The Darknet, The Deep Web, And Your Personal Data
Should you be concerned by a security notification that your personal data has been detected on the darknet or the deep web? That depends which place your information has been found. One is an untraceable network designed for anonymity and shady business, while the other is simply a hidden component of the internet itself.
Here’s what you need to know about these networks and how to keep your personal information safe.
Darknet vs. deep web
The darknet is a part of the World Wide Web you can get to only by using special software and browsers. It’s designed to allow both users and website operators to remain anonymous or untraceable. The darknet is hosted on encrypted networks that you can get to only by using specialized tools such as the Tor Browser.
The deep web, on the other hand, is anything on the web that’s not indexed by search engines. Put simply, it’s private content. Deep web content includes email and banking services, much of the content on social media services such as Facebook, and anything inside proprietary corporate networks.
Although the terms deep web and darknet are often mistakenly used interchangeably, there is a difference — and there’s nothing mysterious or subversive about the deep web. Internet experts estimate that the deep web is significantly larger than the searchable, accessible network most people consider to be the internet.
The hidden internet
The darknet is what most people are referring to when they’re discussing the unsavory activities that go on behind the curtain of encrypted anonymity.
“When people talk about the darknet, they’re talking primarily about the Tor network,” said Patrick O’Toole, a senior manager in PenFed’s security department.
The core concepts of Tor were developed in the 1990s by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory and other scientists in order to protect U.S. intelligence communications. Tor quickly became a refuge for people who prefer anonymity and freedom from online monitoring or data collection. It’s also commonly used to get around government regulations in countries that restrict free speech.
Author and tech journalist Jamie Bartlett has explained how the darknet actually breeds innovation because anyone doing business there is constantly searching out and developing new ways to protect themselves and their customers’ privacy. This decentralizes the darknet and makes it more innovative and customer friendly.
The dark side of deep privacy
Today, the darknet includes Tor, I2P, Freenet and Riffle, as well as small peer-to-peer networks between friends. It’s not illegal to access or use any part of the darknet. The key is the people — and the activities — you might rub shoulders with while you’re there.
The pros and cons of a separate internet designed especially for anonymity are exactly what you might imagine. The pros include significant advantages for online privacy, while the cons are—well, the fact that you could be rubbing shoulders with literal cons.
The darknet has been used to sell and exchange all sorts of illegal things: guns, drugs, child pornography and political and intelligence information. What might be more directly relevant to you is its role in selling stolen personal data, including account usernames and passwords, Social Security numbers, birthdates, credit card numbers, PayPal account information and all the other details that allow hackers into your banking, email, and personal life.
“When you hear of a data breach at a major company, that data will most likely end up on the darknet,” O’Toole said. “People post that they are selling data and advertise it; that’s how the transactions get started.”
Darknet users are computer-savvy and many are full-fledged hackers, which leaves the typical web surfer on the darknet at a distinct disadvantage. Any information you inadvertently expose there is likely to exploited. Tales of doxing (leaking your identity and personal information for harassment or extortion), phishing (being tempted into sharing personal information), computer viruses, and hacking abound.
How to protect yourself on the darknet
If you’re curious and decide to take a look around the darknet, it’s especially important to stay on top of good security practices. Use an entirely different set of account details and passwords than you do anywhere else, and remember that you’ll be surrounded by aggressive phishing and hacking tactics. Create strong passwords for any darknet activity. Don’t click on links that could be used to phish your information.
If you’re particularly concerned about safeguarding your data or you worry that your data may already be out there on the darknet, O’Toole suggests considering services such as LifeLock that monitor the darknet for mention of your personal data.
The best way to protect yourself is to make sure you’re up to date on best practices for safeguarding your data online. PenFed helps protect your financial information by including the dark web in content that it regularly monitors for any mention of PenFed data. Sign up for text alerts to notify you any time PenFed detects that your information might have been compromised.
Visit the PenFed Card Security Center for more ways to keep your information and accounts safe and secure.