CARBONDALE, Ill. (KFVS) - It’s no longer a question whether or not your personal information is at risk. Large scale hacks happen all the time exposing data that can cost you your credit, your reputation, and a lot of money. All of that sensitive information is potentially going up for sale on the dark web.
“Mine was the Chipotle hack of 2017,” said Southern Illinois University Cyber Security Student Travis Durbin. “We were in Memphis for a baseball tournament and didn’t know anything about it. Couple of weeks later almost a month later we were contacted by my bank and they said ‘hey you’re possibly part of the hack. We need to get you a new debit card.”
In Durbin’s case, the breach cost him only a few minor charges and did lead to a financial disaster, but many others aren’t so lucky.
“There are data breaches that happen all the time, and probably more likely than not somebody has had their credit card numbers stolen,” said SIU assistant professor of Information Systems Technology Tom Imboden. “If it’s for sale on the Dark web, you’re probably not going to know about it until you start getting those bills that show up because somebody’s buying things with your stolen credit card number.”
The term dark web might conjure images of a spooky place where cyber criminals are lurking around every click, but Imboden says the darkness in the dark web isn’t referring to shady goings-on, but rather that there’s no way for anyone to shine a light on who is using it.
“It’s called the dark web because it’s anonymous,” said Imboden.
That’s not to say there aren’t people with unsavory intentions on the dark web. There are a lot of them because criminals really value anonymity. But, as Imboden points out, so do people who have a lot to lose if their identity is known. That’s why Imboden says the dark web has become a go-to for whistleblowers, political dissidents, and even agents of the United States government.
“The Naval Research Labs were involved in creating the technology to where they would have the ability to, to let the people surf anonymously and communicate securely over the regular internet,” said Imboden. “But if it’s just the US government using it -- it’s pretty obvious who’s communicating.”
So, Imboden says the government handed TOR -- The Onion Router -- to the public. That’s when things got interesting, because again – criminals tend to like to do things in secret. In the dark web they found a corner of cyber space where they’d leave no fingerprints behind.
“The reputation is that it’s - you know, a Wild West of buying illegal drugs and guns and pornography and all sorts of other bad stuff,” said Imboden.
In an FBI raid earlier this year, federal agents busted 61 dark web drug dealers and seized 51 firearms, 660 pounds of drugs and more than $7 million in cash and cryptocurrency. That’s just a small percentage of what’s out there. Unfortunately, drugs aren’t the only thing for sale on the dark web.
Guns, hacked Netflix accounts, and maybe even your credit card number are for sale to the highest bidder.
For Durbin, the hack proved to be just a minor annoyance. However, as a student of cyber security – he was pretty irritated he couldn’t see this coming.
“Being in the IT field, it made me angry because I know what to look for,” said Durbin. “I know what to watch for. But you put your belief in the companies that use your debit or credit card at and trust that they’re doing what they need to do to protect our information, so it frustrates me even more because I know what they should have been doing.”
The hack made Durbin want to do his own digging to learn if his information was up for sale on the dark web, and he encourages others to do the same.
“Education is the key,” said Durbin. “We have to do our own research. We have to understand what’s out there and how to protect ourselves and not rely 100 percent on the companies we’re using to protect us.”
“Hackers are going to hack and they're going to, they're going to continue to break in to companies and they're going to continue to steal account information and they're going to continue to put it places to sell it, because that's what they do and they can make a lot of money doing it,” Imboden said.
Experts say in addition to checking your credit card statements, you can set daily limits on your credit or debit card. That way if a hacker does get your card number they can’t take very much of your cash.
Also protect your email account. Imboden says hackers can do a lot of damage if they gain access and lock you out. He suggests changing your password often and making your password difficult to guess.
To run a dark web search through the Experian credit bureau, click here. The free search checks for your email addresses, phone numbers, and social security number. There is an option to pay for a deeper search which covers your driver’s license, bank accounts, debit and credit card numbers, and even your passport.