What Is Dark Web Scanning–And Why Does It Matter?

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The moment you mention cybersecurity to the layman, the first thing that will pop in their mind is probably the 2017 Equifax data breach.

With the personal information of 147 million people dumped on the dark web, the damages can’t be quantified to the mere risks of identity theft skyrocketing for people with unmasked social security numbers. Customers and businesses are now fully aware of the dangers of not giving cybersecurity the attention it deserves, and there will be no more excuses used for businesses who fail to take their precautions. 

This brings us to one of the key cybersecurity protocols, which is dark web scanning. 

If you’re completely unfamiliar with the process, no worries. You’ve come to the right place. Keep on reading for our full breakdown of what dark web scanning entails, how the scan works, and why you need to do a dark web scan as soon as possible. 

Dark Web Scanning 101: Identifying the Dark Web

Before delving into the nuances of dark web scanning, let’s establish what the dark web actually means first. 

In the simplest of terms, the dark web refers to a network of websites that you can’t access through the traditional search engines, like Google. Any site hosted on the dark web uses encryption software to hide their locations and their IP addresses

One of the reasons behind the fear associated with the dark web is the presence of criminal activity that takes advantage of the heightened privacy protocols, and the complexity of pinning down data about the owners of the websites. Unfortunately, a big section of the dark web is devoted to selling and buying stolen personal and financial information. 

That’s how the whole Equifax breach was detected, as identity thieves started using people’s information that has been dumped on the dark web. 

Of course, the sheer magnitude of the potential misuse of your information can be overwhelming. Some criminals might decide to use your sensitive information to buy goods like computers, TV screens, or take out loans in your name. It starts becoming more insidious when a nefarious party transfers money from your bank accounts to theirs or engages in identity theft.

What About the Deep Web?

It’s crucial to understand the differences between the dark web and the deep web. Generally speaking, the deep web’s content is also not accessible by using a search engine. However, there’s nothing nefarious about it.

The deep web is the section of the internet that requires personalized credentials to access. For instance, the portals that hold your online banking information, your business’ private database, as well as your health insurance platform. All of those are hosted on the deep web. 

Don’t fall for the cybersecurity myths about the deep web. It’s a healthy section of the internet and it’s essential for keeping sensitive data private and protected. 

How Does One Access the Dark Web?

The dark web shares similarities with your regular online experience. Basically, the dark web also required the use of a browser. However, this would be a special internet browser, like Tor, which provides an encrypted connection to the dark web, and mask the user’s IP address, even from ISPs

The anonymity attracts criminals of all stripes. In addition to the hidden IP addresses, you’ll find most cybercriminals using cryptocurrency as their main method of payment. This makes the process of pinpointing a person, or an organization, even harder on cybersecurity professionals. 

What Lives on the Dark Web?

We’ve spoken about how the dark web works, but what about the actual data that lives on the dark web? In short, if it’s sensitive data or anything that can be sold for profit, you’ll find it a target for cybercriminals. 

Here’s a list of the most common data types showcased for sale on the dark web.

  1. Email Addresses: As email addresses are more often used as a part of people’s login credentials than not. Also, your email account alone contains highly sensitive information both personal and professional in nature. 
  2. Social Security Numbers:A common personal item found for sale on the dark web would be social security numbers. Simply attaining a person’s social security number, and maybe a couple of other simple data points are more than enough to completely steal someone’s identity, open lines of credit, financing, and so much more. 
  3. Passport Number: Stealing a person’s passport number is a target for most cybercriminals due to its validity as a backup ID. If a person loses their driver’s license, social security card, or other forms of ID, most organizations will accept a person’s passport number.
  4. Bank Account Numbers: Nothing can triumph the damage that bank account numbers can do to a person’s financial life, which makes it one of the most common items stolen and recirculated on the dark web. After all, nothing is easier than stealing your money from your actual bank accounts with your bank account number on hand.
  5. Medical Records: Of course, your medical information is protected under HIPPA, you’d be surprised at the amount of medical information that’s been stolen and ended up being displayed on the dark web.
  6. Credit/Debit Card Numbers: Another common data point that’s rather easy for cybercriminals to grab. With more people saving their credit card information on their browser, they’re more easily acquired than other data points. 
  7. Passwords: Any type of password is fair game to cybercriminals. A simple look at some data dumps will show you all forms of passwords that have been stolen, bought, and sold on the dark web. Simply put, anything that uses a password, from your social media accounts to your bank and government accounts can be stolen. If you’re unaware of the humongous size of that problem, we’re sad to tell you that there are over five billion passwords on the dark web that are currently for sale. 
  8. Membership/Retail Cards: From your Trader Joe’s to your CVS card, any type of membership account or a rewards account can be used against you and sold on the dark web.

This was only a sample of the most common types of information traded on the dark web. Other specialized data points can also be compromised and sold online. 

Is My Information on the Dark Web?

After showcasing the enormous size of the problem, you’re probably wondering whether your personal information is currently up for grabs on the dark web. Truthfully, it’s a high possibility.

