Although a heightened awareness of cybersecurity is becoming the new norm, many companies are struggling to secure their data in the face of increasingly sophisticated threats like phishing scams, ransomware, malware and botnets.
According to the ITRC, the number of data breaches in the U.S. hit a new record high in 2017 with 1,579 incidents, a 44.7% increase over figures reported for 2016. Cybersecurity professionals are in a tight race with hackers to close vulnerabilities before they can be exploited, and many of them are losing.
Full awareness of all potential attack surfaces and reliable intelligence about threats are vital components of any organization’s self-defense against data breaches. The Dark Web is the hidden network where most stolen data is sold. There is a vast amount of information housed here, but few companies know how to access this data, evaluate it and minimize the damage it can cause.
You may have heard the term ‘dark web’, but with all the contradictory information available in the media today, it may be difficult to understand what it really is, and why it matters to you. To clear some of this confusion, it is helpful to think of the internet as a massive repository of information made up of different layers: the publicly available world wide web, the Deep Web and the Dark Web.
Most people spend the majority of their time on the surface layer usually referred to as the Public Web, where they read the news, browse online stores, watch YouTube videos or search for information. The Public Web is easily accessible to anyone using a normal web browser, and any information stored here shows up in search engine results, making it a readily available resource. While the Public Web seems like an endless repository of information, it only makes up about 4% of the internet. This is not where identity thieves spend most of their time, but phishing scams prompting you to provide sensitive information voluntarily are often located in this layer. This makes an awareness of threats and attention to red flags important prerequisites to safe browsing.
The second layer of the internet, the Deep Web stores password-protected information available through normal web browsers, but not accessible to surface web crawlers and not indexed by search engines, thus none of this content shows up in search results. But just because the Deep Web is hidden, it doesn’t mean that information stored here is illegal. In fact, the large majority of the Deep Web exists for very mundane reasons. Representing around 90% of online content, it includes all kinds of protected pages from internal company sites and medical databases to academic resources and financial records. Every time you log in to your online bank account or review medical test results using an online portal, you are accessing the Deep Web.
While the Dark Web is a part of the Deep Web, it functions very differently in terms of access, content and use. This hidden network of websites exists on an encrypted network and cannot be found or visited by using traditional search engines or web browsers. Content stored on the Dark Web can be accessed only through anonymizing browsers such as Tor. This masking software enables computers to take a randomized path to their file destination and bounce around a number of encrypted connections to hide a user’s IP address, location and identity.
Because of its hidden nature and anonymity, it’s not surprising that the Dark Web is a haven for illegal activities, including drug, weapon or information trafficking, as well as political protests in countries facing oppressive regimes. If you have ever been a victim of a data breach or hack, the Dark Web is where your sensitive information may be shared and sold. Identity criminals and hackers meet in online marketplaces to trade hacking tools, personal data or sensitive information, including names, email addresses, social security numbers and passwords of your employees or clients, as well as valuable banking information like credit card, PIN and account numbers or transaction details.
Once exposed, your data can change ownership multiple times, especially if it is a valuable combination of information, attractive to cyber criminals. On the Dark Web, records are often made available in inexpensive bundles, being sold for as low as $10 per record. Much of this information is sensitive enough to do immediate damage, and fuels activities such as identity fraud, online extortion, credit card fraud, cyberespionage and even international money laundering.
If you are not a cybercriminal, information security expert or law enforcement officer, how can you tell whether your data has been made available for sale?
As most hacking occurs for monetary gains, it is important to monitor your accounts and financial statements, as well as to check your credit report regularly for inquiries or new accounts you don’t recognize. But the success of this type awareness is very limited. By the time you start noticing suspicious activities on your accounts, your information may have already changed ownership numerous times, making you, as well as your employees and clients the targets of multiple criminals.
But you are not powerless against these attacks. We do not recommend surfing the Dark Web on your own, but there is a growing number of Dark Web researchers and services specializing in accessing forums, separating noise from actionable intelligence, and providing you with much needed reports on your company data. Keeping an eye on the Dark Web is a smart move, whether you choose to hire an expert for in-house research or pick an agency that offers scanning and monitoring services. With access to the same information as cybercriminals, your internal or outsourced information security professionals are forewarned about likely angles of attack and can focus their efforts strategically. By monitoring the Dark Web, you can gather tangible threat intelligence, neutralize threats, and bolster your cybersecurity defenses.
With the growing number of increasingly sophisticated attacks, investing time, energy and money in a strategic cybersecurity plan is key to keeping your business healthy and expanding. What can you do to secure your vital data?
Conduct a Security Audit The first step in creating a strategic cybersecurity plan is taking a close look at your current defenses and gaining a clear understanding of where your vulnerabilities lie. What parts of your business may be susceptible to attacks? Is there valuable data left unprotected? A professional audit of your entire infrastructure will provide you with valuable insights and determine what steps you need to take to prevent hackers from accessing your network.
Implement a Comprehensive Security Solution In the race to close all vulnerabilities before they are exploited, a multi-layer next-generation security solution capable of handling the latest threats is an indispensable tool. Next generation firewalls combine traditional firewall technology with other network device filtering functionalities to provide you with a wide range of self-defense tools effective against an equally wide range of attacks. Features include deep packet inspection (DPI), an intrusion prevention system (IPS), encrypted traffic inspection, website filtering, antivirus inspection, and third-party identity management integration.
Protect Your Mobile Workforce With a growing number of employees telecommuting in the United States, protecting mobile devices has become an important component of any organization’s self-defense strategy. Your dispersed workforce accesses important company accounts, records and databases outside of the protection of your network security and uses Wi-Fi to connect to a wide range of networks at home, in coffee shops or public parks. It is of crucial importance to ensure safe connections for all your mobile users when they work on the go.
Include Your Staff in Your Security Strategy When it comes to data protection, your employees can be your biggest vulnerability or your first line of defense against hackers. Even the best security software is useless if your employees voluntarily give out sensitive information in response to phishing scams. But vigilant staff members can have a tremendous positive impact on minimizing threats and reducing the number of human errors that make you more susceptible to attacks. Keeping your employees educated on scams and having clear and simple policies in place can go a long way in turning your team into a true security asset. Examples might include ensuring that all portable devices, such as laptops are equipped with security software, or preventing your employees from sharing sensitive information over the phone.
Use Strong and Multiple Passwords While you have most certainly heard this advice before, we cannot stress the importance of strong passwords enough. Dictionary attacks are performed regularly with automated software that uses combinations of dictionary words and numbers to crack passwords, successfully penetrating many networks. The more complicated and unique your passwords are, the more protected your network can be against breach attempts.
As hackers are continuously coming up with new and innovative ways to penetrate your network and leak sensitive information, investing time, energy and money in a comprehensive data security strategy remains your only line of defense against exploitation. Information Security experts and services can help you make informed decisions and invest in the security measures that will yield the best results. The right combination of expertise, technology and policies can go a long way in keeping your business protected, healthy and expanding.
We do not recommend that you access the Dark Web on your own. Exploring this hidden network of sites without the necessary expertise is extremely dangerous and can expose you, your network, company and data to a large number of threats. Let experienced professionals specializing in cyber security help you access the necessary intelligence to safely bolster your defenses.