It’s sometimes difficult to wrap our heads around the fact that we live in a world where things you cannot see can hurt. A tiny virus none of us can see without a microscope proved our health, wellness, and economic vulnerabilities. The same holds true of the dark web, which has evolved into a significant business threat.
What everyday internet users cannot see online, has become a hacker’s playground that presents a clear and present danger to hard-working business professionals. If Australian organisations are to protect against these unseen cybercriminals, it’s crucial to understand the dark web and how bad actors can use it against you.
One of the common misconceptions about the dark web stems from people believing it’s a separate space from other platforms. It may come as something of a surprise, but most people cannot access about 94-96 percent of active websites, according to resources such as CSO Online.
These seemingly hidden digital spaces are typically called the “deep web.” The vast majority of them are completely legitimate and only hidden for cybersecurity reasons. But hackers leveraged their advanced technical skills to create criminal platforms hidden within the deep web. Although no one knows the actual number of dark web spaces, law enforcement has proven them to be a hotbed of criminal activity.
“ASX-listed companies, financial services firms, law firms, an insurance company, and an adult entertainment store are among hundreds of Australian websites for sale on the dark web,” The Financial Review reports. “The websites are part of a list of 43,000 hacked servers available for sale on MagBo, the shadowy online marketplace where cybercriminals sell access to websites for as little as $US1 ($1.46) and as much as $US10,000.”
It’s essential to understand that reports such as this are but the tip of the spear. Digital thieves work tirelessly to breach business networks to steal wide-reaching assets. These are common items for sale their actual owners rarely know about until after they are used.
Dark web platforms require specialised search engines and software to peek inside. Even if your company purchased the technology to track down any of your digital assets, most platforms present hardened defences. Attempting to penetrate those would likely trigger malicious software in a counter-attack on your device. Only invited buyers, criminals, and cybersecurity experts can search, scan, or monitor dark web spaces safely.
The splashy dark web headlines usually concern big drug busts. Last year, the Sydney Morning Herald rolled out a significant piece about drug trafficking called “Pills in the post: inside the dark web drug market.” That article tends to be consistent with the type of reporting that garners reader attention. Business hacks aren’t sexy enough to get much attention unless the loss runs into hundreds of millions. That doesn’t make them any less criminal or dangerous to your organisation.
Hackers search for vulnerabilities in business systems in an effort to either copy digital files or hold the outfit for ransom. In some cases, a digital burglar can infiltrate a network using seeming legitimate login credentials and pilfer off data for years. If that sounds impossible, Marriott International suffered a breach that lasted four years, and upwards of 500 million customer records were compromised. If a corporation that large can fall prey to hackers for four years, it stands to reason that anyone can be successfully a target. But what has ramped up dark web activity to an imminent threat involves for-hire hacker services such as the following.
While hackers offer these for-hire criminal services, the hot-trending practice appears to be ransomware attacks on rivals. Commonly called Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS), this cyber attack involves inserting a malicious application into a network. The ransomware file takes control of the system and locks you out. Garden variety hackers usually demand a ransom paid in bitcoin to release your digital assets. In 2019, ransomware attacks reportedly cost Australian businesses upwards of $241 million, not including an average of 16 days of downtime. But when an unethical business rival pays for RaaS, it may be more advantageous to cripple your operation. For-hire hackers offering services on the dark web have emerged as modern-day digital hitmen.
The fact that what you cannot see can send your organisation into bankruptcy doesn’t prevent Australian business leaders from deterring hackers. Network defences can be hardened by providing ongoing cybersecurity awareness training to employees. Implementing multi-factor authentication, patching software, establishing virtual private networks, and upgrading to enterprise-level firewalls, among others, can harden your defences.
In terms of protecting your operation from dark web forces, enlist the services of a cybersecurity firm to scan and monitor criminal platforms. Cybersecurity professionals have the technology and experience to penetrate dark web spaces and search for digital assets linked to your company. Ongoing monitoring can also identify chatter that someone plans to hire a hacker to target your company. The only way to rest easy knowing you have not already been breached, or an attack is being planned, is to keep a watchful eye on the dark web.