Detecting Data Security Breaches on the Dark Web

Detecting Data Security Breaches on the Dark Web
9 minute read

Cybercriminals and threat actors have developed sophisticated strategies for their attacks, leveraging the anonymity of the Dark Web to leak or sell maliciously acquired data and demand ransom, often in cryptocurrency. As a result, organizations must adopt robust techniques to detect data security breaches originating from dark web sources and adopt a risk-management mindset to effectively cope with leaked data.

What is a Data Security Breach?

A data security breach occurs when an unauthorized party accesses confidential information such as Social Security numbers, healthcare data, and credit card numbers. This can also include unauthorized access to corporate data like financial information, intellectual property, and consumer personal information. Industries particularly vulnerable to data breaches include business, education, government/military, healthcare, energy, and finance.

It's crucial to understand the difference between a data breach and a security event. For example, if files are inadvertently made accessible to employees within an organization due to an employee's unintentional mistake, this would not qualify as a  data breach. For a data security breach to occur, there must be unauthorized access to sensitive data by a threat actor or a third party, who then leaks it to an unsecured environment, often for financial gain.

Data security breaches have continually posed a costly problem worldwide. For instance, IBM's 2022 Cost of Data Breach Report, indicates that an average of $4.35 million was lost globally through data breaches, with the United States experiencing more than twice this amount, at $9.44 million. Furthermore, the costs associated with detecting and containing data breaches are substantial, averaging $1.44 million. Additionally, post-breach expenses such as legal fees, reporting costs, fines, and damage settlements average $1.49 million.

How Data Breaches Occur in the Dark Web

Data breaches don't necessarily occur in the Dark Web. Instead, think of the Dark Web as a clandestine marketplace. It's where cybercriminals, cloaked in anonymity, hawk stolen data like it's going out of style, and demand ransoms, typically in untraceable cryptocurrency. But where do these breaches originate? They stem from a variety of nefarious tactics - from malware attacks and hacking, to physical theft of data on devices like hard drives and USB sticks. And let's not forget about those simple human errors and the ever-looming insider threats.

Ever wondered if a phishing email counts as a data breach? Absolutely, it falls squarely under the category of hacking. It's all about unauthorized access and intent.

Breaches can also happen via third parties. Imagine a cyber thief breaking into a vendor or supplier's systems - those who handle your data. It's like a backdoor into your digital living room. Global online marketplaces that rely on third parties to manage consumer data are a classic example.

Once these digital bandits have their hands on sensitive data, they often scurry to the Dark Web. There, in its murky corners, they barter and sell this info - these are the dreaded "dark web leaks." The takeaway for companies? Employ robust breach intelligence measures to retain valuable time and money while identifying and containing a data breach. It's not just about damage control; it’s about being steps ahead, saving both time and resources.

Examples of Data Security Breaches from Dark Web Data Sources

The trend in data security breaches has increased for the past two decades due to the high number of digital transformations. Therefore, we've witnessed significant data breach instances, with some raking up to billions of dollars in losses. The top three data breaches over the past two decades include:

Cam4 Data Breach - March 2020

In March 2020, threat actors breached the adult video stream website Cam4's Elasticsearch server, exposing over 10 billion records. These records included sensitive information such as their full names, sexual orientation, password hashes, payment logs, email addresses, and more. 

Yahoo Breach - October 2017

In October 2017, Yahoo disclosed that they were hacked in August 2013, compromising about 3 billion accounts. The breach targeted their users' security questions and answers, which could result in identity theft. 

Aadhar Data Breach - March 2018

In March 2018, the world's largest ID database, Aadhar, reported a massive data breach due to a data leak on their system. The breach exposed its users' private information, including their names, bank details, unique 12-digital identity numbers, photographs, retina scans, and thumbprints.

Techniques for Detecting Data Security Breaches on the Dark Web

In light of the above examples, companies and organizations must consider relevant techniques for detecting data breaches on the dark web. This helps detect vulnerabilities in their systems and implement appropriate risk-managed approaches. Here are some of the techniques they can use to detect data security breaches on the dark web: 

Dark Web Monitoring 

Dark web monitoring involves searching and tracking your organization's sensitive data on the dark web using a dark web monitoring tool. This tool continuously searches the dark web and pulls out intelligence in real time. Once it detects a threat, it creates a customized alert to notify the organization's IT department for further action. 

ZeroFox dark web monitoring tool ensures 24/7 monitoring of your organization's credentials, IP, PII, and other sensitive assets that may surface from its marketplace or forums. It can also help you access unique intelligence to potential threats and comprehensive alerts on the cybercriminals' communication channels. 

Threat Intelligence 

Threat intelligence is data that contains detailed knowledge of a cybercriminal's motives, targets, and attack behaviors. This data helps IT security teams to be more proactive in their actions to prevent dark web-based cyberattacks. Security teams create threat intelligence through multiple threat information and dark web data sources and then analyze that data to uncover patterns and relationships of the potential threats. 

ZeroFox threat intelligence tool offers a complete view of your threat landscape, including dark web intelligence, brand intelligence, fraud intelligence, internet infrastructure intelligence, malware and ransom intelligence, and more. You can also plug it into your existing security tools through its API and get real-time access and identity of potential threats. 

Anomaly Detection 

Anomaly detection involves identifying suspicious events and items that significantly differ from standard patterns and behavior. These anomalies are called deviations, outliers, novelties, or exceptions in data security. Experts use data observability tools and leverage machine learning to identify these anomalies. This helps in detecting and responding to malicious events before they're executed.

