Tangled up in the dark web

Tangled up in the dark web

In this special report for Business News, Abby Kimber of Manx Technology Group [MTG] outlines what the dark web is and why Isle of Man businesses should be concerned data is tangled up in it.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

by Duncan Foulkes – Business editor

Abby Kimber

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MTG estimate there are over 50,000 data points on the dark web that could be attributable to Isle of Man internet users or companies

The dark web is a hidden universe contained with the ‘deep web’ which is the portion of the internet that is hidden from conventional search engines, government surveillance and regulatory oversight.

The ‘deep web’ is estimated to be at least 550 times larger than the traditional internet, and it is growing every day.

What is driving this growth? A key feature of the dark web is the ability to operate anonymously – which is invaluable to citizens who are unduly subject to Government internet censorship and control.

There is however a dark side – the levels of anonymity afforded to users has led to a wealth of illegal and illicit activity; drugs, weapons, corporate espionage and the trafficking of stolen personal information and company passwords (acquired through hacking and data breaches).

Once exposed, this information can be traded and change hands time and time again, especially if the information is deemed valuable. This information may facilitate identity theft, financial fraud or access to company IT infrastructure.

Cyber Crime

Globally, cyber-crime is expected to cost the world $6 trillion per year by 2021. Damaging attacks such as NotPetya in Ukraine, which is estimated to have cost companies $1.2 billion, underscores the fact that cybercrime is a serious concern for every industry world-wide.

Alarmingly, cyber-crime is closer to home than you might think, the Isle of Man is no different.

Manx Technology Group (MTG) partners with specialist providers who monitor millions of data points on the dark web; automatically searching through forums, online databases, peer-to-peer networks and other sources – to uncover valuable information about breaches or other high-risk activity.

While these resources are all publicly accessible on the dark web, they are rarely accessed by the average internet user or business.

The Isle of Man

To assess the Isle of Man’s security posture, MTG used specialist cyber risk platforms to assess the Isle of Man’s prominence on the dark web.

When considering the results, the systems indicated that 50 of the largest companies on the island all featured on the dark web. This may include credentials, personal information and passwords. Based on these preliminary findings, MTG estimate there are over 50,000 data points on the dark web that could be attributable to Isle of Man internet users or companies.

This trend is not unique to the Isle of Man. If you were to survey the UK or Ireland – the results would be similar – which is perhaps more alarming!

Does this mean we have been hacked?

Not necessarily, although despite data breaches of third party services and personal use being a key contributor to credentials being shared on the dark web, it does not rule out the chance of an organisational breach or hacking incident. It is however important not to jump to conclusions.

Typically, the existence of data on the dark web can mean an employee has used their work email address to register on a third-party website such as LinkedIn or an online delivery service. That website may have been subsequently breached, and the logins and passwords of that website are now compromised. Examples of recent breaches include LinkedIn, Dropbox and Adobe. The increased risk here is that employees often recycle passwords throughout their work and personal networks. Staff may use the same password to login to the workplace, as they do when logging into Amazon or Netflix.

At this point I feel it’s important to reiterate that the presence of compromised employee credentials for sale on the dark web, may not mean that an organisation has been breached. It still should be treated with caution, particularly when viewed against the backdrop of your organisation’s security controls.


Dark web surveillance is an assessment tool commonly used by organisations to manage their cyber-risk, undertaking M&A due-diligence and where supplier vetting is necessary.

There are several products and tools that can be used to search for compromised credentials on the dark web. Organisations such as Experian provide services to protect against Identity Theft whilst other services (such as those provided by MTG) can monitor your company’s footprint on the dark web.

Unfortunately, there are opportunists. Scams that leverage blackmail and extortion are used to scare users, given the existence of their password, to handover money. There is also a growing trend in organisations who use these tools to make unsolicited approaches to businesses, using scaremongering and misrepresentation as a sales tactic – without providing context or defining the severity of risk.

Safeguard your business

There are a number of ways in which organisations and employees can work together to prevent a cyber-attack and reduce your cyber risk. Organisations should consider a layered approach to security, one that combines equipment and software, enhanced visibility and audit trails, alongside education, policies and user awareness.

Educate your employees on the importance of having complex, strong passwords that are harder to crack. Regularly change passwords and use password management tools to ease the burden of managing several, complex passwords. Interactive cybersecurity training is a great value, and highly effective way to educate you workforce and dramatically increase your cyber resilience.

Two factor authentication (2FA) strengthens access security by requiring two methods to verify a user’s identity. 2FA is now common place on most social networks and even gaming platforms. A user will login using their username and password, followed by a confirmation code that is sent to their mobile phone or mobile app. The use of 2FA is an absolute no-brainer in any modern organisation, particularly when it is so inexpensive.

Antivirus, endpoint protection, firewalls and user activity monitoring are invaluable tools that can be used to safeguard your organisation. Collectively, these controls help protect your organisation from both external and internal threats.

Data loss can be prevented by backing up your data securely to an off-site location, ideally segregated from your production data.

Next Generation Firewalls (NGFW) go beyond traditional network security; blocking malware and viruses, intelligently identifying and protecting against attacks and providing a real insight into your network’s activity.

Finally – consider a service that can continually monitor the dark web for compromised credentials and sensitive data, triggering alerts when problems arise. For many organisations and individuals, this early warning tool is invaluable to help protect valuable IP and customer data. It is inevitable that, through the pervasive use of online services, that one or several of your company e-mail addresses will feature.

Free Dark Web Checks

Understandably, cyber security is a cause for concern for businesses of all sizes. MTG is offering free dark web assessment to businesses, with a full explanation of the results and free advice as to how a business can enhance their security or mitigate any perceived risk.

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