You open up your laptop and check the daily news. You see a headline stating that one of your favorite online retailers was breached and that thousands of their customers’ passwords were exposed. Data breaches like this frequently appear in the news, but many consumers don’t realize the implications these breaches have on their personal privacy. When data breaches occur, oftentimes billions of these hacked login credentials become available on the dark web, neatly packaged for criminals to download.1
Let’s dive into the differences between the deep web and the dark web, how cybercriminals use the dark web, and what you can do to protect your data.
Deep Web vs. Dark Web: What’s the Difference?
You’ve probably heard of the deep and dark web but may not be aware of their differences.2 First, let’s start by noting that the dark web is always part of the deep web, but the deep web is not always the dark web.
The deep web refers to the pages on the internet that are not indexed in search engines, meaning that you can’t find them by performing a simple Google search. To access these pages, you have to know the exact address to the site and access it with specific software. Most personalized and password-protected sites appear on the deep web because they contain information that is not meant to be accessed by the general public. These sites include a user’s Netflix home page, password-protected sites for banking, and the internal sites of companies, organizations, and schools. These are all examples of legitimate areas of the deep web.
On the other hand, the dark web is the disreputable extension of the deep web. Like the deep web, the dark web also houses sites that are not indexed by search engines, but it also hides a user’s identity and location. It consists mostly of illegal products or content that could be harmful to organizations or the general public. Some examples include stolen credit card numbers, fake IDs, drugs, and hacking tools. To access the dark web, a user needs to download darknet software, the most popular being Tor.
Tor, which stands for “the onion routing project,” was developed by the U.S. Navy for the government in the mid-1990s. It was open-sourced in 2004, and that’s when it went public. Today, Tor is the dark web browser that the majority of people use to surf the internet anonymously. To do this, Tor hides a user’s IP address (or the unique address that identifies an internet-connected device or network) by bouncing their search request to multiple different locations. These bounces also referred to as relays, make it much harder for people to find users on the dark web.
How Cybercriminals Use the Dark Web
Because of its ability to provide anonymity, the dark web is often tied to the world of cybercrime. Scammers frequently use the dark web to find software that allows them to access other people’s computers, banking credentials, Social Insurance Numbers, and credit card information. You may be wondering how all this private information ended up on the dark web in the first place. Oftentimes when a company is breached and their customers’ data is exposed, the hackers behind the breach will upload the stolen database to the dark web. This allows other cybercriminals to purchase the stolen information and use it to target users with other scams. Say that a criminal finds a database on the dark web that contains a bunch of personal email addresses. They can purchase the database and target every email address with a phishing campaign that contains malicious links that spread malware or attempt to trick users into handing over their username and password combinations.
How to Protect Your Data
Incorporating cybersecurity best practices into your daily life can help protect your data from hackers looking to take advantage of the data found on the dark web. Follow these tips to bring yourself greater peace of mind:
1. Use strong, unique passwords
The chances of a hacker accessing your data are higher if you use the same credentials across different accounts. That’s why it’s important to use a strong, unique password for each of your online profiles. This minimizes the potential damage that could be done if a hacker does gain access to one of your accounts. You can also use a password manager with a built-in generator to make it easier for you to access and manage passwords. Enabling multi-factor authentication will also ensure that hackers cannot access your information using only your login credentials.
2. Be on the lookout for suspicious emails and text messages
If you receive an email asking you to take immediate action, stop and think. Criminals often convey urgency in their phishing scams in the hopes that an unsuspecting user will click on a malicious link or hand over their personal details without considering the legitimacy of the message. Examine suspicious emails carefully to check for telltale signs of phishing, such as poor grammar, grainy logos, or bogus links. If an email claims to be from a well-known company or brand and asks for your credentials, claims that you need to update your password, or sends you a “free offer,” go directly to the source. Contact customer service through the company’s website (not the email) and inquire about the urgent request.
3. Stay informed on recent data breaches
Be on the lookout for breach notices from relevant companies since they are often the first to know about a data breach impacting their online customers. Create news alerts for companies that have access to your information to stay notified of the latest events.
Additionally, create notifications for your bank and other financial accounts to monitor suspicious activity, such as unauthorized transactions or a drop in credit score. You will be better prepared to mitigate any cybersecurity threats with the right security software and knowledge of the latest risks.
4. Use comprehensive security software
Use a comprehensive security solution like McAfee Total Protection, which includes dark web monitoring for up to 10 email addresses. This software actively monitors the dark web for data breaches and exposed information. Personal details include but are not limited to your date of birth, email addresses, credit card numbers, and personal identification numbers. It also provides steps for remediation after a data breach to help you regain control and the integrity of your data and privacy. With a security solution like this in place, you can continue to live your connected life confidently.