The Dark Web is a scary place that only hosts illegal data and transactions, right? That’s about half true. It is sort of scary but not all of its content is illegal.
What the user needs to understand is that there are three levels of the web. First, the Surface Web, which has all the content that can be accessed by the search engines and made easily available to users. Second is the Deep Web, which has content that can’t be accessed by search engines. That includes the huge amount of content for which the user must log in as suggested in this graphic. The Deep Web contains a huge amount of content and much of it is legal. Both the Surface and Deep Webs have nasty sites, some promoting illegal activities.
That leaves the Dark Web as the scary place where trafficking takes place and stolen digital data is bought and sold. The Dark Web is not a place the typical web user is going to stumble onto. Ordinary browsers remain on the Surface and Deep Webs. It takes a special browser, Tor being the most used, to access the Dark Web. Tor was developed by US intelligence services to provide anonymous browsing and it can do that for the everyday user as well as for the cybercriminal. The Tor network hosts websites with the .onion domain extension which cannot be reached on standard browsers. That’s where the bad stuff lives.
The Tor browser is easy to download and use, but before you decide to go exploring be aware of two things. First, Tor is very slow because of the way its security works. Second, just using it could bring you to the attention of the authorities because they know it’s the browser used by cybercriminals.
So if it’s not entirely safe to visit the Dark Web on your own, how do you know if hackers have stolen your data and are trying to sell it there? Once again, do not pay for something you can get free! The worst examples of corporate cynicism on the subject of data safety are Experian and Equifax, both of which have experienced huge thefts of consumer credit data. Now they push credit monitoring for about $20 per month. You can get the same services free from your own credit cards or from free online sites as well as directly from the credit reporting agencies themselves.
Credit monitoring is of limited value, only alerting you of suspicious activity on your accounts. None of the credit monitoring sites, free or paid, can:
If you want to see if any of your personal data is on the Dark Web there is a free service called Have I Been Pwned (in video game terms, completely wiped out). It’s an interesting, and possibly valuable, exercise. If any of your accounts are listed there, immediately change to a strong password, using your password manager.
Then protect yourself in all the free ways provided by your bank, credit cards and other financial services. That includes turning on security alerts and checking other security settings on your account. It doesn’t hurt to check your accounts manually, but the alerts are faster unless you are unusually diligent.
It doesn’t take much effort to protect yourself in ways that are probably faster and more accurate and definitely cheaper!