What Is The Dark Web?

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written by craig beam posted on July 2, 2021

What the Dark Web Is and What It Means for Cybersecurity

As cyberattacks and cybercrime levels continue to rise, references to the dark web in news reports, business publications, and even entertainment have grown more frequent. Unless you’re a cybersecurity professional, you may not exactly know what the dark web actually is and be further confused by its often inaccurate Hollywood depictions. But the dark web is far from the latest industry buzzword or science fiction concept. In fact, not only is it a very real and flourishing phenomenon but one that has played a role in many cyberattacks and contains potential threats to your business.

What the dark web is

The dark web is part of the deep web – the portion of the World Wide Web not indexed by common search engines. Content on the dark web exists on darknets: overlay networks only accessible through specific mechanisms, such as specialized software. These darknets range from small peer-to-peer networks established by small groups of individuals to larger darknets run by individuals and organizations. Some of the most popular of these networks include names you may have heard of, such as Tor or Freenet.

Dark web users value anonymity, and dark web websites are accessed through browsers that encrypt a user’s entry point and path by using many intermediate servers. The layered encryption of darknet technology keeps user locations and identities anonymous and largely untraceable. This encryption technology allows users to communicate and exchange files confidentially, which, as you may now understand, makes the dark web fertile ground for illicit activity, among other things.

What’s actually on the dark web

With the right knowledge and software, anyone can access the dark web. And dark web users include a range of individuals leveraging its anonymity for different things. Some users prefer to access the web without their activity being recorded by Big Tech and use the dark web to do the same activities they would otherwise do online, like communicating with friends and trading recipes. The dark web also includes whistleblowing organizations and political actors/groups who wish to remain under the radar of countermovements, opposition groups, and, in some cases, law enforcement. Further, you’ll find foreign nationals from countries with restrictive Internet laws chatting in groups with their fellow countrymen, free of censorship or interference.

In addition, there are darknet markets that dark web users can use to purchase illicit material, ranging from stolen individual and corporate information to child pornography. Law enforcement agencies and researchers have even found extremist groups using the dark web to communicate, raise money, and indoctrinate others. While law enforcement agencies have been cracking down on these groups in recent years, darknets can have established an ecosystem for drug sales, identity theft and payment card fraud, and cybercrime.

What the dark web means for business cybersecurity

On the dark web, one can find the raw materials needed to commit cybercrime. Individuals and cybercriminal gangs sell access credentials and financial information online to others. You can also find the kind of malware and ransomware tools you’d need to take over a corporate network once you’ve gained entry. Hackers also often post information about what are known as zero-day or zero-hour vulnerabilities – security weaknesses for which there is no available software patch and about which the vendor is often not even yet aware.

Cybercriminals can buy, sell, and trade this information with each other and communicate with fellow hackers to plan and execute coordinated attacks. Experienced hackers will offer their expertise for specific cybercrimes or related activities for a fee. The dark web offers all a would-be cybercriminal could need to plan and execute a cyberattack: resources, access credentials, anonymous communications channels, and even subcontractors for hire. Further, those linked to nation-state actors and terrorist groups also continue to use darknets to engage in cyber espionage and terrorist acts aimed at key businesses and systems in rival countries.

What cybersecurity professionals need to know and do

Given that the dark web provides cybercriminals with the ecosystem they need to be effective, businesses should be aware of and consider the dark web in their cybersecurity planning efforts. Security professionals must continuously monitor the dark web to ensure their employer’s access credentials or other sensitive information is available for purchase there. That information does not always wind up on the dark web due to a corporate data breach. Employees sometimes download corporate data onto home devices, often in violation of corporate policies. When employees are victims of malware and ransomware attacks themselves, hackers can seize sensitive corporate information from their devices as well.

Cybersecurity professionals must employ security protocols, like multi-factor authentication and employee cyberawareness training, to ensure that corporate information isn’t floating around on the web. Passwords should be continuously modified to mitigate the risk of cybercriminals gaining access to your network through credentials they’ve purchased on the dark web. Further, IT personnel must shore up firewalls, anti-virus/anti-malware software, and software patches to prevent breaches from occurring in the first place.

And cybersecurity personnel can and should also use the dark web to monitor threat actors and proactively search for actionable threat intelligence. The more conversant IT staff are with the types of attacks, threat actors, and targeting trends, the better prepared they can be to recognize anomalous network activity as a successful breach or intrusion attempt and respond accordingly. Finally, businesses must incorporate potential dark web-related threats into their emergency response plans and regularly drill crisis response to be prepared appropriately.

Given the inherent anonymity of the dark web, it’s challenging for even well-resourced federal and state law enforcement agencies to monitor it and crackdown on illegal activity. So, small and midsize businesses (SMBs) with lean IT staff numbers and competing priorities may not have the expertise or time to manage dark web-related threats. In these instances, SMBs should call in trusted, expert managed security service providers with experience in dark web monitoring and threat assessment.

If you’re a Southcentral, Pennsylvania business owner rightly concerned about your possible exposure to the dark web, contact us at MicroXpress Inc. today. We’ll scan the dark web for your business information, so you’ll know what risks you face. We’ll also work with you to strengthen your existing security measures, from firewalls to anti-malware applications. Partnering with MicroXPress Inc. will keep your business security from online threats on or off the dark web. Contact us today to get started.

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