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COVID-19 and The State of the Dark Web (and Your Data) 2020

April 02, 2020
A dark, inky clod sits next to a virus molecule on a white background

It’s no secret that large corporations and SMBs alike are struggling in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic as social distancing measures slow global economic activity. Unfortunately, bad actors are not taking time off. In fact, the rapid shift to telework has only made company data more vulnerable, increasing the importance of comprehensive security. 

When times are tough, no company can afford the reputational and recovery costs associated with a data breach. And while our supermarkets may be empty, the Dark Web markets aren’t – they’re thriving as bad actors sell and trade data. That’s why it’s more crucial than ever before that companies understand the Dark Web and its implications for their data security.

How Dangerous is The Dark Web Really?

For most people, the Dark Web is the mysterious underbelly of the digital age. It’s Gotham City at night, a place where bad things happen to good people under a shroud of deception, danger, and deceit. In reality, it’s each of those things and so much more.  

There are more than 4.5 billion standard web pages that are accessible to the public. However, those websites only represent a small fraction of the actual internet, which is estimated to be 400 to 500 times larger than these visible domains. This number grows every day and includes everything from business intranets and databases to freewheeling Dark Web marketplaces – hotbeds for illegal activity of the worst kind including drugs, weapons, and stolen data.     

As its name suggests, the Dark Web is almost entirely corrupt. For instance, a 2019 study by researchers at King’s College in London analyzed 2,723Dark Web sites and found 57% include illicit material. As the Federal Trade Commission describes it, “the Dark Web is a sophisticated marketplace providing one-stop shopping to get the tools to commit cybercrime – whether it’s malware kits, stolen account information, or ‘drop’ or ‘cash-out’ services to help monetize their crimes.” 

How Could This Affect My Business?

In The Week in Breach, our weekly analysis of breach news, we reported that cybercriminals recently netted $1.6 million from selling 239,000 payment cards on the Dark Web. Plus, billions of usernames, passwords, and account details are for sale in Dark Web marketplaces daily. Enterprising cybercriminals obtain and use this information to mount attacks including spear phishing and ransomware – and the right login credentials will also give them a door directly to your data.

While this criminal bazaar goes unseen by most people, we can’t avoid its reality. The chaotic conditions created by the Coronavirus pandemic are a boon for cybercriminals. As companies rush to do business virtually, they’re often revealing unexpected information security vulnerabilities. That’s why we’ve used our expertise in all things related to the Dark Web to put together three key takeaways to help you keep your company data secure (and out of Dark Web markets) during difficult times. 

#1 Most People Don’t Understand the Dark Web

A 2019 study on Dark Web trends found that 30% of North Americans access the Dark Web regularly, citing everything from a desire for anonymity to a willingness to  access content otherwise unavailable in their location. However, for the vast majority of people, the Dark Web remains a mystery. 

This is problematic on many fronts. Most notably, this means that the average employee is unaware of the comprehensive marketplace for company and customer data, which could make them less willing to take proactive steps to protect this information.  

#2 Catching Dark Web Criminals is Very Difficult

Many cybercriminals are caught and prosecuted. But catching Dark Web criminals requires law enforcement agencies to conduct complex investigations that incorporate online and offline components. Everything from collecting and processing evidence to identifying the right agency jurisdiction can offer significant hindrances to prosecution.

Unfortunately, as The New York Times reported last year, “the fight against online drug sales is starting to resemble the war on drugs in the physical world: There are raids. Sites are taken down; a few people are arrested. And after a while the trade and markets pop up somewhere else.” For businesses, this means that they shouldn’t rely on law enforcement to protect their digital property. Catching Dark Web criminals is difficult, which increases the impetus to focus on a robust defense.  

#3 Crypto is a Chronic Problem

Cryptocurrencies have become the go-to resource for cybercriminals. It’s estimated that Dark Web markets transacted more than $1 billion in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies in 2019. While these transactions aren’t entirely anonymous, the popularity of Bitcoin creates a crowded information source that is uniquely difficult to unwind.

As a result, the pace of Dark Web transactions is far outpacing law enforcement’s ability to track and respond to them. This means that cybercriminals have the means and opportunity to easily buy everything from powerful malware that can attack your IT infrastructure to stolen login credentials giving them access to your network.  

The Implications for SMBs 

The Dark Web is a treasure trove of user data about millions of people and companies gleaned from phishing scams, exposed databases, and other vulnerabilities. Cybercriminals that acquire data about your company can use it to walk in the proverbial front door, accessing customer or employee account to deploy ransomware and commit financial or identity crimes.

The Dark Web is also the marketplace to exchange everything from lists of stolen passwords to “off-the-shelf” malware that even rookie cybercriminals can use. Since most users and employees have notoriously poor password hygiene, that can have cascading consequences across the internet, as hackers redeploy this information across various accounts, multiplying the damage along the way.

Today’s SMBs must consider the implications of the Dark Web as part of their defensive posture. Keeping an eye on the Dark Web helps keep your user and employee credentials off of it. Dark Web ID monitors the Dark Web to find out if your employee or customer data has been compromised, giving you an opportunity to respond before cybercriminals can act – keeping everyone protected when they need it most.