The Internet, like any other service, can be used for both good and evil. When it comes to dangers in the online world, you often hear of the deep web or the Darknet. These terms, created by the media, refer to the darker recesses of the Internet where nefarious activities take place. If you believe everything you read, you may end up thinking that the dark web is a treacherous criminal online marketplace. With anything from illicit drugs and assassinations to human trafficking and hackers for hire, one can easily believe that the Darknet poses endless dangers for your business. However, is that the case? And if so, what kinds of risks lurk in these darker parts of the online world?
Dark Web, Deep Web. What is the Difference?
Before we delve into the dangers that lurk in the darker parts of the Internet, it is essential to understand the distinctions between the Deep Web and the Dark Web or Darknet. Unfortunately, the media often use these terms interchangeably, but they are two very different parts of the Net. The Deep Web refers to parts of the Internet that are not indexed by search engines. The Dark Web or Darknet refers to a particular part of the Deep Web. It is heavily encrypted, and you can only access it using a specific browser configured to traverse its unique protocols.
The Deep Web
The Deep Web refers to the sites of the Internet that search engines such as Google and Bing do not crawl and index. As a result of this configuration, they do not come up on any search results. However, deep web sites are still accessible. They are not hidden either. Just because a website is not indexed and listed in a search result, does not mean it is necessarily malicious. The deep web represents a vast expanse of the Internet landscape. Many believe it is 400 to 550 times the size of the surface web. The only difference between a deep web site and one that we find on the surface web is that you access it directly. Instead of clicking a link on a search result page, you access the site by its IP address or the site’s Uniform Resource Locator (URL) such as www.deepwebsite.com.
As stated, not every site on the deep web is necessarily nefarious. Many legitimate sites do not want Google and other search engines to index them for a variety of reasons. Internet banking sites and other services you access daily are often deep web sites. You navigate to them directly by typing in their URL or clicking on a link on their home site. Other examples include websites that many organizations expose to the Internet for their customers and staff. Online CRM systems, email, and even file sharing sites are typical applications that are not indexed but still accessible on the Internet. As these are not public services, organizations configure them to discourage search engines from crawling and indexing them. Often enterprises also expose their test and development environments so that they can check their service’s functionality before moving it into a production-ready state. All these examples would form part of what we classify as the deep web.
As you can see, there are many legitimate reasons for enterprises to have sites on the Internet they do not want search engines to crawl and index. However, as with any service, some individuals take advantage of the deep web’s thin layer of anonymity and privacy to host sites that offer illegal products and services. There are some websites on this non-indexed part of the Internet that provide illicit online goods such as stolen credit card details and hacked login credentials. Unlike regular internet services, you cannot register as a subscriber to these websites.
Accessing these sites requires an active username and password which the operator needs to provide to you. They are also often hosted in countries and run by organizations where law enforcement has limited jurisdiction. For instance, The Russian Business Network pioneered an online service called Bullet Proof Hosting over a decade ago. It enabled criminals to host sites that provide hacking tools, phishing guides, spam networks, and other content of a criminal nature. As the servers and related infrastructure were operated in countries where law enforcement had diminished jurisdiction, very little could be done to prosecute the offenders. However, as international cooperation increased and technology improved, many of these illegal sites moved to the Dark Web, which offers criminal merchants greater privacy and anonymity.
The Dark Web or Darknet
The Dark Web or Darknet is a part of the Internet you can only access using a particular browser that can traverse its protocols. The Tor project is the most famous of the Dark Web networks. Tor is an acronym for The Onion Router, and it protects user anonymity by relaying traffic through multiple Tor nodes across the Internet. Using the Tor browser, you can access sites on the regular Internet but your data is encrypted, and your originating IP is hidden. Using this anonymity service, you can connect from the United States, but the site you are accessing will log the IP address of the Tor exit-node you are using. The online exit point for the connection is most likely in another country.
Tor has many legitimate uses. It has been used by individuals in repressive regimes to send communications to the outside world. It’s also been a way for some to help other oppressed groups navigate sites and services their governments’ do not want them to access. However, Tor also gives its users the ability to host websites on its network using the “.onion” domain. Criminals use this functionality to host anonymous sites that are almost impossible for law enforcement to track and shut down. It is here where you will find a range of criminal services for sale if you know the correct “.onion” URL.
Protecting your Business from the Dark Web
Sites on the Deep and Dark Web may have legitimate reasons for existence, but criminals use the anonymity of this dark expanse of the Internet to further their illegal activities. Business owners need to take a proactive approach to protect enterprises from these threats.
The best way to protect your business from Dark Web threats is to invest in monitoring and response tools. By leveraging this technology, organizations can receive timely notifications when their data is discovered on Darknet marketplaces and hacker forums. As hackers trade in user credentials on the Darknet, receiving an alert when monitoring tools recognize usernames attributed to your organization can help you execute an appropriate incident response plan.
However, the best way to protect your business from Dark web threats is to ensure that hackers do not compromise your credentials in the first place. That is why it is vital that you educate your employees with the appropriate cybersecurity awareness training. If your staff can identify phishing attacks, prevent malware infections, and report vulnerabilities before hackers can exploit them, you can stay one step ahead of the Darknet operators that threaten your business.
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