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Cybercriminals Do It in the Dark - Your Information for Sale on the Dark Web?

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By Hector Cisneros

The Dark Web! It’s a term you hear people bantering about quite a bit today. Are hackers buying and selling your info on the Dark Web! Are cybercriminals using the Dark Web as a means of attacking our government, our businesses, and our personal digital devices with impunity? What are the costs and the dangers we currently face?  There is no doubt in my mind this problem has mushroomed because of the cybersecurity incompetence of companies like Equifax, Yahoo, and others that have allowed cybercriminals to gain access to our personal data. The headlines about the Russians hacking our political system has finally brought to the forefront the danger that cybercrime brings. Today, our government needs to declare war on cybercrime if we want to keep this peril at bay. In this episode of Working the Web to Win, we will explore the current threat cybercrime is exposing us to, we will look at the ongoing cost, and we will look at what could and should be done to ameliorate this threat. So, press on to learn how to mitigate your risks and hide your digital footprints as we tackle the perils of the Dark Web and the sale of your personal data.

We have written over three dozen articles discussing the dark web, cybercrime, hacking and data security. One of our earliest articles called the  Cyber Security Shuffle was written back in August of 2012. It dealt directly with Cybercrime, Hackers, Data Security and, more importantly, the government’s lack of action in dealing with this growing threat. I have been preaching the importance of creating a joint government/business initiative that declares war on cybercrime for quite some time. We need a program that has the energy and focus that our space program had in the1960’s, where we put a man on the moon in less than 10 years. The Apollo program costs US taxpayers around 25 billion dollars and the entire program to get us to the moon came in at around 150 billion dollars, (or 200 billion in today’s dollars). The cost of cybercrime (approximatley 100 billon dollars)  is like a major tax burden on the US without reaping any of the benefits.

NO PSA for You - We don’t even see a single PSA ad on TV or radio announcement warning people about the horrendous effects cybercrime is having even though it costs the US more than 100 billion dollars each year, (as compared to cigarette smoking is estimated to be around 170 billion in direct medical costs and gets lots of PSA’s).

Courtesy of Pixabay
Cybercrime has been with us almost since the invention of the personal computer. I remember seeing my first computer virus back in 1981 on an Apple look up the history of computer viruses, you will see that the idea goes as far back as 1949! Today, computer viruses are only a part of the cyber threat. There is widespread availability of hacking tools for the general public. There are legal hacker conventions where hackers sell their wares, exchange techniques, methods, and tools. And we have a whole industry that is dedicated to protecting digital devices from these techniques, methods and tools. Unfortunately, in the digital world, the crooks are way ahead of the cops.
II computer. But computer viruses go back farther than that. If you

This issue was bad when we wrote about it in 2012. Today, cybercrime is unabated and out of control. I recommend you start educating yourself before you become a cybercrime victim. Today, one in ten people (I have seen figures are as high as 17%) will become a victim. For companies, it's even worse. An article in CBS – CSI Cyber states that “43% of companies had a data breach in which hackers got into their systems to steal information.” That article also stated that “In 2014, 47% of American adults had their personal information stolen by hackers — primarily through data breaches at large companies.” Again, that’s almost half the US population!

Our Top Articles Related to the Dark Web, Cybercrime and Data Security

So, what’s all this got to do with the Dark Web anyway! Whether you call it the Dark Web or the Dark Net or some other code name, it's a place on the internet that’s designed for anonymity. We first mention the Dark Web back in  November 2013, when my partner Carl wrote Bringing Down the Bitcoin Bandits. Recently I have been investigating the Dark Web again when I was working on a new article about BITCOIN, since it's been in the news a lot. My article is called The Latest on BITCOIN - What You Need to Know.  It talks about the origins of the Dark Web. Ironically, the Dark Web was created by the US Navy to help American spies anonymously communicate covertly with other spies and the US government. Yes, you read this right. The US government created the Dark Web for its own use.  

