What Is a “Dark Web Scan” and Should You Use One?
The indexed web contains more than 5 billion websites. These sites, which include everything from Amazon to Facebook to your friend’s publicly available Tumblr blog, are accessible from any normal web browser and can be found on search engines. These sites are part of what’s referred to as the surface net or clearnet.
Those billions of websites are only a small portion of the sites that exist, though. The majority of sites are part of the deep web. What is the deep web? It’s all of the pages on the internet that won’t come up in search engines. This includes many pages that have some level of security that prevents the public from accessing them, such as the pages you access after logging into social media or bank accounts or after putting in your password to get past a paywall on a news publication’s site.
A small sliver of this deep web is even more mysterious — and often nefarious. These sites are part of what’s known as the dark web — a collection of sites that use encryption to hide their origins and the identities of their users. Sites on the dark web require you to use specialized software to access them.
What Is the Dark Web?
The dark web contains a range of websites that have forums, communications tools, online stores and more, similar to how the surface net does. Accessing these websites requires more than a Google search in a standard web browser, however.
The dark web lives on overlay networks called darknets that are built on top of the regular internet. To get to these dark websites, though, you need to run certain security tools that anonymize web traffic. You can use a free software called Tor to anonymize your activity on normal sites and to access hidden dark websites. These sites use Tor to hide where their servers are located, and only people using Tor can reach these sites.
In theory, finding the servers for these sites and tracking who visits them is impossible, but security flaws and incorrect configurations can sometimes expose them.
How Do People Use the Dark Web?
The dark web contains a wide range of sites whose creators and users want to remain anonymous. There are legitimate uses for the dark web, but its anonymity also makes it a haven for criminal activity.
People who live in countries where the use of the internet is censored can use Tor to access sites that are blocked or monitored where they live. Facebook, for example, offers a Tor hidden service. Political dissidents can also use the dark web to organize and share information. Whistleblowers can use dark websites to leak information and documents to reporters. Several news publications offer their own dark websites for this purpose.
You can also find websites that sell a host of illegal goods or contain content that many would find offensive or repulsive. One of the most famous dark websites was Silk Road, a huge marketplace for buying and selling drugs using cryptocurrency. The FBI eventually shut down the site, but there are many other marketplaces on the dark web where people sell drugs, weapons, forged documents, counterfeit currency and other illegal items. Many of the sites on the dark web are likely scams.
The sites that most often concern businesses and consumers who don’t visit the dark web are those that sell stolen data, such as passwords, credit card information, social security numbers and other sensitive information. Most of the data that gets lost or stolen in data breaches ends up on dark web marketplaces where criminals can purchase it.
Criminals may use this information to make fraudulent purchases, access your accounts and potentially get into your network to steal more data and cause further damage. It’s crucial that businesses, employees and consumers take steps to protect their data from ending up on the dark web.
How Can You Find out If Your Information Is on the Dark Web?
Want to check whether any of your information is on the dark web? One way to accomplish this is with a dark web scan — a service that checks dark websites to see if any of your information shows up. These scans check the marketplaces that the company conducting the scan is aware of, but they can’t scan the entire dark web because of its scale and the fact that there may be private exchanges between parties on the dark web that they can’t access.
You can also use dark web monitoring tools to continually check whether your information is on any dark websites. These monitoring services will send you alerts if they discover your information on the dark web at any point.
The sooner you find out that your information is on the dark web, the faster you can act to protect your assets and network. If you’re unsure of whether your information is on the dark web, remember that if your information was stolen in a data breach, there’s a high chance it is.
What Should You Do If You Suspect Your Information Is on the Dark Web?
If you suspect that your information is for sale on the dark web or confirm that it is with a dark web scan tool, there are several steps you can take to prevent damage.
1. Change Your Passwords
If you believe one of your passwords has been exposed, one of the first things you should do is change it. This can help prevent the person who stole your password from logging into your account and stealing more information or causing damage.
Don’t create a variation of your old password — make an entirely new one. While it’s not advised to use the same password for multiple accounts, if you have, be sure to change those passwords as well. If the incident might impact the passwords of more than one employee, require them to change their passwords and advise them to follow password best practices when doing so.
If you’re unsure of whether a password was affected, it’s best to err on the side of caution and change it.
2. Cancel Compromised Cards and Accounts
If you find that your credit or debit card information, whether for a personal or company card, is on the dark web, contact your credit card company or bank to cancel your current card and request a replacement. If your bank account information was compromised, contact your bank to close the account and start a new one.
3. Monitor Your Accounts
After a suspected or confirmed incident, check all of the systems that may have been impacted for unusual activity. You can check your accounts manually and use any security tools you have to check for suspicious activity and threats. If you’re working with a network security service provider, you may want to alert them to the incident so they can help ensure your network is secure. If you discover a threat, your cybersecurity service provider may be able to help you to remove it.
