Although the statistics on that matter vary, it is estimated that while browsing the Internet, we only get to see about 4 or 5% of the whole web. So called surface web consists of everything that we are used to seeing on the Internet: blogs, social media platforms, online stores, news websites, streaming platforms, and so on. However, the internet is a complex, deep and multi-layered sphere, that reaches much further than our standard Internet searches. 

Ultimately, the Internet can be divided into three main categories. 

Surface web, also known as the open or visible web, is the sphere of the Internet that is easily accessible through standard browsers. The contents of the open web are indexed by search engines, which means that they are available and searchable for the general public, and their access is not restricted. 

Deep web (invisible web, hidden web) is the term used to describe parts of the Web whose contents are not indexed or searchable. The contents of those pages are usually hidden behind a security or a paywall, and require a permission or the use of a security password in order to gain access. 

Although it might sound like the contents of the deep web are hardly reachable, the truth is, most of us access the contents of the deep web daily. Examples of such use would be accessing an online bank account. Although everyone can search and browse your bank’s website, it is impossible to access your actual bank account information without a password. Another example would be your email or social media account – the websites or platforms are both searchable, but your actual personal messages and information are not searchable for any user.

Dark web is the part of the Internet that not only is not indexed by any standard search engines, but is also not accessible through standard browsers. For that reason, the dark web is also known as the invisible web. To access the contents of the dark web, the use of a specified software is required, such as Tor or I2P. 

To understand the nature of the dark web, it is important to understand how softwares like I2P and Tor work as well. 

Tor (“The Onion Router”) is an open-source software that enables anonymous browsing and communication. It directs internet traffic through a worldwide overlay network created by volunteering users, consisting of thousands of relays. This is where it also got its name from – every move of a user goes through a network made of multiple layers, much like an onion. 

Tor completely hides users’ location and restricts anyone from conducting any network surveillance or traffic history analysis. According to Tor’s creators, its intended purpose is to protect users’ privacy and freedom to conduct confidential communication.

The good and the bad side of the Dark Web

Despite the concerns that might be raised about the lack of surveillance and the possibilities dark web opens for illegal activity, it is also important to note that the dark web isn’t just all about illicit content. It is a way to communicate freely for people from countries of regime, where access to information is restricted or the usage of the Internet is considered illegal. This is what a major part of the dark web consists of – forums, chats, blogs and websites made by journalists and whistleblowers from all around the world. 

This being said, it is also important to remember where the dark web got its bad reputation from. Although it might be a small corner of the Web, it is a powerful one – the dark web is full of illegal content and marketplaces. Those allow you to buy everything, from drugs, firearms, cheap access to hacked accounts on streaming platforms, email, or bank accounts. 

Those, alongside forged identity documents and illegally obtained personal details are some of the most desired items by fraudsters on the dark web. 

How does your personal information end up on The Dark Web? 

There are many ways in which our data can end up being exposed. One of the most common ways to steal data is phishing – a method of tricking a victim into revealing personal details, logins or credit card information by posing as a trusted entity or another person, using email, text messages or phone calls. Malware attacks are another example; malicious softwares are used in order to obtain personal data. The latter are a part of another common issue – data breaches. In the past few years, some of the biggest corporations whose services are used by billions of people around the world, struggled with hacker attacks which resulted in data leakages. Some of the biggest data breaches resulted in data exposure of 165 million user accounts on LinkedIn, 500 million customers of Marriott International, 137 million users of Canva and finally, 553 million Facebook users. 

Monitoring the situation – especially after large data breaches – is essential for every user. Tools such as HaveIBeenPwned.com allow to discover if data from any accounts linked to an email address has been compromised during any leaks in the past. 

The prices on the dark market might be surprising 

Contrary to the popular belief, personal data and access to hacked accounts aren’t as expensive as one could imagine. You can buy passwords to premium accounts on platforms such as Netflix or Youtube Premium for as little as 8 dollars.