Regular Security Audits 

Security audits are comprehensive evaluations of an organization's IT systems based on specific security standards and checklists. These audits, which can be compliance-based, penetration-focused, or risk assessments, help identify vulnerabilities and threats in IT systems. They highlight risky practices and weak points, thereby strengthening security measures, enhancing incident response preparedness, and protecting sensitive data.

Digital Risk Monitoring 

Digital risk monitoring involves performing external scans (outside your organization's IT environment) to identify potential risks. It can help detect leaked technical information, compromised accounts, and stolen credits that could be sold on the dark web. Critical digital risk monitoring areas include paste sites, lookalike domains, GitHub, and Dark Web marketplaces. This helps organizations monitor public attacks and carry out proper remedies to contain the attacks.

Responding to Data Security Breaches

Now that we've covered how to prevent data security breaches, let's dive into the best practices for responding to them. The Federal Trade Commission provides a detailed response guideline for businesses to respond to data breaches. Here's an overview of what you should do:


Immediately upon discovering or suspecting a data breach, focus on containing the breach. Act swiftly to fix any vulnerabilities that led to the breach, including securing all physical areas. Consider these questions to identify effective containment strategies:

  • How did the breach occur?
  • Is there any sensitive data that's being shared at the moment? 
  • Who has access to the personal data?
  • What steps can we take to secure the information and prevent unauthorized access?

Assessment and Investigation

Assessing and investigating a data breach will help you understand its risks and how you can address them. Start by mobilizing your internal breach response team. They will help create a complete picture of the breach and implement appropriate remedies to limit its impact. 

Notification and Communication 

Legally, you must inform all affected parties about the breach, despite the challenges it may present. Timely notification can reduce the risk of identity theft or misuse of information. When deciding who to notify, consider:

  • The nature and scope of the breach
  • The type of information compromised 
  • Actions taken to contain the breach
  • Potential for misuse of the compromised data
  • Possible damages that might result

Recovery and Prevention 

Once you've completed the three steps above, you must set up a recovery plan for the compromised data and a prevention plan to protect against future breaches. This may involve the following steps:

  • Conducting a security review to determine the cause of the breach 
  • Setting up a prevention plan 
  • Conducting audits to ensure implementation of the prevention plan 
  • Reviewing and updating existing policies to reflect learnings from the breach
  • Changing or enhancing training for employees responsible for data security

Actionable Steps to Protect Against Breaches

To protect your organization from future data security breaches, you need to have actionable responses to data breaches. The following steps would help you protect against data security breaches: 

Develop an Incident Response Plan 

Every organization has a legal obligation to have a current incident response plan that details everything they should do after a data breach. It offers a straightforward way to respond to the breach to avoid further breaches and potential risks that may result. 

According to the SANS Institute, a cybersecurity Incident Response Framework should cover the following six phases: 

  • Preparation 
  • Identification 
  • Containment 
  • Eradication 
  • Recovery
  • Lesson learned or review

ZeroFox's IDX Response Plan provides a flexible solution for breach notification, reducing risks and costs. It offers tailored notifications, a dedicated enrollment site, scalable communication options, and comprehensive protection services for identity theft victims.

Conduct Regular Risk Assessments

A cybersecurity risk assessment evaluates threats in an organization's IT system and data and the ability to safeguard itself from attacks. It starts with assembling a team of IT experts to oversee the process, communicate, and train employees about effective responses. Once the team has been established, they should consider the following steps: 

  • Catalog all information assets, including the entire IT infrastructure, Software-as-a-service(SaaS), Infrastructure-as-a-service(IaaS), and Platform-as-a-service(PaaS). 
  • Assess the risk associated with the cataloged information assets.
  • Analyze the probability and impact of the perceived attacks. 
  • Set up security controls, like network segregation, password protocols, network segregation, and firewall configuration. 
  • Monitor and review the effectiveness of the measures on a given timeline. This can be done monthly or yearly. 

Implement Robust Access Controls

Your efforts to prevent and mitigate the chances of data security breach starts with implementing robust access control. The following practices can help you ensure robust access control to your company's sensitive data: 

  • Implement an access control policy
  • Apply the Principle of Least Privilege(PoLP)
  • Use multi-factor authentication processes
  • Implement a network segmentation 
  • Train employees on your access control policies 
  • Use endpoint security measures

Comply with Data Privacy Regulations 

Organizations and businesses across the US must comply with several federal and state laws and regulations. These laws address specific industries and focus on particular types of data. The Federal Trade Commission oversees the implementation and enforcement of data privacy regulations across various sectors. Some of the measures that can help comply with data privacy regulations include:

  • Understanding the regulations from specific organizations such as CCPA, GDPR, HIPAA, and more. 
  • Catalog all your sensitive data. 
  • Developing policies that ensure compliance with the regulations 
  • Conducting regular audits to ensure continuous compliance with the data privacy policies
  • Implement new measures to ensure compliance with new regulations 

Secure Your Company with ZeroFox

In today's landscape, where data security threats are increasingly common and the Dark Web exacerbates risks, adopting effective protection measures is critical. ZeroFox offers a comprehensive suite of solutions, including dark web monitoring, anti-phishing software, account takeover protection, fake account detection, and compromised credential monitoring. Contact us for a demo and see how we can fortify your business's security.

Tags: BreachesDeep & Dark WebThreat Intelligence

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