The Dark Web: What Is It and How Can I Keep My Information Safe?
The dark web is another name for that seedy underbelly of the internet, where vendors can sell and customers can browse for items that you wouldn’t be able to obtain through more scrupulous means. Whether it’s buying ransomware kits to launch attacks on businesses like yours, or selling passwords to veritable accounts, the dark web is where cybercriminals lurk and play.
What is the Dark Web?
If you’re on a walk in a new part of town where it’s dark and unfamiliar, you could easily stumble down a side alley that you didn’t mean. But unlike Harry Potter accidentally going from Diagon Alley to Knockturn Alley with a wrong turn, you won’t find yourself on the dark web by stumbling through the regular Internet. Making it to this particular black market takes specific software, applications, and authorizations depending on what you’re trying to achieve.
You may also be familiar with terms like “deep web,” and although they sound similar, it is NOT synonymous with the dark web. The deep web simply refers to those hard-to-access parts of the internet that dip below what’s known as the surface web (that’s what we all use on a day-to-day and access through traditional search engines like Google or Bing). Within the deep web, therein lies the dark web.
Bad Actors on the Dark Web
So how to criminals find their way to these illegal marketplaces?
One way to access the dark web, and a popular one at that, is via anonymous web browsers. Just like how you downloaded Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome (or whatever browser you prefer), certain browsers are configured specifically to grant you access to the dark web. They route through many, many proxy servers to keep your IP hidden and your internet use private.
Tor, a common moniker that spells out The Onion Router, is a very popular secure browser for dark web browsing. It is an open-source software that self-identifies as being a secure browser that “isolates each website you visit so third-party trackers and ads can’t follow you. Any cookies automatically clear when you’re done browsing. So will your browsing history.”
You can see how easy it is to get on the dark web.
Is Your PII At Stake on the Dark Web?
The easy access to services like Tor are a factor in the threat to your business. Cybercriminals can use these methods to get on the dark web, where they then buy and weaponize threats like:
- malware-as-a-service, where packaged code is sold to buyers who can deploy it however they wish
- ransomware kits, which behave similarly to malware-as-a-service but specifically hits the victim with ransomware
- passwords that have been stolen
- hacked accounts
- personally identifying information (PII) that they can use to socially engineer a trap on someone in your organization
With all of this at stake, it may not come as a surprise that the illegal data trade is worth $1.6B per year. This is where IP theft, ransomware, malware and other malicious threats are sold to criminals as tools that can be used to breach into your organization’s network.
How to Protect Your Data
Just like hackers are finding the most advanced tricks on the market, so too are cybersecurity experts leveraging similar technology to help keep businesses protected. For example:
- Artificial intelligence is an advancing industry. Face ID can be used for multi-factor authentication to double-lock your accounts.
- Automated services can detect unusual activity on the network, like unauthorized users or access during odd hours.
- VPNs encrypt and protect your data from potential threats, without the use of the dark web. You can download mobile apps and browser extensions to protect your Internet on the go and at your desk.
- Password managers safely collect all of your passwords, and even randomly generate new ones that are hard to crack, and encrypt them in a secure database so you don’t have to remember them all.
- Automate post-breach recovery processes to the fullest extent.
- Dark web monitoring services scan the dark marketplace for your credentials, and notify you if any information has been compromised.
It’s not just changing technologies that industry leaders offer, but tips for improving security in your daily life too. For example, many of the passwords sold on the dark web were compromised through password spraying. Therefore updating to more secure, complex and varied passwords is an easy first step toward making your accounts more secure.
Being proactive and securing a solid cybersecurity defense is the best way to protect yourself from the dark side of the internet. The relative ease of access to the dark web, combined with the high stakes if a bad actor chooses to go the route of purchasing malicious threats, can put your company in serious hot water without an up-to-date security posture and knowledge of the threats that lie therein.
The best defense leverage automation and artificial intelligence to scan the dark web for their PII and then immediately report the breach and begin the recovery processes. The faster your organization can recognize and respond to a potential threat, the faster you can scrub your information from the dark web and secure your accounts against any future incidents.