Dark marketplaces are full of illegally obtained data and credentials. Some of them can be perceived as relatively less harmful – such as accounts on entertainment platforms and services mentioned above. Unfortunately, this is not where the issue ends. Dark marketplaces offer a range of documents such as ID cards, passports, and credit card information.

For instance, the below data is an excerpt from a research conducted by Privacy Affairs, based on the analysis of illegal markets on dark web. The results of the research show average prices for particular data in 2021.

Payment processing services: 
  • Stolen PayPal account details, minimum of $100 funds available: $30 (the average price in 2020 was 199)
  • Stolen PayPal account details, minimum of $1,000 in funds available: $120 
Personal finance and banking services: 
  • Stolen online banking logins, minimum of $2,000 in funds available: $120
  • Credit card details, account balance up to $5,000: $240 
  • Credit card details with detailed personal information of an account’s owner:  $35 (the price may vary, depending on the country of origin) 
Crypto services: 
  • Verified Blockchain.com account: $310
  • Verified Crypto.com account:  $300
  • Verified Binance.com account: $410

How much is our identity worth on the Dark Web? 

But the illegal market places give fraudsters way bigger possibilities than accessing stolen accounts. As of today, it is not an issue to buy forged identity cards, passports, personal data or documents such as birth certificates or bank statements. 

The dark market is full of offers of so-called “fullz” – bundles of data available to buy for less than 20 dollars. Fullz include all personal details of a victim; including name, last name, date of birth, national identification number, address and documents confirming it, and so on. The price of a data package like this can increase due to the amount of the information provided and can vary depending on the “worth” of the identity. For instance, details of a person with a good credit score can be higher than details of someone who doesn’t have any credit history. The price may also vary, depending on the nationality of the victim. 

Right now, personal details of American nationals are the cheapest – the average price is 8 dollars, due to the overwhelming amount of data available. 

Low prices on the dark market are another factor that makes the issue continually growing. Considering that obtaining personal data isn’t financially challenging, the overall risk of identity theft and forgery increases. 

The dangers of the rapidly growing dark market. 

Low prices on the dark market are another factor that makes the issue continually growing. Considering that obtaining personal data isn’t financially challenging, the overall risk of identity theft and forgery increases.

Fraudsters using stolen identities pose real risk to every business – both small enterprises and large corporations. It creates the possibility of committing further fraudulent activities, such as taking out loans without any intention of paying them back or money laundering. Those and other illicit activities could potentially hurt any business in a big way. 

Due to the fact that identity theft and obtaining personal data illegally became so easy, identity verification of customers is an absolute necessity. It is the only way to ensure safety for both – the business and the potential identity theft victim. 

It is also important to recognize how incredibly detailed the personal data and documents available on the dark market are. As of today, it is not complicated to not only buy one’s personal details, but also documents proving the validity of this information – such as bank statements posing as documents proving one’s address, scans of birth certificates, identity documents and selfies of an actual owner of the document holding it up. That’s why, with today’s possibilities and technologies, identity verification of a user that’s based on data provided by the user only, is simply not enough. The rapid growth of the dark web market in recent years calls for serious measures in order to eliminate potential fraud attempts.

How can identity verification help? 

Fully-Verified offers video verification services. It is a process which – contrary to current photo-based methods of identity verification – allows a complex analysis of the document and user’s behavior. Video verification not only creates the possibility of interacting with a person verifying their identity in real-time but also ensures that the identity document is assessed in multiple ways, such as observing it from different angles, assessing security features on the document and its overall quality. Moreover, the AI technology used during the procedure (for instance during the face verification process), in combination with a human factor, eliminates the risk of identity theft and fraudulent activity. 

The dark web is a powerful combination of both worlds. It is a safe place for those looking for anonymity and a place to express themselves without any fear for those who can’t do so safely. On the other hand, for the same reasons, it became a haven for cyber criminals committing illegal activities and a place where the dark market of identity theft bloomed. This being said, it is important to acknowledge the power it holds and the risks it poses, and identity verification is one of the essential steps to eliminate those risks.

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