The Dark Web and Cyber Security

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Set of hands typing on keyboard in dark room.

The dark web brings to mind images of malicious agents sneaking around online in search of illegal drugs, personal information, and the newest ransomware software. The deep web’s origins, however, lie with the U.S. government, according to Symantec’s Medium.com article, “Scratching the Surface: What You Should Know About the Deep and Dark Web.”

The dark web refers to sites and services that aren’t indexed by search engines (making it a part of the deep web) and cannot be accessed using a regular internet browser (a characteristic specific to the dark web). Sites that end in “.onion,” for instance, can only be accessed anonymously and their web URL must be known in advance.

Cybercriminals share such sites with each other and can reduce or eliminate unknown persons reaching their site accidentally via a Google search.

Those who hold an online cyber security master’s degree know that the deep web is an enormous source of hacking knowledge and software. Studying hacking forums on the deep web equips professional penetration testers, security analysts and software developers with the cyber security information they need to perform their responsibilities.

Shining a Light on the Dark Web

Originally developed to help anonymize government intelligence communications, the dark web takes advantage of network routing capabilities designed, initially, to protect intelligence data online via the use of special equipment and programs. A Tor browser or Invisible Internet Protocol (I2P) setup must be configured to allow anonymous online activity for dark websites to be reachable.

“Tor, which stands for ‘onion router’ or ‘onion routing,’ is designed primarily to keep users anonymous,” the security software company Radware explains in “Understanding the Darknet and Its Impact on Cybersecurity” on SecurityBoulevard.com.

“Just like the layers of an onion, data is stored within multiple layers of encryption. Each layer reveals the next relay until the final layer sends the data to its destination. Information is sent bidirectionally, so data is being sent back and forth via the same tunnel. On any given day, over one million users are active on the Tor network.”

Following the advent of decentralized cryptocurrencies in 2009, dark web users found that they could exchange money for goods and services in a quasi-anonymous way, according to tech writer Danny Bradbury’s TheBalance.com article, “The Illicit World of Bitcoin and the Dark Web.”

Silk Road was perhaps the most notorious of dark web black marketplaces, explains Bradbury. Users shopped for anything from drugs to guns, hitman services, and hacked computer programs and accounts. The administrators of the marketplace would hold bitcoin (or other cryptocurrency) payments in escrow until the buyer received the item or service purchased.

Although law enforcement eventually shut down Silk Road, marketplaces just like it continue to thrive on the dark web. And unlike Silk Road, newer marketplaces are decentralized and better hidden. Because dark web activity bounces signals off nodes or relay sites located in multiple nations all over the globe, investigations are costly and time consuming.

The dark web also presents the option of paying for sensitive data and hacking services instead of malware and virus packages that require the buyer to have a higher level of expertise. Security writer Matias Porolli lists these services in “Cybercrime Black Markets: Dark Web Services and Their Prices” on WeLiveSecurity.com:

  • Ransomware as a service – preconfigured ransomware sold on a monthly or annual basis
  • Selling access to servers – remote desktop protocol (RDP) credentials sold per server through a customizable search service
  • Renting infrastructure – computing resources leased for botnets and denial of service attacks that require massive processing power
  • Selling PayPal and credit card accounts – account access credentials sold to cybercriminals for a fraction of the available balance on each account.

Despite all the nefarious activities made possible by the dark web, it isn’t all bad. In “The Truth about the Dark Web” on IMF.org, international affairs authorities Aditi Kumar and Eric Rosenbach write, “For individuals living under oppressive regimes that block large parts of the internet or punish political dissent, the dark web is a lifeline that provides access to information and protection from persecution. In freer societies, it can be a critical whistleblowing and communication tool that shields people from retribution or judgment in the workplace or community.”

Let the Dark Web Be Your Guide

Cyber security personnel, especially those who deal directly with protecting sensitive systems against cyberattacks, can use the dark web to study the ways of the enemy, so to speak.

Dark web cyber threat intelligence mining is the process by which the more inaccessible corners of the internet are scoured for actionable intelligence to strengthen cyber security. In SecurityIntelligence.com’s “7 Ways to Identify Darknet Cybersecurity Risks,” tech writer Jasmine Henry points out that dark-web-based emerging threats and vulnerabilities can be analyzed to protect against threats before they can strike.

Invaluable cyber threat information can be gleaned from the dark web in several ways. AI algorithms can scour the onion sites in search of usable data while skilled cyber security researchers inject themselves into the realm of hackers and learn from their opponents’ dark web activities.

Those who work in the cyber security industry today are entering a field where lifelong learning practices are valuable. Cybercriminals move fast and innovate new hacks daily. Through the dark web, however, cyber security professionals can research their ways and learn how to counter their moves before they can launch their attack.

University of North Dakota’s Master of Science in Cyber Security Program

Choosing the right online cyber security master’s program is a decision that should not be taken lightly. The best programs will offer courses that keep current with today’s cyber security issues and concerns.

UND’s Higher Learning Commission-accredited online cyber security master’s degree program is ranked in U.S. News & World Report’s Top 25 Most Innovative Schools (2018), alongside such prestigious institutions as Stanford, Harvard and MIT.

UND prepares students for careers in cyber security with concentrations in Autonomous Systems Cyber Security, Cyber Security and Behavior, Data Security, and General Cyber Security.

For more information on UND’s MSCS online program, visit the program’s website today.

Sources:

Scratching the Surface: What You Should Know About the Deep and Dark Web – Medium.com

Understanding the Darknet and Its Impact on Cybersecurity – SecurityBoulevard.com

The Illicit World of Bitcoin and the Dark Web – TheBalance.com

Cybercrime Black Markets: Dark Web Services and Their Prices – WeLiveSecurity.com

The Truth about the Dark Web – IMF.org

7 Ways to Identify Darknet Cybersecurity Risks – SecurityIntelligence.com