The so-called dark web is a hidden corner of the internet that allows criminals to communicate with each other on covert forums, share scamming techniques and services, and plot ransomware attacks. Authorities struggle to counter the threat because because criminals operate with anonymity. This means you need to protect yourself.
The web operates on three levels. The surface web that we all know, which is indexed by traditional search engines like Google.
Next, there is the deep web, which isn’t on Google, but contains harmless things like library catalogues, company intranets and password-protected data such as your personal banking or email account.
Finally, there is the dark web, which is only accessible by a specialist browser such as Tor.
Sam Curry, chief security officer at Cybereason, says not everything on the dark web is bad, as it was originally used by journalists, whistle-blowers, and human rights campaigners in oppressive regimes.
“But there has always been a darker element such as selling drugs, guns and human trafficking.”
The dark web also contains compromised data, such as bank account and credit card numbers, and social security numbers, and stolen property.
Gary Butcher, 54, from Great Yarmouth, only discovered his personal data was up for sale on the dark web when he received a text from mobile phone provider EE welcoming him to his new contract. He hadn’t signed one.
He checked his credit report was astonished to discover three mobile contracts had been taken out in his name in a single day. “I’d always been so careful online,” he said.
Gary contacted the mobile providers to clear his name but had a second shock. “None would share what proof of identity or information the criminal showed to allow them to take out the fraudulent contract.”
Alarmed, Gary signed up to dark web monitoring service ClearScore Protect which found seven passwords across two of his email addresses available on the dark web.
READ MORE: How to spot an internet scam and stay safe online
Justin Basini, co-founder of ClearScore, said to protect yourself, always use a different password for each online accounts. “Otherwise if one password is breached, all of your accounts are breached.”
Passwords should be a mix of letters and numbers that do not contain your name, date of birth or common words like ‘password’, pet names or favourite football clubs.
Enable two-factor authentication. This adds another layer of protection by asking you to re-confirm your identity using something other than a password. “This could be a text to your phone, or via an authentication app.”
Check your bank statements and credit report regularly. This is the best way to spot if there has been any fraudulent activity on your accounts. If you notice any suspicious transactions, contact your bank immediately,” Basini said.
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Beware over-sharing on social media, said Bharat Mistry, technical director at Trend Micro. “Keep track of your bank statements. The first sign of being compromised is finding strange charges on your account that you did not make.”
Jasmit Sagoo, head of solutions engineering, international at Auth0, said criminals can pay anywhere between £2 and £60 on the dark web for your login details. “Criminals can use common passwords purchased from the dark web and brute forcing their way into your bank accounts.”
Fabian Libeau, vice-president at RiskIQ, warned: “The dark web has caught the imagination of the public as a shadowy realm of terrorists, drug smugglers and assassins. However, web users are just as likely to have personal data stolen while using official websites.”