What Is Dark Web Monitoring? How Does It Work? Is It Needed?

Folder with personal data for sale with scanner crosshair over it
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Summary: What is Dark Web Monitoring?

Dark web monitoring is the process of scanning through forums and sites on the dark web to identify leaked or stolen personal information, such as passwords, credit card details, and social security numbers. If your personal information is found, you’ll receive an alert and can take action to protect your privacy.

Dark web monitoring is increasingly important for individuals and organizations. It helps to identify and limit vulnerabilities and offers protection against identity theft, cyberattacks, and other online threats.

Free dark web monitoring tools, such as Have I Been Pwned, search through dark web forums and sites for leaked personal information. There are also premium tools, such as Norton LifeLock, which automate the process and provide real-time updates.

While dark web monitoring is essential to protect your digital identity, it is not enough. You must complement it by using a trusted, no-logs VPN like NordVPN, and an antivirus. Also, it is essential to practice proper cyber hygiene.

Continue reading to learn more about dark web monitoring, how it works, and additional steps you can take to safeguard your privacy.

You’ve probably read a fair number of stories about data breaches and leaks, or perhaps you’ve been a victim of such cyber incidents. Have you ever wondered where all the leaked data ended up?

Usually, it ends up on the dark web. In most cases, the stolen data is put up for sale and is only accessible to the buyers. However, sometimes, the data is posted on open forums. As a result, private user data becomes publicly available, and this poses a significant risk, as it can be used to commit financial fraud and identity theft, among other things.

Dark web monitoring refers to the process of searching through forums and databases on the dark web to identify leaked data.

In this article, we go into detail about what dark web monitoring is, how it works, and what to do if your data is leaked online.


What Is Dark Web Monitoring?

Dark Web monitoring iconThe dark web is a network of anonymized sites that can only be accessed using special browsers like the Tor browser.

The anonymity of the dark web lends itself well to certain illegal activities, such as drug trafficking. Hackers and cybercriminals also use it to share and sell personally identifiable information acquired in data breaches.

Dark web monitoring involves scanning through dark web forums and sites to find leaked personal information. When sensitive data is found, the dark web monitoring tool alerts the user to take action to protect their privacy. The nature of this action depends on the type of data leaked.

What kind of data do dark web monitoring tools look for?

Infographic showing what kind of data does Dark Web monitoring look for

We’ve established that dark web monitoring services look for personal data on forums and websites on the dark web. Here’s a list of some of the types of personal information that dark web monitoring tools look out for:

  • Passwords
  • Financial records (such as bank account numbers and credit card statements)
  • Social security numbers
  • Phone numbers
  • Credit/debit card details
  • Medical records and identification numbers
  • E-mail addresses and passwords

Exposing such data can cause significant damage. For instance, cybercriminals could use your credit card details to conduct illicit transactions or use your social security numbers to file fraudulent tax returns and health claims.

The potential ramifications of a data leak on the dark web are manifold. Dark web monitoring helps to mitigate these threats.


How Does Dark Web Monitoring Work?

Dark web monitoring tools continuously scan through forums and sites that hackers often use to share or trade stolen information. They depend on different processes to scour the dark web for information, including scanning, scraping, and crawling.

Dark web monitoring tools primarily seek to match the personal information a user provides with the data on dark web databases. If there’s a match, the user receives an alert.

Dark web monitoring tools have evolved over the years, and there are many great options to pick from. The best dark web monitoring tools available today are largely automatic. They constantly scan for leaked data and provide actionable alerts.

Norton LifeLock is one of the top dark web monitoring tools. It is a comprehensive solution for protecting your online identity and privacy. Not only does it monitor databases on the dark web for your data, but it also monitors your credit reports for new activity and notifies you.


Do You Need Dark Web Monitoring?

Dark web monitoring is highly important for individuals and organizations today, amid rampant data leaks and hacks.

Dark web monitoring for organizations

For organizations, especially those that deal with sensitive data, dark web monitoring can help to detect, track and mitigate the consequences of a data leak. It also boosts preparedness for future data leaks and improves prediction capabilities. Dark web monitoring should be a failsafe in every organization’s cyber defenses.

Dark web monitoring for individuals

Individuals can also benefit from dark web monitoring, as it informs you if there has been a leak of your personal data. It allows you to take the right measures to safeguard your privacy and reduces the risk of cyber threats like identity fraud—which can have serious financial and social consequences.

Can you do dark web monitoring yourself?

While it is technically possible to create your own dark web monitoring program, it is quite impractical. There are thousands of sites on the dark web where personal information is sold or traded. Scanning through each of these constantly will require a ton of computational power.

We recommend you stick with one of the existing dark web monitoring tools.

Have I Been Pwned is a well-known dark web monitoring tool. If you’d prefer constant checks and real-time alerts, then consider getting a dedicated identity theft protection service like Norton LifeLock.

Of course, it’s important to remember that dark web monitoring tools usually only scan public forums or sites that are openly available. Therefore, data that has not been posted on the dark web will not show up in their searches. This means dark web monitoring tools will not find stolen personal data that is up for sale but has not been shared publicly.


What to Do If Your Information Is Found on the Dark Web?

