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Key Search Engines of the Invisible Web

  • Written by Ron Brown

mug brownIn this issue, we will once again continue to explore the web data provided by several websites located on what is commonly referred to as the “invisible web.” As I previously stated, these sites are certainly not your “beginner” or “skip guesser” sites. Most of them require certain advanced skills to manipulate, massage and extract data. For the professional tracer to obtain the desired information needed to complete their searches, it is imperative they possess the required skills and a thorough understanding of “exact data extraction techniques.” I have visited and conducted searches on each of these sites to ensure they are working and functional as of February 16.

I have had several inquiries from readers regarding a source of more detailed information related to the invisible web. For those of you interested in delving deeper into this fascinating subject, I would recommend the purchase of The Invisible Web: Uncovering Information Sources Search Engines Can’t See, by Gary Price and Chris Sherman. This publication provides the key to finding these hidden resources by identifying how to uncover and use invisible web resources, mapping the invisible web, when and how to use it, assessing the validity of the information, and the future of web searching.

With that out of the way, let’s look at a few of the search engines available which I feel will prove to be valuable to the professional tracer/cyber tracker.

Your typical search engine’s primary job is to locate the surface sites and downloads that make up much of the web as we know it. These searches find an array of HTML documents, video and audio files and, essentially, any content that is heavily linked to or shared online. Often, these engines, Google chief among them, will find and organize this diversity of content every time you search.

The search engines that deliver results from the invisible web are distinctly different. Narrower in scope, these deep web engines tend to access only a single type of data. This is because each type of data has the potential to offer up an outrageous number of results. An inexact deep web search would quickly turn into a needle in a haystack. That’s why deep web searches tend to be more thoughtful in their initial query requirements. Below are a few more popular invisible web search engines:

• Yippy (www.yippy.com) is a meta search engine developed by Vivísimo that not only combines data from a variety of different source documents, but also creates “clustered” responses, automatically sorting by category. I will enter a person’s name and last known residence and retrieve a large volume of Internet sites with information related to the subject of my query.

• SurfWax (www.surfwax.com) is a metasearch engine that offers “practical tools for Dynamic Search Navigation.” It offers the option of grabbing results from multiple search engines at the same time, or even designing “SearchSets,” which are individualized groups of sources that can be used over and over in searches.

Now we will look at several subject specific search engines. A subject specific search engine or data site can pool together some mainstream, and not so mainstream databases, dedicated to fields and areas of interest. When I am looking for a person who is involved in a specific industry or area of interest, I find these data sources to be an invaluable tool. While only a handful of these tools can surface deep web materials, all the search engines and collections I have listed are powerful, extensive bodies of work. Many of the resources these tools surface would likely be overlooked if the same query were made on one of the mainstream engines most tracers fall back on, like Bing, Yahoo and even Google.

• www.nga.gov/collection/an.shtm - I utilize this site when searching for anyone in the art world. It is up to date and tracks the latest news and artists in the industry.

• www.bbb.org - This is the national site for the Better Business Bureau (BBB). I use their information system search to locate the details of ratings, consumer experience, government action and more of both BBB accredited and non-accredited businesses.

• www.bpubs.com - This is a business publications search engine. They offer more than 200 free subscriptions to business and trade publications and the site is very useful when obtaining information related to commercial accounts.

I hope these sites are helpful to you in your tracing endeavors. In the next issue we will take a close look at some open law enforcement and regulatory sites that help successful tracers locate missing people and assets. Until then good luck and good hunting.


Ron Brown is a member of the National Association of Fraud Investigators and the author of “MANHUNT: The Book.” Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..