What Is Dark Web Monitoring and Do You Need it?

Take control of your private information and prevent it from reaching the wrong hands on the dark web.

Ivana Vojinovic Image
Updated:

April 14,2022

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There's much talk about the dark web and its dangers to businesses and individuals. Due to the illegal activities of bad actors on the dark web, people's finances and careers can be ruined. Companies can lose invaluable data to the highest bidder on the anonymous markets. That’s why you should take precautions and monitor personal data when it reaches the unknown corners of the internet.

We keep getting two questions in particular: what is dark web monitoring and do I need it? In this article, we'll define the dark web and explain how the monitoring software works. We'll also discuss the types of user data that are in danger on the dark web and why you need to protect your personal privacy and that of your business with monitoring tools.

Keeping Secrets to Yourself

This type of monitoring is the process of tracking and observing activity on the dark web. Monitoring software works by scouring the dark web for any mention of personal data, your business, or your employees' information. This can include monitoring dark web pages, darknet markets, forums, and chat rooms. 

Dark web monitoring tools also allow businesses to monitor user data that is in danger of being compromised or stolen on the dark web. These apps enable business users to learn more about data leaks on the dark web, run automated monitoring, and improve account security.

Suppose any sensitive data is found on the dark web. In that case, individuals get notifications that the app has located private data on unlisted sites. They can then contact relevant government agencies, such as the Federal Trade Commission or local law enforcement. They can also turn to software specializing in recovering from identity theft

Businesses can take similar steps to protect their employees and their data. Dark web monitoring allows businesses to monitor any untoward activity involving their employees on the dark web. This can help businesses identify potential security risks and take steps to mitigate them.

Dark Web Investigation

It's one thing to be aware of monitoring apps, but another thing to realize their potential in practice. Dark web surveillance software uses scanners, crawlers, and scraper bots to browse, search, and extract data from hundreds of thousands of dark websites.

This software searches for personal data that’s publicly available on dark web forums and markets that deal with personal data trading. Dark web monitoring companies and apps then analyze and match the downloaded data with your information to locate a certifiable match. When the software finds leaked personal info, users get notifications to take action and update their data security protocols.

Your Life's Work in One Document

All of this may seem inconsequential to you, or you might think this is something that only happens to other people. Let's look at what kind of data is leaked on the dark web every day and the impact it could have on a person.

Sensitive Data

The dark web is a haven for criminal activity and hackers. This means that people and businesses are at risk of having their user data stolen or compromised on the dark web, especially if they don’t use dark web monitoring services. The stolen information is usually used in criminal activity or sold to a third party. This info includes:

  • Driver's license - Criminals can use a leaked driver's license to impersonate you and commit crimes under your name.
  • Social Security number - This type of information can often be found on the dark web. A bad faith actor can steal your SSN and use it to obtain financing under your name.
  • Debit and credit card number - If you're not relying on dark web monitoring software, you could fall victim to the second most common document theft that takes place on the dark web. With your credit card number, criminals can make unlawful purchases - namely drugs - and make you a culpable actor in crime. Considering how common it is for an internet browser to save this information for easier accessibility, it’s no surprise that experienced hackers know how to steal it.
  • Bank account numbers - With access to bank account information, criminals can empty your bank accounts and steal your money. It's easy to see why this is highly prized and sought-after information on the dark web.
  • Medical records - With medical data, criminals can impersonate you to obtain drugs or medical treatments at your expense. Using dark web monitoring solutions is a great way to prevent or at least mitigate this. 
  • Membership/retail cards - Hackers on the dark web can employ any open store credit cards, store membership, or rewards accounts against you. The real danger here is that these accounts may be connected with other more sensitive private information.
  • Passport number - A passport is not only invaluable as a travel document, but also as a replacement ID document if you lose your Social Security card or driver's license. Those who acquire this document illegally will often use it with another personal record to pose as you.
  • Email address - As your primary means of communicating professionally over the internet, your email might contain sensitive company information, such as a secret project in development. Monitoring the dark web can help you protect such data. An email address can also open up access to private information like medical documents and analyses. Hackers use this info to blackmail a target into paying a ransom.
  • Passwords - A hacker can take over your accounts for any number of services if they acquire your password. They can hijack accounts for social media, government sites, business intranets, or digital storefronts and markets. More people are turning to password managers to prevent this.
  • Phone numbers - Criminals can use phone numbers to impersonate someone else's identity or threaten you. Using a dark web monitoring service is the best way to avoid this. 

dark web monitoring of passwords

A Common Mistake

You might be wondering how this can happen to you if you've taken all the necessary precautions. The truth is that no one can be 100% secure at all times; even one elementary mistake can reveal sensitive data to others. Sometimes even a faulty IT system that’s out of your control can cause this. 

It’s a common mistake to think that you’re completely safe online. People often end up surprised when they use a dark web monitoring tool and discover that their data has been leaked. This can happen when cybercriminals gain access to companies' servers and databases, which they then leak online. This is called a data leak or data breach. 

