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Most of us use the web every day. Online shopping, reading up on celebrity gossip and searching directions to the restaurant you plan to try this weekend are all activities done on the public URLs that comprise the internet you’re used to, known as the clear web. The dark web, on the other hand, is not reachable by traditional search engines and is difficult to trace. You only can access the dark web through a special kind of browser software that allows a computer to interact with other computers directly. This platform makes activities more elusive, which is appealing to criminals.
“During prohibition when you wanted to find the backrooms, you had to know where to go. Knock three times to get in, for example,” says Debbie Guild, chief security officer at PNC. “The dark web is similar; you have to know someone who knows someone.”
Though you may never surf the dark web, Guild says it’s important to know what it is and how it could impact you. She says to start with these five tidbits:
The U.S. Navy created one of the most popular dark web browsers to this day. The Onion Router (known as Tor) was invented so intelligence forces could operate under the radar for national security reasons. The dark web is now also used by anyone who wants to conduct business on the web privately. Some journalists employ it to get story tips anonymously, and activists and dissidents might use the dark web in countries that censor information and outlaw political organizing.
Because the dark web is nearly untraceable, it is a convenient host for all types of illegal activities, says Guild. Stolen data, including names, addresses, medical records, login information, driver’s licenses, social security numbers and credit and debit card information, is sold in marketplaces on the dark web.
This sounds scary, but it’s simply a reality of living in this day and age. If you go on social media and you use websites and apps that are free, your data may be for sale on the dark web. However, just because your data is on the dark web, doesn’t mean someone has purchased it. Still, it’s important to take measures to help protect yourself, urges Guild. You can request a free copy of your credit report at each of the three credit agencies once every twelve months at annualcreditreport.com. Consider spreading out your reviews by checking one report every four months, for example. If you notice any suspicious activity, you should contact the credit reporting agency immediately. You can also put a security freeze on your credit at the three main credit agencies for free to help block anyone from accessing your report.
Though it’s possible your information is already on the dark web, you should still always use common sense practices to help protect your accounts and identity. For example, try to only make purchases from websites and vendors you know to be secure. Using credit cards or gift cards can minimize the risk that criminals could gain access to your bank account. When possible, it’s also wise to refrain from giving out personal information or publishing things on social media that could be used to steal your identity (like your mother’s maiden name, for example).
PNC has a proactive and preventive approach to helping keep our customers safe from cyber threats, says Guild. We have teams that monitor the dark and clear web around the clock, and when necessary, take action to help deter, detect and disrupt malicious activity.
Learn how PNC helps protect your privacy »
Though often used interchangeably, the dark web and the deep web are different things. The deep web is anything you can’t access using a traditional search engine. This defines much of the internet, including internal company websites, bank account information platforms and other websites that are password protected or behind a paywall. Though you can’t reach these sites using a search engine, the deep web is still traceable, unlike the dark web.
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