What is the dark web? To explain the dark web, we need to start at the surface — or rather, the surface web. The surface web is the server that we access on a daily basis to browse, read, shop, and chat with friends; it contains all of the websites that search engines such as Google crawl, rank, and index to provide you with your search results.
The deep web can be thought of as sitting one step below the surface web. You probably also access the deep web on a daily basis, although many people don’t realise that it even exists. The deep web contains any website you access that is behind a secured server.
Deep websites are not ranked in the same way as surface websites — if you want to access your own private bank account, you cannot simply Google ‘my bank account’, which is for your own security and privacy.
Finally, the dark web. The dark web can’t even be accessed via regular internet browsers. Instead, a special server known as the ‘Tor’ browser must be downloaded. The dark web operates via anonymity, meaning your identity, location, and actions are also masked.
This is why many people associate the dark web with criminal behaviour. But is the dark web illegal? Technically not — there are no laws against accessing this part of the internet. However, you should be aware that criminal activity does occur on the dark web, including the sale of personal information to commit identity theft.
Many people are shocked to learn that their private information has wound up on the dark web, particularly as most of the time they didn’t even know the dark web existed.
In our day and age, most activities are conducted online, be it internet shopping or booking a medical appointment. All of the information that we provide is incredibly valuable to online criminals, who can sell data stolen in security breaches on dark web forums for quite a profit. This data typically includes a person’s:
In isolation, this information may seem quite innocuous. What, for example, is someone going to do with your full name? However, when combined, data such as this can be used to commit full-scale identity theft. This can involve everything from starting a new phone contract in the victim’s name to taking out a significant loan that ruins their credit history.
The worst part? It is practically impossible to have information on the dark web removed, meaning that your best offence is a good defence.
It’s very upsetting to find that your personal information has been uploaded to the dark web and is now in the hands of online criminals. While we can’t always control the security of large organisations — often the ones at the centre of data breaches — there are steps that you can take in your everyday life to protect your personal data.
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If you are one of those people that use the same password for every one of your online accounts, you are simply asking to be hacked.
Each of your accounts should have a different secure password, made up of a combination of uppercase letters, lower case letters, numbers, and special characters. If you struggle to remember passwords, consider using a password manager.
Many of us sign up to an online service — be it a telehealth provider or a social media platform — only to never return to the site ever again. However, your information remains uploaded to the site, most likely only protected by an easily guessed password. Keep track of your online activities and fully delete any accounts that you no longer use.
One of the first signs of identity theft is unusual activity coming from your banking accounts. Monitor your financial statements carefully and contact your bank if you notice anything unusual.
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While it’s very difficult to have information removed from the dark web, there are tools available that can sweep the dark web for your personal information and alert you if anything is found. Knowledge is power and simply knowing that your information has been breached means you can take the appropriate steps required to protect yourself.
Given the amount of information that we share online, there’s always a risk of it ending up in the wrong hands. Identity theft may be one of the biggest challenges facing digital users in the 21st century, which means that internet security should be one of your top priorities.
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