The Young Witness

Wandering the dark web: What hackers can do with your data

Wandering the dark web: What hackers can do with your data

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Digitalisation trends have been on the rise over the past few years, with modern technologies integrating into virtually every aspect of our day-to-day lives. From shopping, banking, and investing, to working and studying, many of our daily processes are adopting both established and emerging digital technologies.

With this added convenience comes a handful of very real dangers, however. The height of the COVID-19 pandemic saw cybercrime rates like phishing scams skyrocket to unprecedented levels, with millions of device users across the globe falling victim.

Nations continue to record higher than average rates of cybercrime even post-COVID, as economies strive to bounce back from the full impacts of the pandemic.

As a result, many of the globe's leading cybersecurity companies and professionals have urged device users to bolster their cybersecurity strategies by using a VPN software and other network security measures to ensure that their network connection stays as secure as possible.

Alongside this, understanding what malicious third-parties can do with your personal and device data is also imperative, as it can aid individuals in identifying malicious content online and accurately gauge the risks that come with engaging with this content.

Data mining for profit

Hacking isn't entirely a profitable endeavour, unless you use your hacking skills for activities that have demonstrated themselves to be particularly lucrative. One particular practice that hackers can use to generate profits is harvesting device and user data for the purposes of selling the information to cybercriminals on the dark web.

Millions of web users may have their data unknowingly sold by third-party observers to other unknown persons online, with those unknown persons essentially being able to use that data for whatever purposes they see fit.

The more personal data that hackers can access, the more likely it is that a thorough user or device profile of yours will be or has been sold, leaving you at risk to highly motivated hackers who may have more resources than the data miner who sold your data in the first place.

However it's important to note that not all forms of data mining are necessarily malicious. In fact, there are data analytics agencies that gather data to be used by corporations who are looking to improve their products, services, or marketing campaigns.

Although corporations using this data aren't necessarily doing so with malicious intentions, the practice of data mining is still a highly contested one, primarily because of the lack of transparency surrounding the process. There are many who believe that analytics agencies and other corporations who practice data mining without making sizeable investments into their own cybersecurity measures are knowingly putting hundreds of thousands, if not millions of device users, at risk with every potential security breach.

Identity theft

Identity theft may be the most commonly recognised kind of cybercrime, and thus, one of the biggest concerns for many web users. In the age of online shopping and banking, it has also become easier for hackers to gather financial information like credit card details. Even something as simple as making a purchase through a seemingly reputable website can leave web users vulnerable to malicious third parties.

Even though the majority of cases of digital identity theft do involve hackers appropriating bank accounts or card details for the sake of making purchases, not all forms of identity theft veer into a direct financial loss for victims.

For instance, falsely presenting yourself to be an individual online can also constitute identity theft. If hackers reappropriate identities for the purposes of damaging that individual's professional or personal reputation, then charges of digital defamation may also be added alongside identity theft.

Hackers who are capable of hiding their tracks can go years without being detected, however, as the use of security measures like proxy chains can greatly complicate the act of unearthing digital culprits, even if law enforcement officials are conducting an official investigation into your claims of identity theft.

Unfortunately, most victims of identity theft lack the resources to bring cybercriminals to justice. Cybersecurity experts assert that implementing a proactive cybersecurity strategy is a minuscule investment when compared to the costs of dealing with the repercussions of falling victim to cybercrimes.

Digital extortion

As we've mentioned lightly throughout this deep-dive, not all cybercriminals have the same motivations for procuring and harvesting data. Data can be used for any matter of acts, be they criminal or mundane. Data can be used for digital theft or to conduct fraud, or it can also be used as a threat or a scare tactic.

Information is power, after all, and there are some individuals who will go to great lengths to keep particular information hidden from the public eye, whether these be government secrets or even just personal accounts that you want hidden from your friends, family, or co-workers. Hackers who unearth this kind of sensitive information can use this knowledge to blackmail people they've hacked, a crime referred to as digital extortion.

Digital extortion is one cybercrime that seems particularly dramatic, which is in part due to the fact that it's commonly mentioned in films and television shows like Netflix's Black Mirror or Sam Esmail's Mr. Robot.

Whilst stories of hackers forcing victims to do their bidding at the risk of unearthing their deepest, darkest secrets can make for great entertainment, they are also superb depictions of the worst possible scenarios that can occur without a strong cybersecurity strategy, especially if the person being targeted is a world leader or other influential figure.

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This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the dangers that await us online, as personal and device data comes in many forms, all of which hold many potential uses for opportunistic hackers.

Even something as trivial as healthcare data or account information for any number of social media platforms or websites can be used to produce false documentation or generate phishing attacks like spam texts and emails.

There's really no limit to a hacker's imagination, so the best way of ensuring that you stay safe from malicious persons online is simply to do whatever you can to minimise the amount of your personal and device data that they can gather.