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Exploring the Dark Net - Behind Enemy Lines

The surface web poses many threats to organizations, but the deep and dark web has gained notoriety over the years as more and more cyber-criminals make use of underground forums and marketplaces to buy and sell goods such as stolen credentials and personally identifiable information (PII).

Various anonymizing features and a lack of state-based governance has allowed cybercrime to flourish in this relatively safe space. 

Stolen information, illegal services and other illicit offerings and activity can be observed with unnerving regularity on the deep and dark web. Goods can be put together or sold as packages alongside other Cybercrime-as-a-Service (CaaS) offerings, thereby lowering the barrier to entry for novice cyber-criminals and allowing veterans to outsource parts of their operations. 

Dare to delve?
Whilst the darknet is complicated to navigate, it is far from impossible to penetrate. There are public Tor indexers available – such as Torch and Grams – though they are often clunky to use and not comprehensive in their reach.

Threat intelligence companies may offer cybersecurity modules that crawl the darknet, indexing content and providing search engine-like capabilities to defenders who purchase these services. Forums, however, may need to be infiltrated first in the same way as you would a real-world criminal organization.

However, organizations must first determine whether the risks associated with this type of hands-on research are worth it. These risks include the possibility of being unwittingly or unintentionally infected with malware or otherwise exposing yourself to those with malicious intentions. A strong understanding of operational security and acceptance of the risks associated with this type of research is key. In many cases, organizations may find it more prudent to enlist the help of threat intelligence vendors, whose professional expertise may come in useful.

Threat actors utilize Tor, I2P and other darknet browsing software to access hidden forums and marketplaces, while others lurk on the deep web behind password-protected or invitation-only closed forums or groups on Telegram, WhatsApp and other chat platforms. Some expect you to prove technical knowledge to gain entrance to a forum or to actively participate in a cyber-criminal community in order to maintain access. In other cases, you may need to be invited or recommended by a trusted relationship to gain access. 

Keep your enemies close
Organizations looking to conduct dark web research are setting out on a challenging task; dark web research can be similar to knowing that a party is taking place, but not knowing the address. Analysts need to be ready to hunt, dig and immerse themselves in the underground in order to find the action. In doing so, analysts are exposed to the myriad products and conversations surrounding cybercrime in these spaces, training their eye to be able to filter and identify the real threat.

This in turn allows organizations to better understand what they need to defend themselves against. In order to assess a threat actor’s credibility and the legitimacy of a particular threat, researchers may look at factors such as a threat actor’s reputation or length of time on the darknet.

Companies should prioritize monitoring for data related to their organization, such as proactively searching the dark web to find stolen credentials. Doing so at an early stage can massively reduce the risk or impact of an attack.

Detecting them using threat intelligence services can not only prevent additional breaches but also force IT security teams to locate the sources of the initial attacks and fix existing problems so attacks cannot occur again through that vector.

Stay alert and keep watch
In addition to looking for stolen credentials, it is also wise to monitor (using defined search terms) for documents or PII which might have been stolen or unintentionally leaked. Stricter data protection regulations mean that data leaks can have an even larger impact on an organization’s bottom line, as well as its reputation. In the event of a GDPR penalty, a company that can demonstrate robust detection capabilities can vastly reduce its liabilities.

A network of crawlers and sensors can alert organizations when their credentials have been offered for sale on the dark web – if you know what’s been stolen, it’s easier to block and mitigate damage. Good cyber threat intelligence is crucial to providing this feedback of information to build stronger defenses around any business.

Tracking for crimeware kits, malware, threat actors and TTPs that could target their sector more generally can also help security teams strengthen their security posture, broaden their situational awareness and put in place appropriate defense measures before adversaries can strike. 

The best way to fight cybercrime on the darknet is to operate in much the same way as the bad guys. If you understand the scope of what’s available to criminals, it’s a lot easier to rationalize how to defend against cyber-attacks and enable others to do the same. Collaboration and intelligence sharing is crucial in the fight against cybercrime.

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