Understanding the Dark Web and the Threats It Poses to Businesses

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Many internet users have probably heard of the term ‘dark web,’ even in passing. Not many may know what it means, though. The general understanding is that the darknet is a section of the internet where illicit activities occur. It is the shadowy corner where people go for stolen identities, documents and illegal transactions. The darknet is all this and much more. Most people don’t realise how big a place the internet is. Beyond your email, social media and company website is a whole spectrum of data that is easily accessible to people with means. Stolen credentials, company documents and customer information are examples of the data scattered across the dark corners of the web. It is why enterprises must understand the basics of this internet section and the threats that it poses.

The Internet Layers

The web has three layers that are responsible for different types of content. If you are to grasp what is in the darknet, you should be able to differentiate the primary sections. The top layer is the surface web where you find about 4% of online content. These websites are the ones that search engines are able to index. The next one is the deep web, which refers to content that crawlers don’t index. The last section is the darkest part of the internet.

What Is The Dark Web?

The term refers to a section with websites that are not part of search engine indexing. These sites also require special applications to access them. This layer of the web contains illegal information including stolen financial data, credentials and other vital information. It is a section that thrives on criminal activities. The data found on the sites can be put up for sale or used for blackmail among other nefarious acts. These platforms are set up on an encrypted network, meaning that you cannot stumble on one by searching on Google or Bing.

A majority of websites on this part of the web use the Tor encryption tool that masks IP addresses. The software bounces the site across different servers such that it is almost impossible to know the actual location. Think of Tor as a VPN, but stronger. With this encryption, it means that a website is only accessible if you are using Tor as well. Of course, Tor is not the only encryption tool that website owners in this section use for encryption. The point is that the tools not only make it difficult to pinpoint a website’s location but the owner as well. It is how users are able to get away with just about anything. Website owners apply several other security features to suit their needs.

Note that the dark and deep web are two different sections, even though some internet users don’t realise it. The deep web covers approximately 90% of internet content, which includes government and financial documents that are not part of the search engine index. From this definition, the darknet is also in the deep web. However, it’s an entire layer in itself because it involves encrypted platforms.

With this knowledge of how the darknet works and what it’s capable of, businesses must invest in cyber security to reduce risks of their information ending up on this part of the web. Companies should also invest in tools to scan stolen credentials and other data on the dark web.

A Brief History of the Darknet

You can trace back the history of the darknet to the early days of the internet. In 1969, Charley Kline, a student at UCLA, sent the first message between computers connected on the ARPANET network. A research agency of the Pentagon created ARPANET as a predecessor to the internet. This network laid the foundation for darknets as more encrypted systems sprung up to facilitate secret communication. The first sale on the darknet is said to be a purchase of cannabis by students that took place in the 1970s.

In the 1980s, the internet was becoming a reality with the IP standardisation in 1982. It is also during this period that personal computers, data havens and domain names took form. Data havens came about as solutions for private data storage. Transparency online was unavoidable during this time, and some users had trouble finding ways to keep sensitive or illicit information secure. Data havens did not just separate this information online but offline as well. The Caribbean is the birthplace of data havens because the region provided certain protections against many governments. In the 1990s, the internet was going mainstream, and compression algorithms were getting better. During this period, the web experienced a revolution in file-sharing of copyrighted material, particularly music and movies. In March 2000, Ian Clarke launched Freenet, an open-source network that allowed people to reach the darkest parts of the internet. The original reason for creating the decentralised network was to facilitate free speech. In 2002, Roger Dingledine and Nick Mathewson created the Tor network with funding from the US Naval Research Laboratory. Also called the Onion Router, Tor became the go-to network for dark web access. In 2010, Ross Ulbricht began working on the Silk Road, the most famous Tor marketplace that is responsible for most of the dark deals on the darknet. Although the FBI shut down the Silk Road, other platforms keep cropping up.

The Threat to Businesses

As a business owner or manager, why should you care about what happens on the dark side of the web? What is the point of scanning the darknet periodically? Businesses have the most to lose when it comes to the dark web. The internet revolutionised business, and now it’s hard to imagine functioning without it. However, it also presents some threats that businesses did not have to worry about before, like security. Companies store most of their information on their systems, which can be targets of cyber criminals. Credentials, financial and customer data are some of the targets that organisations have to keep safe.

The darknet makes it easy for hackers and other cyber criminals to sell stolen information. Some criminals blackmail companies with the release of sensitive data on the darknet. This threat is even worse because then that data would be available for anyone to use as they want. Having your company data floating out there in the shady part of the internet can compromise your reputation severely. Data breaches most of the time result in lawsuits, especially if the stolen information is highly sensitive. Businesses also have to worry about the loss of customer trust, which can cripple operations if not handled properly. When it comes to stolen customer data, a business has to worry about the damage that criminals can cause to individuals such as identity theft and credit card fraud.

As long as a black market exists for stolen information, cyber criminals will always have a reason to get their information. Every business should consider this factor. Because criminals can communicate secretly, hackers can exchange ideas and strategies about how to compromise your system. Your vulnerabilities will be out there just waiting for exploitation. The darknet makes it challenging to trace cyber criminals, which means companies have a hard time getting justice. Therefore, business owners must guard themselves against these threats by establishing security policies and teaching employees how to avoid attacks.

Businesses are slowly recognising the huge threat that is the darknet and taking protective measures. Cyber security is becoming a priority and rightly so. Business owners and managers should not just learn more about the darknet, but also implement measures to reduce the risks that it poses.

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