After initially checking your accounts, be sure to continue to monitor them for any threats that may emerge.
4. Report Identity Theft and Freeze Your Credit File
If you think your identity has been stolen, report it to the local police or the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). If you report it to the FTC online, they will provide you with an identity theft report and a recovery plan.
If you believe your social security number was compromised, one of the best things you can do is freeze your credit file. This prevents anyone, including you, from opening any new credit or taking out new loans in your name. If you want to apply for new credit, you can unfreeze your account and even do so temporarily. Freezing your file won’t affect your credit score and won’t impact current loans, credit card accounts or mortgages.
You’ll need to request a freeze at each of the big three credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, to fully freeze your report. Thanks to a new law passed in 2018, freezing and unfreezing your file is now free.
How Can You Prevent Your Information From Ending up on the Dark Web?
If your data was stolen, there’s a high chance it’s on a dark web marketplace where criminals can access it. It’s crucial that you take steps to prevent your data from getting stolen. For many of these steps, working with a professional cybersecurity service provider will be helpful.
1. Create a Cybersecurity Plan
Preventing a data breach starts with planning. Create a plan for assessing your cybersecurity posture, monitoring for threats and recovering should an incident occur. As part of your planning, determine which data you need to protect the most and consider which regulations you need to comply with.
2. Restrict Access to Data and Devices
To reduce your risk, restrict access to data to only the parties that need it. This way if a hacker gets into an employee’s account, they will only be able to access a small portion of your data. It also means that an insider attack would be less damaging. Restrict access to devices as well by using passwords.
3. Provide Cybersecurity Training
A significant amount of data breaches are caused by human error, so it’s critical to train your employees on cybersecurity best practices. Offer training on how to recognize phishing scams, how to effectively use passwords and how to handle sensitive data properly. Provide this training to all employees who could potentially accidentally reveal data.
4. Follow Password Best Practices
Always use best practices for passwords and be certain employees do as well. Ensure passwords are at least eight characters long and contain letters, numbers and symbols. You can also use a password manager to help you create and remember complex passwords. Consider using multi-factor authentication, which requires employees to identify themselves in more than one way before granting them access to an account or device.
5. Dispose of Unneeded Sensitive Data
Whenever you’re done with a dataset or with a device or document that contains sensitive data, be sure to dispose of it properly. Shred documents before recycling them and completely delete all data from electronic devices before getting rid of them.
6. Close Unused Accounts
If you have accounts that you’re not using and don’t plan to use in the future, close them to eliminate any risk they may carry. This includes accounts with third-party apps or services as well as user profiles on your computers and networks. If an employee leaves your company, get rid of their account to prevent them, as well as hackers, from using it.
7. Install a Firewall
A firewall monitors and controls the traffic coming into and out of your network. Installing one helps keep outsiders from accessing your network and can protect you from hackers who could steal your information and eventually put it up on the dark web.
8. Encrypt Your Data
Encrypting your data transforms it into a code so that even if a bad actor accesses the data, they won’t be able to read it. Encrypt all sensitive data and install encryption tools on all of your devices.
9. Conduct Penetration Testing
Penetration testing involves checking your network for security weaknesses so you can identify them before hackers can. Regularly conducting penetrating testing helps you to improve your security posture continually and prevents potential future attacks.
10. Monitor for Threats
Set up a system for constantly monitoring for threats using anti-virus software, anti-spyware and other monitoring tools. Continually checking for issues helps you to address them quickly, minimizing damage and protecting your data.
11. Keep Everything Updated
Be sure to keep all of your software, especially your security software, updated. Software updates often contain bug fixes and security updates, so install any updates as soon as you can.
12. Work With the Right Third Parties
It’s crucial that you keep your own systems as secure as possible, but you also need to ensure that any third parties you work with also have proper security protocols and technologies in place, especially if these vendors have access to data about your company, employees or customers. Look for security credentials and information about companies’ data security practices.
13. Work With Network Security Professionals
Working with an experienced network security company is one of the easiest and most effective ways to prevent your information from ending up on the dark web. These companies can help you with many aspects of protecting your data and improving your cybersecurity posture.
Ensure Your Cybersecurity With Consolidated Technologies, Inc.
Consolidated Technologies, Inc. has the expertise and technology to help you secure your entire network and provide you with a cybersecurity solution that’s tailored to your needs. We offer a range of cybersecurity solutions, including network vulnerability assessments, firewall solutions, security reporting, compliance assistance and advanced threat protection. With our comprehensive managed security solution, you get 24/7 monitoring, alerts and protection. We can also provide dark web monitoring to keep you informed about whether your company’s information is on the dark web.
Consolidated Technologies, Inc. can help you solve your security and compliance challenges, including those related to dark web security threats, so you can focus on growing and improving your business. To learn more about how we help, contact us today.