The dark web is a notorious corner of the internet. You have probably heard it discussed in the media in relation to the access and sale of illegal items including firearms, drugs and explicit materials. The increased digitisation of our work and personal lives unfortunately means that we need to be aware of threats posed by cybercriminals and their activities on the dark web.
Despite all of your best intentions, there is always the chance that your personal information may end up on the dark web — data breaches and the increasingly cunning practises of online criminals significantly increases this likelihood. This is why it’s very important to have a basic understanding of what the dark web is, what risk it poses to you and your privacy, and the tools and technologies you can use to protect yourself online.
What is the Dark Web?
The dark web is an area of the internet not accessible via your standard internet browsers. The websites that appear when you search for a term on Google, Bing or Yahoo! are known as the ‘surface web’ — they have been explored, ranked and indexed by conventional search engines. Anyone can access this information.
The second layer of the internet is known as the ‘deep web’. The deep web might sound slightly more ominous than the surface web, but by and large it contains perfectly standard information. You cannot search the deep web — it contains private data that is password protected (financial, legal and medical records) and also private search engines, for example, your university library’s catalogue. If you are wanting to know if a certain book is available, you can’t Google it but instead have to log onto the library’s own server.
The dark web is a third layer of the internet and it cannot be accessed via a conventional search engine. Instead, users have to download specific browsers (such as Tor or I2P) which link to dark websites. These browsers provide complete anonymity to their users, which is why the dark web is famed for illegal activity. Despite this, not all content found on the dark web is criminal in nature. Anonymity can also provide protection to journalists chasing an important story, or individuals trying to discuss oppressive governments.
However it’s not recommended that you spend time simply browsing the dark web. For starters, it’s incredibly difficult to do so — content is not indexed and ranked in the same manner it is for the surface web. The dark web does also contain illegal activities and material that you would not want to accidentally stumble across or become involved in.
Do I Need to be Concerned About the Dark Web?
The dark web is well known for being a place where hackers and cyber criminals sell private information obtained in data breaches. This can include personal details (name, date of birth), contact information (address, email, phone number), financial information (debit and credit card numbers, online banking logins) and more.
Once this information is on the dark web, it’s basically impossible to have it removed — there is no governing body of this part of the internet. You often won’t know when your information has been involved in a data breach, which is why it’s very important to be aware of the dark web and the potential for this to occur.
How to Protect Your Privacy Online
The first step in protecting yourself is knowing how much (if any) of your information is out there. Many internet security companies offer dark web scans or dark web monitoring services.
A dark web scan searches the personal information available on the dark web and alerts you if any of your details are found. As mentioned, once your information is found on the dark web it is near impossible to remove but there are steps that you can then take to mollify the damage (eg. cancelling bank cards, changing passwords and deleting email accounts).
A dark web monitoring service acts as a continuous scan, auditing the dark web and alerting you immediately if your information is found.
Data breaches often occur on a mass scale and are beyond your control, but there are several simple steps you can take to safeguard your personal information:
- Install a VPN — Virtual Private Network — to increase the security of your internet connection
- Make use of strong, secure passwords and change them regularly
- Limit the personal information you share on social media
- Avoid clicking on suspicious links or email attachments
The dark web is not a place where you want your information to end up. Ensure you make the most of available technologies to both prevent and react to data breaches and safeguard your privacy online.