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How Dark Web Monitoring Benefits Cybersecurity

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Dark web monitoring services are services that scan the dark web - internet forums and messaging systems primarily used by malicious threat actors - for any indication that an organization's sensitive information is being sold or shared illegally. Dark web monitoring can also covertly uncover information about attacks in progress or plans for future cyber attacks. Dark web resources are typically not directly accessible by search engines and allow anonymity for cybercriminals to communicate making them an attractive place to engage in illegal activities.

Dark web monitoring services are proactive measures to mitigate the risks associated with data breaches and identity theft and produce a wide array of threat intelligence such as:

  • Stolen Sensitive Information: Cybercriminals often publish, trade, or sell information such as stolen login credentials, API keys, or certificates, personal information, financial information such as credit card numbers, bank account numbers, proprietary business data such as trade secrets, customer data, employee information, or intellectual property, or other stolen data like health records.

  • Zero-Day Exploits: Zero-day exploits are vulnerabilities that are yet unknown to the cybersecurity community and the software vendor. Monitoring for references to the technologies and services an organization uses can increase awareness of zero-day exploits, and allow early action to mitigate risks.

  • Phishing Campaigns: Phishing campaigns are often discussed and organized on the dark web. Monitoring for mentions of an organization's name or services can provide advanced warning of a phishing campaign targeting an organization or its employees.

  • Insider Threats: Sometimes, an employee or someone with access to the company's infrastructure may try to sell access or information on the dark web. Monitoring services can help detect such insider threats.

  • Competitor Monitoring: Sometimes, it’s not just about monitoring a specific organization. Knowing if a competitor has been compromised can also provide intelligence about increased attacks within an industry or similar infrastructure. Monitoring for signals can uncover potential risks to an organization's own environment.

With those covered, let's dive into exactly how (and why) dark web intelligence works to benefit cybersecurity as a whole:

Dark Web Intelligence to Benefit Cybersecurity

Dark web monitoring can aid in the early detection of potential threats and be applied to improve an organization's defensive cybersecurity posture. However, while dark web monitoring offers multiple benefits, it is crucial to remember that it is part of an advanced enterprise cybersecurity program and cannot replace fundamental cybersecurity strategy. Organizations must also implement strong security policies, employee education, network security, and incident response plans to effectively protect themselves against cyber threats.

Here are some ways that dark web monitoring intelligence can be incorporated into an organization's cybersecurity strategy:

  • Improved Detection and Response: Evidence of breaches allow organizations to take action to stop cyberattacks in early or intermediate stages. Knowing about a data breach early can also support compliance with regulatory breach notifications and managing the legal consequences more effectively. Dark web monitoring can uncover evidence if data is being leaked through third-party services.

  • Adjusting Network Defences in Real-Time: Cybercriminals often share information about new exploits and vulnerabilities on the dark web and dark web monitoring can uncover phishing campaigns targeting an organization.

  • Protecting Intellectual Property: Organizations often possess proprietary information and intellectual property that is crucial to their competitive advantage. Dark web monitoring can alert an organization if any of its intellectual property is being sold or shared on the dark web, allowing it to take legal action or implement other countermeasures.

  • Brand Reputation Management: A data breach can negatively impact an enterprise's reputation, especially in cases when losses are significant or when a lax attitude towards protecting partner or customer data is uncovered. Detecting breaches early through dark web monitoring enables more effective mitigation and can protect against reputation damage. Advanced cybersecurity activities such as dark web monitoring are evidence of an organization's commitment to cybersecurity and maintaining customer trust.

How Dark Web Monitoring Is Conducted

Dark web monitoring activities are include a mix of automated tools that can look for keywords and analyze natural language and manual efforts by cybersecurity professionals to analyze uncovered data and engage. 

Here are the general steps for implementing a dark web monitoring program:

  • Establishing Monitoring Criteria: Collecting keywords and other information to scan for including the target organization’s name, domain, IP addresses, and more specific technical data such as email addresses, filenames, passwords, API keys, or proprietary information.

  • Setting Up A Secure Environment: Many dark web resources are not accessible via regular web browsers or search engines and tools like the Tor browser or particular messaging apps are required. The dark web is inherently insecure and accessing it comes with its own security risks that must be mitigated with virtualization and network segmentation to prevent being breached while collecting information.

  • Identifying Dark Web Channels: Identifying and classifying dark web forums, hidden marketplaces, and rouge communication platforms used by cybercriminals to monitor.  Each dark web channel is used by different threat actor groups, or cybercrime communities.

  • Data Scraping and Aggregation: Automated tools scrape data from forums, marketplaces, and other dark web sources. This data is aggregated and can be analyzed to look for patterns and target criteria identified in the first stage.

  • Analysis and Correlation: Data is analyzed using sophisticated algorithms, AI, and human cybersecurity professionals to correlate it with the monitoring criteria that have been set. For example, an automated tool may determine that an email address and password posted on a dark web forum are associated with a particular organization. Human analysts also manually browse dark web forums or engage with users to gather intelligence and verify the data collected by automated tools.

  • Action and Response: When the target criteria are matched with dark web information alerts are sent to the target organization via email or through a web admin dashboard. Once an organization is alerted to potential threats or data leaks, it can take action such as changing passwords, notifying customers, contacting law enforcement, or other steps depending on the nature of the data that has been compromised.

When Does Dark Web Monitoring Services Make Sense?

Dark web monitoring makes sense for an organization in various scenarios and contexts. Here are some circumstances when investing in dark web monitoring is particularly beneficial:

  • Handling Sensitive Data: If an organization handles sensitive data such as customer personal information, financial records, or health records, dark web monitoring becomes essential. The loss or exposure of such data can have severe consequences including legal liabilities such as fines or other penalties.

  • High-Profile or Targeted Organizations: Dark web monitoring provides an extra layer of protection against aggressive APT cybercriminals or even nation-state threat actors. Cybersecurity insurance providers may require some organizations to provide evidence of more proactive advanced security measures to obtain a policy or dark web monitoring may lower policy premiums.

  • Large or Remote Workforces: Larger organizations or those with a remote workforce face increased risk due to the sheer number of potential weak points in their security. Employee’ credentials can be a target, and monitoring for these can help mitigate unauthorized access.

  • Mergers and Acquisitions: During mergers and acquisitions, organizations need to understand the complete picture surrounding their potential partner. Dark web monitoring is part of comprehensive due diligence to reduce the chances of unknowingly acquiring liabilities due to previous data breaches. 

Conclusion

Dark web monitoring services actively scan the dark web for indications of an organization's data being shared or sold illegally, supporting early detection of potential threats, such as stolen sensitive information, zero-day exploits that may impact a particular IT environment, phishing campaigns, and insider threats. By gaining intelligence from the dark web, organizations can improve their defensive cybersecurity posture, protect intellectual property, manage brand reputation, and comply with regulatory notifications.

However, it's important to keep in mind that dark web monitoring is an advanced cybersecurity activity that provides an additional layer of protection against data breaches and identity theft but cannot replace strong security policies, employee education, endpoint and network security, and effective incident response plans.

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