The Dark Web: home of fraud, fake COVID-19 vaccines and illicit marketplaces selling everything from personal data to narcotics and child sexual abuse images. 

In the first in our new series, Hacker: Hunter Behind the Screens, we head into the web’s criminal underbelly with the UK’s Yorkshire and Humber Regional Cybercrime Unit (RCCU).

Understanding the Dark Web

The Dark Web is a network of computers where web traffic is anonymized. Many use it to access marketplaces and other sites to facilitate and commit crime.

David Malkin, former Senior Investigating Officer at the RCCU, compares the Dark Web with taking a train. “On the Clear Web, you have a ticket from A to B. In between, someone can check your ticket and see where you’re coming from and where you’re going. On the Dark Web, tickets don’t give your origin or destination, and your route may be different each time.” 

This encryption – and the risk-free environment created by the cloak of anonymity – has led the Dark Web to become a space for criminality: Kaspersky research shows that fake Covid vaccination certificates are for sale for just $20 on the Dark Web, while Statista research suggests 59% of listings on Dark Web marketplaces are for illicit drugs and drug-related chemicals.

But alongside illegal drugs, counterfeit goods and weapons, the sale of personal data is big business on the Dark Web. Fraudsters can buy names, dates of birth, credit card information and more at alarmingly low prices ($40 for online banking logins according to Forbes.com.) 

The FBI reports losses from online fraud topped 4 billion US dollars in 2020, and these losses destroy lives. 

Chris Spinks, Detective Sergeant in the RCCU’s Web Operations Team, says, “We’ve heard of people who’ve lost tens of thousands of pounds through fraud committing suicide, all because their private information was sold.”

Kaspersky reports the dark web can also be used for good. Dissidents, whistleblowers and investigative journalists use it to communicate anonymously online, and others use it to avoid online data collection.

How to protect yourself from the Dark Web

Kaspersky explains how the Dark Web poses two key threats to everyday internet users – having your identity stolen or your device becoming infected with malware.

Any kind of personal data can be sold on the Dark Web, so be sure to keep your passwords, physical addresses, bank account details and social security numbers safe and protected from potential leaks. If you’re concerned about a personal data breach, use a Dark Web monitoring service like Have I Been Pwned to tell you if your data is up for sale.

The Dark Web is full of information that’s been stolen via malware – tools like keyloggers (that keep a record of everything you type on your keyboard without you realising) and spyware (code that steals your private information, like passwords) can infect your devices without warning. Consider installing anti-virus software like Kaspersky Security Cloud to stay safe online. For more videos about the people fighting cybercrime and how they do it, subscribe to Tomorrow Unlocked on YouTube or follow us on Instagram.

Should the dark web be illegal?