As you read this article, you are browsing on what’s referred to as the Surface Web. You may not know it, but the Surface Web is what everyone uses daily for casual browsing. Regardless of whether you prefer Chrome, Safari or Bing, you’re on the Surface Web. (Read our recommended browsers here.) URLs (Uniform Resource Locator) on the Surface Web often end in .com or .co, and search engines allow users to easily find and connect with indexed webpages. For better or worse, much of your activity is tracked and your identity is public (Click here for our article on how to minimize that).
What you may be less aware of are the terms Deep Web and Dark Web. Think of them as taking one and two steps away from the public eye. The Deep Web, one step away, includes any benign site that is behind a password-protected login, or online form, or accessible via a specific link granting you access. Additionally, they aren’t indexed by a search engine. This can include email messages, private social media accounts, subscription-based sites, electronic bank statements, or any files with specific viewing/editing privileges! You use it more than you probably think!
The Dark Web is two, large steps away from the public eye. It is only accessible via specific browsers, Tor is the most common. Everything about the Dark Web is vague and anonymous. All identities are masked. People also utilize a VPN to hide their location. This can be both good and bad. It can be used for good when speech or access is limited or censored. For example, you can access banned books on the Dark Web; journalists, freedom fighters, and human rights activists utilize it; law enforcement officials use it to catch criminals or discover upcoming exploits. Additionally, Facebook, BBC, and New York Times have parallel versions of their sites on the Dark Web for people in countries where it is blocked or censored.
While the enhanced anonymity and secrecy can be used for good, it also used for bad. It caters to illegal products and services, such as child pornography, illegal arms, illegal drugs, human trafficking, murderers-for-hire, and terrorism. Illegally accessed information, such as bank card information, login credentials, personal information, and financial or medical records, is also sold on the Dark Web. This is all possible because indexing is turned off, IP addresses are hidden, and no seller or buyer information is revealed. Transactions are made with cryptocurrency, which is 100% anonymous. Even search results within Tor are vague, so you need to know where to look.
Ransomware, unfortunately, fits nicely on the Dark Web in two ways: 1) The illegally accessed information is bought to undermine individuals or businesses. According to BlackFog’s 2021 Annual Ransomware Report, “more than 80% [of reported attacks] involved data exfiltration in some form with records disclosed on the Dark Web.” 2) The ability to carry out ransomware attacks is sold as a whole on the Dark Web.
We are referring to Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS). RaaS has risen exponentially over the last few years amidst the pandemic. This business model is similar to Software-as-a-Service, involving an operator and affiliate. The operator builds a DIY ransomware kit and the affiliate, with less time or skill, buys it to launch an attack. The revenue model is often comprised of monthly subscriptions, and affiliate programs where a percentage goes to the developer, a one-time fee. or pure profit-sharing. Regardless, it involves a good chunk of change seeing as how lucrative ransomware is. According to Chainalysis, ransomware crypto payments hit $602+ million in 2021.
Although the Dark Web isn’t all bad, we don’t recommend utilizing it. It isn’t meant for day-to-day browsing and is much more difficult to navigate. If curiosity has killed the cat, be sure to keep your Tor browser up-to-date and utilize a VPN. To learn about protecting yourself from ransomware attacks, read these articles:
If you have any further questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to reach out! We are available Monday through Friday from 8 am to 5 pm. Text, call, or email us!