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Today the Dark Web is used by countless individuals (both criminal and non-criminals) in ways that are designed to keep them anonymous.  Plus, regular people and anarchists use it to blow the whistle on corrupt companies and government officials. Anarchists also often engage in illegal cybercrime as well. The only reason BITCOIN (a cryptocurrency) is mentioned in the conversation is because it’s used as a non-trackable currency to conduct illegal transactions on the Dark Web. It's also used on the regular web as well to conduct legal transactions. Our government (and all others) use the Dark Web for spying and covert communication. Cybercriminals use it to conduct anonymous communications and illegal transactions (using cryptocurrencies).

50% 0f US Citizens have been Affected by a Data Breach - Recently I saw an email from Equifax offering to let me use their FREE service to check if my personal information was listed on the Dark Web for sale. Other companies are also touting this service as well.  If you recall, Equifax’s US and Canadian databases were breached in 2017, and over 150 million user’s information was snatched in the process. Read my article called, “The Latest Hack Attack - Equifax Breach Exposes 143 Million Americans”, where I talk about the breach in detail. I figured that the outcry from this horrendous breach would have captured the news headlines for weeks on end. However, it only stayed in the forefront for a few days. Instead, we got headlines about fake news or worse, news about President Donald Trump’s Tweets or other frivolous subjects.

It’s 2018 and month after month the victim toll keeps going up (to the tune of
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about 1 to 20 million victims a month). It is estimated that at least 47% of all US citizens have been affected by a cyber breach. This means that almost 50% of us have had our information stolen and hawked on the Dark Web!  

Currently, the big target is the healthcare industry as it seems their security is being targeted by the cybercrime syndicates. How many victims have to suffer from cybercrime before the government steps in and does something? I know what you’re thinking, it’s our responsibility to protect our digital assets, not the government. For the most part, I agree that we don’t want the government pervasively involved in our digital lives.

How can Government and Industry Help - Having said that, the government can set standards for the access and use of data on the web in the US. Many tools are already available that could plug many of the security holes that are widespread in people’s digital lives. For example; the government could provide incentives for businesses to come up with low-cost tools to protect our most vulnerable digital assets, including the Internet of Things, which involves smart TVs, streaming devices, and home automation products. The government could offer an incentive to cyber defense and tech companies to work together to plug additional holes that are discovered or were missed in the development of IT products.

I do not doubt that the tech industry is hard at work developing defense tools to help counter the threat, but guess what, we are losing the war! To win against organized crime, we must organize and put forth a focused effort to get the general public involved. In fact, if just 50% of the US population implemented my top 10 security tips, we could cut cybercrime in half in the US. That could translate into upwards of 50 billion dollars the way I see it. Let’s look at my Top 10 Tips.

