Updated on January 31, 2024.
The dark web is a part of the internet that provides anonymous and secure communication channels that are not able to be found by standard search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing. Numerous criminal activities are carried out on the dark web, such as the trafficking of stolen personal information, weapons and illegal drugs.
There are many ways that people’s data can end up on the dark web, but the most common is due to public data breaches that expose Personally Identifiable Information (PII) of customers and employees.
Continue reading to learn everything you need to know about the dark web and how to know if your personal information is on the dark web.
Dark Web vs Deep Web: How Do They Differ?
Although “deep web” and “dark web” are used interchangeably, they are not the same. Any part of the internet that is not indexed by search engines is considered the deep web. This deep web consists of paywalled websites, private databases, pages that search engines have not yet indexed and other content that is in some way or another available online. You may not realize it, but you use the deep web almost every day when you log in to your social media accounts and access your online banking accounts.
The dark web is a subset of the deep web that is only accessible through the use of special tools like the Tor browser. The Tor Browser is a web browser that uses the Tor network to anonymize your web traffic. A majority of internet users will never interact with the dark web but will interact with the wider deep web.
What Is on the Dark Web?
Some of the things you’ll find on the dark web include black markets, forums, chat boards and whistleblowing websites.
Black markets have expanded since the beginning of the internet. Black marketplaces can be found all across the dark web, where anything from passwords to Social Security numbers, firearms and drugs can be bought and sold.
Forums and chat boards
The dark web also has several message boards and chat rooms, many of which are devoted to subjects that are not appropriate for discussion elsewhere on the internet.
You can also find forums that are run by cybercriminals on the dark web where they sell stolen data. Typically, this includes information from credit cards, passports and online identities. Cybercriminals get access to this type of data using techniques like phishing and Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) attacks.
Journalists and whistleblowers use the dark web as a tool to share their messages and to locate or release sensitive information. By posting their information on the dark web, they can keep their identity anonymous – to prevent being targeted by those they’re exposing.
How Personal Data Gets on the Dark Web
Some of the most common ways that personal data gets on the dark web are through public data breaches, phishing attacks and malware.
Public data breaches
Public data breaches are when companies are targeted by a successful cyber attack that leads to employee and customer data being exposed. The exposed data varies depending on what information the company was storing about its customers. When public data breaches happen, cybercriminals are quick to gather as much information as they can so they can sell it on the dark web and make a profit.
Phishing is a type of social engineering attack that uses psychological manipulation to convince unsuspecting victims to provide their personal information to cybercriminals. When carrying out phishing attacks, cybercriminals often pose as someone the victim knows such as a company they have an account with or a family member. While some phishing attacks target specific individuals, phishing emails are typically sent en masse to numerous different people. Once a cybercriminal has gathered the personal information of several individuals, they post it for sale on the dark web.
The victim won’t even know that they’ve given out their personal information to a cybercriminal until someone purchases it on the dark web and uses it to steal their identity or commit fraud.
Malware, also known as malicious software, is a type of software that infects a user’s devices to steal sensitive information. There are many different types of malware and each of them works differently. For example, spyware is a type of malware that is used to spy on victims and can track their keystrokes and view the victim’s screen. Malware can spread itself to any other devices that are connected to the same network as the infected device. As it spreads, it can gather more information. As that information is gathered, it’s sent to the cybercriminal, which the cybercriminal can then publish for sale on the dark web.
Is Accessing the Dark Web Illegal?
Accessing the dark web is not always legal depending on where you are. Visiting the dark web is lawful in the U.S., but using Tor without the security of a VPN could result in monitoring from the government or your internet service provider. Additionally, while accessing the dark web may be lawful, engaging in criminal activity, such as buying or selling stolen data, is not.
The purpose of the dark web is to allow for anonymous browsing and although some people abuse this anonymity for unlawful purposes, certain people depend on it. Activists and whistleblowers depend on the privacy safeguards that are offered by the dark web. Others who depend on it include people who live in countries where free speech is restricted or outlawed and want to share information without facing legal repercussions.
All in all, although the dark web is not illegal, some circumstances would make visiting the dark web illegal.
How To Know if Your Personal Information Is on the Dark Web
You can know if your personal information is being sold on the dark web by using a dark web monitoring tool. Dark web monitoring tools constantly scan the dark web for your personal information and send you dark web alerts so you know if information about you is compromised and can take the necessary steps to protect yourself.
A dark web monitoring tool we recommend is BreachWatch®. BreachWatch is a powerful add-on to Keeper Password Manager that monitors the dark web for breached accounts that match the records stored in your Keeper Vault. BreachWatch sends you dark web alerts in real-time so that you can take immediate action and update your credentials if your online accounts appear on the dark web.
Know When Your Data Ends up on the Dark Web With BreachWatch
Because there are billions of websites, networks and registries online, dark web monitoring is essential. There is simply no way you can monitor all of them yourself. Without certain safeguards, it’s possible that you won’t discover that your information is being sold on the dark web until it’s too late. Investing in a dark web monitoring tool like BreachWatch can help you identify when your credentials are on the dark web so you can immediately change your passwords to prevent your accounts from being compromised.
To see if any of your data is on the dark web, scan your email using our free dark web scan tool.