Note: This article is an excerpt from our just-released Dark Web Monitoring Solutions Guide. You can get a free copy here. Or read further on Photon’s dark web research findings here.
Organizations are now well aware of the dangers of the dark web whether they’ve read recent newspaper headlines of a major company targeted in a ransomware dump site leak or received notice after an incident executive or customer data breach. Although the dark web is not your one true source for data leakage— there are also clear web, deep web, and technical sources—the dark web certainly provides a cloak of anonymity with an extra layer of encryption and websites that cannot be indexed by traditional search engines such as Google.
So why go through the extra effort of dark web monitoring? In short, time is critical in terms of a data breach or exposure and the dark web can be the first place your data is leaked or an indicator of a breach appears. Through continuous monitoring of your organization’s assets and critical keywords, your organization can stay protected from a very costly, reputationally-damaging breach or put preventative measures in place prior to a targeting attack or discovery of a vulnerability. While there are enumerate situations in which a dark web monitoring program can pay dividends, we’re going to cover the top five use cases below:
- Detect and Mitigate Exposed Credentials before Use
- Stay Privy to Insider Threats
- Detect Ransomware Dump Site Listings
- Monitor for Vulnerability & Exploits Chatter
- Neutralize Initial Access Brokers (IABs)
Detect and Mitigate Exposed Credentials before Use
One of the most common instances we see with clients is exposed credentials for sale or exchange on chatting channels, forums, and criminal marketplaces. This use case offers protection from exposed data and credential stuffing. Since password reuse is common, credential stuffing has developed into a popular tactic to gain access to sites and sensitive data. Credentials from data breaches are sold in bulk on the dark web to other threat actors. Our tool and service, SearchLight, has detected 20 billion of these exposed credentials online to help prevent you and those in your digital footprint from being susceptible to targeted attacks.
Recently, we have seen more than just exposed credentials being compiled and sold. One gated market, Genesis Store, sells bots that bypass fingerprinting controls – providing customers with fingerprints, cookies, logs, saved passwords, and other personal information to emulate users and bypass security systems. This is an interesting development, enabling cybercriminals to bypass traditional anti-fraud controls.
Stay Privy to Insider Threats
Forrester named insider threats a “need to prioritize” to monitor for in their regularly updated 2019 report. Especially in the financial services industry, as malicious actors are often motivated by monetary gains and access to sensitive information such as BIN numbers, banking account information, M&A deals, and proprietary investment strategy fetches top dollar on dark web marketplaces and cybercriminal messaging channels.
Insider threats can pose a significant threat to an organization’s bottom line due to the nature of privileged access or the sale of breached data. Sale postings or discussions of offerings of intellectual property or proprietary data sourced from the dark web can launch an investigation and identification of the “insider” within the organization and lead to immediate remediation through legal action.
For example, a client in the Financial Services industry was alerted to an insider selling privileged account access on a dark web forum. The firm was able to identify and disable the insider’s account and utilized screenshots of the forum posting from Photon Research as evidence in court. The insider in this instance was sentenced to time in jail.
In the case of a healthcare client, organizations can be alerted to both direct mentions requesting access to or data from their organization in addition to sale postings by insiders attempting to monetize access. This can prevent malicious insiders from exploiting such access or can detect “accidental insiders” who may expose data due to a lapse in security practices such as uploading to misconfigured Amazon S3 and Network Attached Storage (NAS) drives.
Detect Ransomware Dump Site Listings
In 2020, we saw the rise of ransomware data leak sites, with several well-known ransomware operators such as Maze, DoppelPaymer, and Sodinokibi adopting this “pay or get breached” tactic to extort victims further. To add to the already stressful situation of encrypted files and locked systems, organizations face the panic of having sensitive data leaked to the public through these sites.
In the case of ransomware dump sites, time to detection is a critical matter. Moments matter in order to protect customer PII or proprietary data from public access. It’s essential to be able to identify as quickly as possible if your organization has been mentioned as a target by a ransomware operator, or in the case of a breach, has had data leaked on an encrypted or publicly available site. With continuous scanning by SearchLight (now ReliaQuest’s GreyMatter Digital Risk Protection) and a team of global threat intelligence analysts, Digital Shadows (now ReliaQuest) clients are able to identify if they are at risk of a ransomware data leak, or if companies in their industry vertical or geography have recently been targeted, and place preventative measures ahead of time.
Monitor for Vulnerability & Exploits Chatter
Vulnerability exploitation is also a common attack vector that cybercriminals and advanced persistent threats (APTs) use to gain system access. Forum users will commonly list zero-day vulnerabilities for sale or other exploit PoC code, opening the doors for more threat actors to use during their campaigns. Dark web intelligence can reveal mentions and chatter around CVE’s before they are exploited or even discovered by security researchers. Digital Shadows (now ReliaQuest) has even observed cybercriminals hosting competitions on both English and Russian language forums to find zero-day vulnerabilities and share proof-of-concept code. In these cases, disclosure of a vulnerability to widespread sharing across deep and dark web sources can take just a few days.
With continuous monitoring and alerting for specific CVE’s and vulnerability identifiers, teams can have the first-mover’s advantage in prioritizing a critical patch and mitigating a serious exploit before the knowledge and know-how of exploiting a vulnerability has become widespread amongst threat actors.
Neutralize Initial Access Brokers (IABs)
Following the overall trend of lowered barriers to entering the world of cybercrime, there’s an emerging type of cybercriminal that gives network access to those with malicious intent but no technical expertise. Initial Access Brokers (IABs) do the technical dirty-work and then act as a middleman finding vulnerable organizations and selling access to them to the highest bidder on dark web forums and market places. Consequently, diffused remote working models enforced in 2020 have increased organizations’ attack surfaces, so IAB listings often involve selling RDP and VPN accesses. Initial Access Brokers (IABs) listings have increased exponentially since we began monitoring them back in 2014.
Evaluating Dark Web Use Cases for Your Organization
Curious to learn about dark web fraud detection, dark web threat hunting, or the how-to of setting up your-house dark web monitoring capability? Get a copy of our Dark Web Monitoring Solutions Guide here. The guide additionally expands on more use cases and ways to evaluate dark web monitoring vendors to ensure you’re maximizing your investment by selecting a mature vendor.