has evolved, with servers scattered around the world and a dedicated community.

This system is divided into Usernet Newsgroups, each representing a particular topic.

  • The difference between Usernet and the general internet is that with Usernet:
  • Information is 100% Free
  • There are no speed restrictions when sharing content
  • Usernet is more difficult to access or search for content

There are at least 100,000 Newsgroups in existence today and you can form your own if you don’t find what you are searching for.

Applications are available to enable a Usernet user to search and download content in Newsgroups.

You also need a Newsgroup Service Provider to start accessing the service and you pay a subscription.

3. World Wide Web (WWW)

This is the internet that we are used to and is a giant information retrieval service.

On the World Wide Web (or Web), you find a collection of multimedia, apps, documents, images and other resources.

These are connected to each other using hypermedia or hypertext links, collectively called hyperlinks.

  • Hypertext : Links to a document related to the word or phrase displayed on the screen.
  • Hypermedia : Links to images, video, audio, animations, movies or other content. It covers everything including hypertext and is an important building block of the Web.

The Web uses URLs (Uniform Resource Identifiers) as a globally accepted reference of web pages.

Each URL represents a hypertext document with associated text and hyperlinks.

The hypertext document is written using HTML (HyperText Markup Language)

You find a network of computers organized in a client-server configuration, with the server responsible for storing and transmitting documents requested by the client.

Browser software, e.g. Firefox, Chrome or Safari, enables the user to view the documents.

  • Documents can contain:
  • Images
  • Videos
  • Audio
  • Text
  • Other multimedia
  • Interactive content

Unlike in Usernet, it’s easier to search for content on the Web by using search engines like Google, Bing and more.

Information on the Web is found on websites and these are hosted on servers.

In most cases, an individual or company has to pay for maintenance of their website.

The Web has enabled information to be decentralized and accessible in any part of the world with an internet connection.

That’s not all, this segment of the internet is further split into more components and we zoom-in on these next.

Divisions of the World Wide Web

As I highlighted before, if you are a regular user of the internet, then you are only scratching the surface.

  • The Web is divided into:
  • Surface Web
  • Deep Web
  • Dark Web

1. Surface Web

This constitutes about 5% of the World Wide Web and you most likely spend most, if not all, of your time there.

The Surface Web has all the popular sites you know, like social media platforms, news sites, educational sites, blogs and other entertainment sites.

You access the Surface Web with your usual search engines and there are no special browsers needed to browse this part of the Web.

2. Deep Web

It is also called the Invisible Web or Hidden Web and represents about 90% of the internet.

As you may guess, sites that belong to the Deep Web are not indexed by the regular search engines like Google or Bing.

In most cases, top-level domains (TLDs) like .com or .net are not used for Deep Web sites and search engines are intentionally blocked from indexing them.

However, if you have the URL, you can access these sites although usually there are credentials you enter for authentication.

  • The Deep Web has uses that include:
  • Online banking
  • Private websites
  • Private social media pages
  • Webmail services
  • And more

In the Deep Web you also find the Dark Web, but this one needs its own section because of the unique characteristics.

3. Dark Web

To access the Dark Net, you need dedicated tools like Tor.

You can learn more about Tor in one article where it is compared with a VPN.

  • The Dark Net is not only used for illegal activities, but also in genuine cases that require privacy.

The Dark Web is only about 5% of all the traffic of the internet and the actual figure is not known exactly.

  • The Dark Web is used to:
  • Hide illegal activities
  • Hide identities in mysteries that need to be solved
  • Enhance security for social media platforms
  • Keep journalists safe in hostile countries
  • Promote civil liberties

Links to specific sites on the Dark Web are not freely available as you need a source to get the URLs.

If you want to add an extra layer of security when on the Dark Web, you need a VPN.

This encrypts all the traffic including Tor traffic so that no-one can see what you are doing.

  • The best VPN we recommend for Tor is NordVPN because it has numerous security features:


Now you know the structure of the internet and a rough idea of the volume of traffic in each segment.

You need to be aware that cybercriminals usually gather their arsenal on the Dark Web and mount attacks on the Surface Web.

One tool that protects you on the Surface Web is a VPN and it is not illegal to use it.

  • At a glance, these are the top VPNs you can use:

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Tech writer and VPN expert. DIY enthusiast and loves anything to do with space science.

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