How to monitor your organization’s presence on the dark web

Googling your organization’s name will bring up all sorts of information. However, there’s more to the internet than the surface web that’s accessed through regular search engines: the deep web and the dark web. To stay ahead of potential threats and maximize incident response performance, security teams need a complete view of their organization’s presence across all areas of the internet.

For example, knowing that your end users’ credentials have been stolen and leaked, and responding by resetting those credentials, can mitigate the threat of a targeted attack. It’s possible (but challenging) to search for this kind of threat intelligence manually. In this post, we’ll walk through the advantages of automatically monitoring underground forums and how this can help security teams handle digital risks, recognize threats, and navigate the intricate landscape of the dark web with confidence.

Difference between the deep web and dark web

Deep web and dark web are sometimes used interchangeably – but the terms mean different things. We can think of the deep web as the private section of the internet protected by some form of access security. These ‘non-indexed’ pages that you can’t reach directly from a search engine comprise most of the data online (around 95%). Essentially, the deep web contains anything you need credentials to access.

The deep web includes academic databases, subscription services, private networks, private forums, and medical records. Something like your personal Gmail or Netflix home page would also be considered a deep web page. We want these pages obscured from the surface web to protect user privacy, and to gate paywalled services people have paid for, like software as a service (SaaS) solutions, paid news websites, and streaming sites.

Going further underground, the dark web is a subsection of the deep web accessed via special tools like the Tor browser, hosting anonymous sites frequently on the wrong side of the law. Dark web sites can’t be indexed by web crawlers and are impossible to access from regular browsers like Google Chrome. Access to this content is restricted via virtual traffic tunnels through randomized network architecture. It’s this decentralized and obscure nature which makes the dark web hard to map and measure.

Marketplace forum only accessible via the dark web
Marketplace forum only accessible via the dark web

If organizations don’t monitor their presence on the dark web, they’ll have no way of knowing whether their data has ended up on an underground forum like the above. This could be vital intelligence that helps to stop a targeted attack using leaked data.

The role of underground dark web forums

Nestled within the intricate structure of the dark web are underground forums that function as clandestine virtual meeting places beyond the reach of law enforcement. These forums facilitate illegal activities such as the exchange of stolen data, forged documents, and malware. Orchestrated by a combination of cybercriminals and hackers, these forums act as breeding grounds for the dissemination of sophisticated hacking techniques, escalating the potential for significant cyber threats against organizations of all sizes.

Underground forum user listing a service for fraudulent digital signatures
Underground forum user listing a service for fraudulent digital signatures

The type of data you can expect to find up for sale on these forums includes:

  • User credentials
  • Credit card details
  • Confidential documents/intellectual property (such as proprietary software)
  • Personally identifiable information (PII) about an organization’s employees
  • Threat actors selling initial access services to help infiltrate a specific organization
  • Instruction manuals teaching other users how to build phishing campaigns
  • Information about planned coordinated attacks
  • Vulnerabilities regarding an organization’s products
An organization’s breached data for sale
An organization’s breached data for sale

Confidential data is a prized asset, and dark web forums are where you can most easily find it on sale. By monitoring the dark web, security teams can gain information that will enable them to stay ahead of threats. So how can we figure out whether our own organization has been exposed?

Challenges of manually investigating the dark web

Undertaking manual investigations within the dark web demands a significant investment of time and resources. This consumes valuable working hours and also exposes analysts to the inherent risks within these networks.

Time consumption

Manual investigation processes involve labor-intensive tasks, such as the continuous monitoring of underground forums, markets, and sites, as well as the challenging pursuit of staying on top of new sources in the dark web. Researchers often grapple with gaining access to restricted areas, which may require active participation in these platforms. The need for ongoing updates and expanded investigation scopes can divert resources away from analysis and threat mitigation.

Risks and vulnerabilities

Accessing suspicious websites within the dark web can be risky for analysts and their organizations. They could inadvertently expose their system to malware and other malicious attacks, compromising the integrity of the investigation and potentially endangering sensitive company data. Additionally, the risk of inadvertently revealing one’s identity to threat actors could lead to targeted cyber-attacks and other forms of retribution.

Infrastructure and security concerns

Manual investigations need extensive infrastructural support, including virtual machines, proxies, VPNs, and other security tools to ensure the anonymity and protection of analysts and their organization’s sensitive information. This incurs additional costs and introduces complexity, making the investigative process more challenging and resource intensive.

Advantages of automated monitoring

Manual investigation of the dark web can be a demanding and risky undertaking, characterized by time constraints and security vulnerabilities. In contrast, threat intelligence solutions such as Outpost24’s Threat Compass can automatically monitor your organization’s footprint on the dark web. By leveraging this powerful tool, organizations can proactively track and analyze their footprint in the hidden corners of the internet.

Prompt detection and real-time response

Cutting-edge threat intelligence technology can enable real-time monitoring of the dark web, swiftly identifying potential threats or exposed data. Automated systems are designed to promptly alert cybersecurity analysts, allowing them to take immediate action to mitigate risks.

Comprehensive coverage and proactive security

Automated monitoring offers comprehensive coverage of the dark web, eliminating the constraints typically associated with manual surveillance. With a dedicated team consistently expanding the range of monitored sites and acquiring premium access, no stone is left unturned in safeguarding businesses from constantly evolving digital threats.

Underground forum user selling malware
Underground forum user selling malware

Efficiency and resource optimization

The automated nature of the monitoring process not only ensures a thorough scan of the dark web, but also optimizes resource utilization. By relieving analysts of the burden of continuous surveillance and data aggregation, they can focus on in-depth threat analysis and the development of effective mitigation strategies. This enhances operational efficiency and fosters a proactive security approach.

Risk mitigation and anonymity assurance

Centralizing your monitoring process within a third-party platform mitigates the risks associated with manual investigations. A good threat intelligence platform will have security features, including anonymizing capabilities and a secure environment, ensuring the safety and anonymity of analysts and enabling them to operate without the fear of reprisal or compromise.

Outpost24 Threat Compass: Stay on top of dark web mentions of your organization

The comparative analysis presented in this post highlights the significant advantages of automated threat intelligence over manual investigations. With Outpost24’s Threat Compass, organizations can proactively protect their digital assets, pre-emptively identify potential threats, and navigate the intricate terrain of the dark web with confidence. Organizations can add company search terms and names of their VIPs to get alerted. For example, the below post would generate an alert that this government’s data was being sold online.

Forum user selling breached data
Forum user selling breached data

Threat Compass lets your security team browse and search within .onion networks (such as TOR). You can continuously track dark web communication for mentions of your organization, searching underground forums for intelligence, including hacktivist ops, data leaks, malware attack vectors and illegal marketplaces. And vitally, each Threat Compass module is backed up by our world-class in-house analyst team.

Using sophisticated automated monitoring solutions and carefully curated threat intelligence, Outpost24’s Threat Compass empowers security teams to promptly identify and address emerging cyber threats. Find out how Threat Compass could fit in with your organization’s security strategy.