If you’ve been following the news in the past few years, then you’ve probably heard of terms like dark web and deep web. But the technical nature of these terms has led to many myths and misconceptions, particularly regarding the role of the dark web when it comes to cybercrime.
To clarify, the deep web refers to any content on the regular internet that’s hidden from search engines, such as information locked behind a login screen, like research papers or medical records. Meanwhile, the dark web is an entirely different beast. It isn’t even part of the internet: you can’t access it using a normal web browser. Instead, you need a specialized application, the most popular being the Tor browser. Also, dark web addresses tend to be unintelligible series of letters and numbers followed by the top-level domain (TLD) .onion.
Although the dark web uses a lot of the same underlying infrastructure as the public internet, servers and computers connected to the network lie hidden behind multiple levels of security and anonymity. This makes it notoriously difficult for law enforcement to locate and identify criminals operating on the dark web. Easily the most infamous example was the Silk Road marketplace, which was a haven for just about every kind of contraband imaginable. Following many years of investigation by the FBI, the site was finally shut down in 2014, and its founder Ross Ulbricht was condemned to multiple life sentences for a multitude of crimes.
Why the dark web is bad for business
There are arguably some legitimate uses for the dark web. Since it provides near-complete privacy and anonymity, it’s often used by people living under oppressive regimes. Just like on the regular web, there are many sites that aren't illegal on the dark web, including entire search engines and even social networks. In fact, the Tor network, which the dark web uses, was originally developed by the US Department of Defense.
Today, the dark web is a hotbed of criminal activity. It’s the go-to virtual space for selling stolen data, intellectual property, illegal drugs, weapons, and pretty much every other known contraband. The bottom line is that people use the dark web because they don’t want anyone to know what they’re up to. That’s why cybercriminals use it for selling malware and stolen records. If your business has ever suffered a data breach, then chances are any misappropriated content has ended up on dark web forums and marketplaces.
Among the most common types of stolen information sold on the dark web is credit card details and full packages of information about a victim. Often known in dark-web parlance as “fullz,” these data sets may be used to carry out credit card fraud, tax fraud. or medical identity theft. To anonymize payments, criminals use cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin for all transactions. The same tactic is used in ransomware attacks, and victims are coerced to make payments in Bitcoin to regain access to their encrypted data.
It’s also bad news if your employees are allowed to access the dark web, since doing so greatly increases their chances of falling victim to malware or social engineering attacks themselves. Prohibiting access is an obvious first step, since there’s rarely any legitimate business use for accessing the dark web.
How to monitor the dark web for stolen assets
Although businesses should strictly prohibit the use of the dark web in most cases, you still need to monitor it. By monitoring the dark web, you can quickly identify instances of information theft and you can take steps to mitigate the damage before it gets out of control. To illustrate, it typically takes an average of almost six months for businesses to learn of a data breach, which is usually long after the damage has already been done. By monitoring the dark web in real time, it’s possible to cut this down to days or even hours.
To keep an eye on the dark web, you can employ dark web monitoring services, which are typically cloud-based solutions that lie separately from the rest of your computing infrastructure. It automatically sends alerts when any personal or stolen information belonging to the company emerges, so you’ll have a chance to change any passwords, block stolen credit cards, and take any other steps necessary to mitigate the damaging effects of a data breach.
In an increasingly dangerous online world, Xact IT Solutions provides the full range of cybersecurity services that enables today’s organizations to stay safe amidst threats. Call us today to schedule your free consultation.