You hear of large companies experiencing data breaches all the time. During these cyberattacks, credit card numbers and other private information will inevitably be sold on the dark web. And the frequency of these attacks has been rising exponentially over the past few years. That’s why you should take precautions as if some of your personal information has already been leaked, because it most likely has. Even by using free dark web monitoring apps, you can work preemptively to contain the effects of a data breach.

Take Matters Into Your Hands

Most monitoring software informs users if their data has been leaked on the dark web. However, to get things back under control, you'll have to secure your data and proactively prevent ID theft in the future. Luckily, you can do this in a few easily manageable steps:

  • Use a VPN to protect your browsing - Every time you're connected to a public network, it’s wise to switch on your VPN. This will encrypt all incoming and outgoing data packets to prevent eavesdropping from other entities. Having a virtual private network and a deep and dark web monitoring service is mandatory today.
  • Check the site's security - Even when using a VPN, always check that the website you're about to visit is secure. You can determine this by checking that the URL starts with HTTPS. Alternatively, the internet browser may display a padlock icon next to the site's URL to tell you whether the website is safe to visit or not.
  • Employ strong passwords and change them regularly - Use a combination of phrases with numbers, symbols, and capital letters to create a strong password that is difficult to crack or steal. It’s best to change passwords every 90 days. People discover that dark web monitoring works well with password organizers that make memorizing and changing passwords for every site or account straightforward.
  • Use real-life protection to keep your data hidden - You don't only have to think about data security online; it's also crucial to prevent personal documents from falling into the wrong hands. That includes using a password to protect your smartphone or storing a passport and Social Security number in a safe. Avoid leaving your purse or wallet in your car.
  • Check credit card and bank account statements periodically - Run a soft credit inquiry on the state of your bank accounts to check for any suspicious, unknown, or unauthorized transactions. Some surveillance apps allow dark web credit monitoring, which can help immensely. Make sure to check bank and credit statements immediately once you find out about the identity theft.
  • Submit an identity theft report - Upon detecting identity theft, it’s best to file your report to the FTC (Federal Trade Commission). Depending on what type of sensitive data was stolen, you might have to contact the US Postal Service or your state’s motor vehicle department. You may also have to file a police report to local authorities, the US State Department, or the FBI.

Dark Corners of the Internet

We've covered how dark web credential monitoring works, but we haven't gone into the details of where these shady deals take place. Not many know about the dark web, because most people will never reach these corners of the internet. Indeed, the net has many layers; let's go quickly through each part.

Surface Web

The surface web is the easily accessible part of the internet, made out of websites that are indexed by standard web search engines like Google. According to Google's surface web index, it comprises billions of pages. However, this makes up only 10% of all internet content.

Deep Web

Many use dark web monitoring for business on deep websites as well. And many consider the dark web a part of the greater entity called the deep web. The deep web is the part of the internet that is not entirely indexed by Google and other similar search engines, making it more challenging to reach these sites.

Private databases and fee-for-service (FFS) sites are the most common facets of the deep web. Deep web pages employ protection or firewalls to stop standard internet visitors from entering them. You'll find healthcare info portals, companies' intranets, banking sites, and email accounts hosted on the deep web. Even Netflix is a deep website, which is notable given that some use dark web monitoring on the deep web; most of the streaming site's content is available only to customers who pay a fee and create a user account.

Dark Web

The dark web is made out of sites that are not indexable by standard search engines. These are hidden, anonymous sites that can be accessed by specialized search engines such as TOR (The Onion Router). The dark web was created for activists and dissidents but has since evolved.

Today, there are many marketplaces and trading forums that allow people to buy and sell illegal goods, such as military weapons, drugs, and sensitive data, among other things. Because of this, users are becoming aware of the concept of data breach and dark web monitoring. The dark web is the primary place to find sites that conduct data trading for identity theft.

In 2017, the FBI quietly monitored the activity of Hanza, one of the most significant dark web marketplaces, before closing it. Along with DEA and the Dutch National Police, the FBI seized and deactivated another large dark web marketplace, AlphaBay. Both sites sold narcotics, weapons, stolen data, and malware.

One of the first successful dark websites was the Silk Road. This anonymous marketplace allowed people to sell drugs, forged private documents, cyberattack services, and illicit digital goods, and even went so far as to let people hire hitmen. It was closed in 2013 by the FBI, and the site’s founder was sentenced to life in prison. When we get questions like “is dark web monitoring safe?”, we can confirm that it can prevent your data from ending up in such marketplaces.

Conclusion

The dark web has many bad-faith actors who can take over someone's identity and ruin their life. With the ever-increasing number of cyberattacks, it's better to take security measures into your own hands. Monitoring software might not prevent sensitive data from being published on the dark web, but it will give you a fighting chance to act immediately and mitigate the damage.

FAQ
How do you remove your information from the dark web?

Once revealed on the dark web, you cannot remove the information. However, you can contact the FTC, local law enforcement, or the FBI to report the incident and change sensitive documents.

What is dark web monitoring?

Dark web monitoring is the process of tracking and observing activity on the dark web.

What happens if your phone number is on the dark web?

Criminals can use it to assume someone's identity or threaten you. If this is the case, you should immediately change your number.

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