Top 10 Security Tips to Keep Your Name off the Dark Web
  1. Check and read your credit reports weekly. Set them to a high level of alert if possible.  Look at credit card, and bank accounts statements closely. Look for anything out of the ordinary and report it immediately.
  2. Get and use ID protection insurance and monitoring - Get Life Lock, ID Shield, or one of the other companies that will provide insurance and legal resources to deal with the hardships of ID theft. Many P & C and supplemental insurance companies offer these as well.
  3. Lock your credit bureau accounts. Lock all three if possible. Freezing your accounts will stop most if not all new credit activation. You will have to pay for this. The process is a pain and different for each credit bureau. Here are the links and phone numbers. Equifax: 1-800-349-9960, Experian: 1‑888‑397‑3742, TransUnion: 1-888-909-8872.
  4. Raise the alert Level on all Financial and government transaction accounts. Set up all the fraud alerts on all your bank and credit card account to the highest level. Do the same for government accounts like social security, local taxes and licensing where ever possible. Have them send you an email and text for any level of usage to help you monitor what's going on with your accounts.
  5. When possible use cyber application tools to maximize your anonymity. You can browse anonymously, you can install an onion browser or browser
    Courtesy of Pixabay
    plugins that allow you to browse anonymously and you can use a free or commercially available VPN to stay anonymous. You can send email information in an encrypted format; you can make sure that data on your digital devices are encrypted. Speaking of anonymity, reduce the information you make available on social media. This includes being more selective with posts and shrinking your digital footprint in social media in general (i.e., get rid of sites you don’t use).
  6. Update your security systems and review your business and personal digital devices. This includes your computers, smartphones, tablets, and other IoT smart devices in your business and home. Always run and keep updated antimalware software on all digital devices with this capability. Make sure you are running frequent scans and always turn auto-update on to take advantage of the latest security updates. Make sure your router is up to date and that the firewall is enabled, and unused ports are closed. If you are a reporter, business executive, a government official or are paranoid, get yourself one of the new hardware authentication dongles to protect your email and other accounts. Google offers them for their products.
  7. Raise the security level of all your online programs. This includes your browser, online banking, social media sites, smart apps and any digital services so that they take advantage of two-step authentication as a minimum. Set your password to 13 digits, with alphanumeric characters and at least one special character. This will make it much harder for cybercriminals to take over or steal your digital identities. Also, most anti-malware applications allow you to set them at one of three levels. Set them to the highest level. If you have a website, make sure you are taking advantage of the HTTPS setting and access. This affects ranking and consumer confidence.
  8. Check with your bank and other financial institutions to lower your liability. Find out what your liability is for all debit, credit cards, and other accounts. Choose credit cards and accounts with the least liability. Note that even these cards require that you report breaches right away (usually within two days).
  9. Do all the items above for your entire family. Also, encourage your friends and business associates to do the same. It's easy to forget that a cybercrime produces a minimum of two victims with each fraudulent act. It blames the victim whose Identity has been stolen, and it deprives a business or individual of payment for a product or service they have provided. The victims multiply as time goes on.
  10. All Holidays and major events are Cybercrime Days. Be extra vigilant during the holidays, tax preparation time, during elections, when school begins and ends, etc. Cybercriminals come out to play the most when consumers are distracted by the major events in our lives. There is no substitute for being vigilant in the use of digital technology. As Spiderman’s uncle once said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” It's our responsibility to protect what’s ours!

In this article, we have looked at the Dark Web and recognize that it’s a place where many illegal and hidden transactions take place. It is a shelter for
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
cybercriminals, spies, anarchists, and whistleblowers. But we can’t blame the Dark Web for all the ills of the internet. In fact, the regular web has as many illegal transactions and cybercrime as the Dark Web. Most hacks, phishing attacks, ransomware attacks, data breaches and digital crime happen on the regular web. That’s where the fish are, as my friend and business partner Carl would say. The US and the internet community in general needs an organized effort to begin to stem the ever-increasing levels of cybercrime being perpetrated by organized crimes and hostile nation states. As individuals, we can only put our fingers in the dike of the impending catastrophe for a short period of time.  

Get involved Before Its Too Late - Ask your congressmen to act and get off their duff. Write your senators and ask them to create an atmosphere of cooperation between government and industry. They need to create laws that protect US citizens from breaches outside of our control, and they need to take the cybersecurity threat seriously because the cost to the American people are huge and this threatens our way of life. They need to take action like they are finally starting to do with the issue of opioids abuse. We need our government to create a program that incentivizes American industry, coupled with government mandated oversight to win this war! Anything short of this means we will continue to lose ground.

Learn as much as you can. Read all the articles linked in this blog post and also go to the notes page and read that information as well. Do your due diligence, learn all you can, listen to podcasts, watch YouTube and webinars from reliable sources and arm yourself with the tools and knowledge to protect yourself, your family and your businesses. The fight starts with us, but we also need help from our government and the tech sector.

That’s my opinion; I look forward to reading yours.

This article provides a look into the nature of the Dark Web and how it is being used for cybercrime. It further explores the rise in cybercrime in general and what steps can be implemented by individuals, businesses, and government to stem the tide of cybercrime. It also provides other ways to protect yourself and provides a list of what to do if you are harmed.

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Hector Cisneros is COO and Director of Social Media Marketing at Working the Web to Win, an award-winning Internet marketing company based in Jacksonville, Florida.  He is also co-host of the weekly Internet radio show, "Working the Web to Win" on, which airs every Tuesday at 4 p.m. Eastern. If you would like him to look at your web presence, email him and he will provide you with a web presence analysis, free of charge, to help you better understand your internet position.


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