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The Dark Web & Your Small Business: The Basics

When our small business clients ask us about the dark web, they tend to ask with some trepidation.  What is the dark web?  How might it impact my small business?  What can I do to keep my employees and my business safe?

These and other questions have come up more and more frequently recently.  And it's no surprise, given that the mainstream media has latched on to many recent cybersecurity breaches as top news stories.  That has driven awareness of cybersecurity -- and questions about the dark web -- to an all-time high.  Let's cover some basics here, to raise your game when it comes to managing the associated risks.

What Is the Dark Web, Exactly?

We've seen many definitions of the dark web that don't appeal to us, because they feel too technical.  So, at the cost of precision and formality, here's our simplified definition:

"A part of the internet that is not readily accessible to most users, where cyber criminals anonymously collaborate."

Simple enough?  We're sure this definition wouldn't pass muster with Webster, but we also feel that it's important to be able to talk about esoteric cybersecurity matters in an approachable way.  We're glad to offer a more intricate technical definition in a separate article for those seeking more depth on this topic.

Why Exactly do Cyber Criminals Seek to Collaborate?

The above definition begs the question of why cyber criminals go to such extensive measures to ensure that they can collaborate.  There are many reasons for their collaboration.  A sampling of the types of collaborative efforts occurring on the dark web, include:

  • Orchestrated Attacks on companies and individuals, involving a team of cyber criminals.
  • Transactions on Criminal Assets such as the sale/purchase of databases of usernames/passwords, other personally-identifiable information, credit card information, etc.
  • Phishing & Spear Phishing collaborations wherein in the effort (and the proceeds) are split amongst the organizers.
  • Exploit Discovery & Development where collaborators work as teams to identify vulnerable websites and software packages, and work together on developing exploits that take advantage of the vulnerabilities.

These are just a selection of the collaborations that occur on the dark web.  These are illustrative of the types of activity that occur there.

Is It Becoming a Bigger Problem?

Unfortunately, the dark web is becoming a much bigger problem over time.  As one signal of the level of activity related to the dark web, here is the Google Trends data on search volume:

Dark Web Search Volume

Other measures of dark web activity include timelines of major hacks that have occurred.  For example, 2020's timeline would include the well-publicized attacks against Twitter, T-Mobile, Carnival Cruise Line, Nintendo, Microsoft, Estée Lauder, Garmin, Mathway, Drizly, and others.  Wikipedia has more.  However, suffice it to say that this type of activity is on the rise, and so is the extent to which small businesses are seeking advice about how to stay safe.  We, as always, are standing by to help.

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