This probability increases once we’ve included the parameter of having a personal item or data point stolen at some point in the past. The probability almost reaches 100% when we look at the future data points. 

This brings us to the importance of taking cybersecurity precautions, how critical it is to invest in dark web scanning and data backups frequently. 

The Value of Dark Web Scanning During COVID-19

Did you know that the volume of dark web forum members rose sharply, with visitor numbers surging by 44% during the first COVID-19 lockdowns last year? 

The pandemic has brought our attention to disturbing trends of identity theft and other flavors of cybercrime. With people spending more and more time online, for work purposes or leisure, cybercriminals have been benefiting from the increased online time by sending out scam posts, phishing schemes, as well as misinformation regarding the virus. 

These traps have been successful at tricking people into clicking on links and going to websites that expose their personal information. Unfortunately, for both businesses and individuals, simply being careful isn’t enough anymore.

This brings us to the beauty of dark web scanning.

How Does Dark Web Scanning Work?

Dark web scanning works by using specific tools to keep close tabs on problematic areas on the dark web.

The tools will be monitoring the dark web for specific information, so a simple dark web scan will detect sensitive information like passwords, email addresses, social security numbers, bank account numbers, and other data points that match your own data. 

Furthermore, the dark web is compromised of billions of websites, networks, and registries. Thus, you might be a bit skeptical regarding a dark scanning tool’s ability to stop a cyberattack cold in its tracks. And, you’d be right to be skeptical. After all, a dark web scan is only responsible for monitoring the dark web. 

It can tell you if your information is being sold, and you’re dealing with a breach. However, it’s not a comprehensive cybersecurity protocol that you can just put in place and leave. It’s essential to have a 24/7 monitoring and IT team for your data to be as safe and secure as possible.

Do I Need a Dark Web Scan: Why Invest in a Dark Web Monitoring Service

The short answer is yes.

As a business, you might be following the best cybersecurity practices, and you’re diligent about password security. For example, you already use strong and unique passwords, a password manager, and multi-factor authentication (2FA).

Yet, due to the ubiquity of using third-party platforms and apps, your login credentials are still vulnerable and can be stolen in case of a data breach. Another sad fact would be victims of data breaches being the last ones to know that their information has been compromised. 

A regular organization can spend years on end without detecting a data breach. Moreover, once they’ve recognized that a breach has taken place, it takes them even longer to notify their customers and users that their information has been stolen. 

Another classical case would be the Marriott Hotel’s data breach, where it took them four years to understanding that their reservations systems have been compromised, and they made it even worse when they waited for three more months before falling their nearly 500 million customers that their data has been stolen. 

Needless to say, the U.K.’s data privacy watchdog, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), wasn’t pleased and the hotel chain was fined 18.4 million pounds as a result of their negligence. 

The math is simple. The sooner you find out that your information has been compromised, the faster you can take action to protect your customers and your business. 

Depending on the size and nature of the breach, you’ll want to take additional action. For instance, if the data compromised is financial in nature, you’ll want to contact your financial service providers to prevent any unauthorized purchases and transitions. Besides, you can put a freeze on your credit card report to prevent cybercriminals from opening new lines of credit in your name. 

To make a long story short, investing in a dark web scanning service can save you a lot of time, money, effort, and heartache in the future.

Does Dark Web Scanning Come With Limitations?

It’s critical to understand what dark web scanning can and cannot do. Now that you’re familiar with the nature of the dark web, you know that the idea of scanning the entire thing is an impossible task. 

What a dark web scan offers is monitoring all the known cybercriminals forums, marketplaces, and other sites where data dumps are put up for sale regularly.

While it won’t be able to scan everything on the dark web, it’s strong enough to catch the overwhelming majority of data breach incidents. Especially, with a specialized service that will be proactively looking up whether your personal information has been put up for sale or not. 

Our advice would be to treat dark web monitoring services as a great cybersecurity tool to have in your arsenal to protect your business and information from cybercrime. However, no single cybersecurity defense is perfect on its own. That’s why you’ll want to establish a cohesive system, with multiple solutions to get layered protection. 

Banishing the Fear of the Dark Web

We understand that the words like ‘the dark web’ can strike fear into the hearts of those uninitiated with cybersecurity and IT protocols.

However, by putting the right tools and cybersecurity defenses in place, you can rest easy knowing that cybercriminals will have to bypass a whole host of traps and defenses before making it to your data. Now, you have a solid foundation of what dark web scanning means, and what it can bring to your business. 

If you’re interested in seeing how a tailored IT team and security protocols can protect your business data, make sure to contact us. We’d be delighted to hear from you. If not, make sure to check out our blog for all the recent IT advice articles and explainers.

About Chad Lauterbach

CEO at Be Structured Technology Group, Inc. a Los Angeles based provider of Managed IT Services for small business. I desire to help small businesses better utilize technology by assisting in high level planning to make sure that new systems will benefit them both operationally and financially. I am careful to implement and support systems using industry best practices.