Despite your best efforts with dark web monitoring, there’s always a possibility that your personal information could be leaked online. If that happens, you’ll need to take preemptive measures before the information falls into the wrong hands.

Phone number

Phone device iconWhat happens if your phone number is leaked on the dark web?. After all, your phone number provides a direct channel of access for cybercriminals, allowing them to carry out identity theft and other cybercrimes.

Should I change my phone number if it’s on the dark web?” Ideally, yes. Changing your number will help to prevent potential scams and other harmful fallouts of your leaked data.

With that said, changing your phone number can be quite a hassle. It’s especially problematic if a lot of your personal and professional contacts already have that number.

In this case, it may make sense to retain the number, but be watchful for any suspicious activity, such as inflated bills or unauthorized text messages. Also, it’s highly important to avoid picking calls from unidentified numbers and use a Caller ID and message filtration app, like Truecaller.

Credit card

Credit cards iconA leak of your credit or bank account details can be disastrous. Hackers can use it to withdraw funds, take loans, and access credit lines open to you.

If a dark web monitoring tool alerts you that your credit card or banking details have been leaked, immediately call your bank or other financial service providers and ask them to block the card/account. Also freeze any credit lines available to you.

It’s important to keep a close eye on transactions happening on your account. You can do this by regularly checking your bank statements and credit reports. If you come across any transaction that you didn’t perform or accounts you didn’t open, immediately contact your bank and report it to the Federal Trade Commission through their IdentityTheft.gov website.

Social security number

Social security numbers compromised iconSocial security numbers and other government-issued identification allow you to access beneficial programs, file tax returns and insurance claims. Hackers can use this data to access services and make fraudulent insurance claims in your name. This could ruin your credit score and possibly leave you in debt.

If you discover that your social security number has been leaked, file an identity theft complaint with the appropriate government authority. In the US, this would be the Federal Trade Commission. Check if your government has a hotline for reporting identity theft.

Keep a close eye on the transactions linked to your social security number for any suspicious activity.

Passwords

Passwords iconThe impact of a password leak depends on the kind of account it’s linked to. For instance, your Netflix password getting leaked is not a major worry. The consequences are more severe if the password is for a banking or social media account.

If your password has been leaked, change it immediately. If you’ve used the same password for any other account, change it.

When creating a new password, it’s important to make it long, complex, and unique. You can learn more about how to do this in our guide to secure passwords.


Tips for Keeping Your Private Information Off the Dark Web

Infographic showing tips for keeping your information off the Dark Web

In the previous section, we covered what to do if your information is found on the dark web. But it’s more prudent to take measures to prevent your information from leaking in the first place. While there’s no guarantee that adopting the measures listed below will completely prevent a data leak, it will reduce the chances drastically.

Use a VPN

A VPN protects your data by encrypting your internet traffic. This means that prying eyes won’t know your real identity or be able to monitor your activities.

It’s advisable to use a trusted VPN like NordVPN, especially when you’re connecting to a public network or visiting the dark web and dangerous websites.

To eliminate the chances of a data leak from your VPN’s servers, be sure to check if the VPN provider retains user activity logs. We did a thorough check of NordVPN’s privacy policy and it has a strict no-logs policy.

Visit NordVPN

Install an antivirus and keep it updated

Hackers can obtain personal information in several ways. While they often target companies, they can also target individuals using phishing scams and keyloggers. A reliable antivirus scanner, such as Norton360, can provide protection against malware, phishing attacks, and other online threats.

Some antivirus scanners come with identity theft and dark web monitoring tools. If you’re particularly concerned about your online privacy, we recommend getting a subscription to such a plan. Norton360 with Lifelock provides these features and more.

Burner mail accounts

Limiting the number of websites and individuals that have your personal information is a great way to prevent leaks. An effective way to do this is by using burner mail accounts.

When using a burner, you provide sites with fake email IDs that are linked to your actual account. So, if the burner mail is ever leaked, your personal information won’t be compromised.

Apple users can generate burner IDs using the Hide my Mail functionality on macOS and iOS. There are also several free sites that provide this service for Android and Windows users.

Create and record passwords using a password manager

Strong and secure passwords will help ward off most hacking attempts. A secure password is usually long, complex, and hard to guess. However, creating and remembering such passwords can be a major challenge.

A password manager helps resolve this by generating random, highly secure passwords and storing them in an encrypted database. It allows you to create and store unique passwords easily for your different online accounts, reducing the potential exposure from a leak.


Final Thoughts on Dark Web Monitoring

Dark web monitoring is an effective way to safeguard your online security. It can identify vulnerabilities and show you which of your accounts require urgent attention.

Using a dark web monitoring tool regularly minimizes the impact of a potential data leak or breach. However, as we’ve demonstrated, staying secure and anonymous online extends beyond just dark web monitoring.

Here are some other resources you can consult:

Dark Web Monitoring: Frequently Asked Questions

We’ve answered some of the most frequently asked questions about dark web monitoring below. Feel free to post any questions you’d like us to answer in a comment!

Usually, accessing the dark web with a secure browser like the Tor browser allows you to stay anonymous and untraceable. However, if you leave a trail of personal information, you can be traced. We recommend practicing proper cybersecurity hygiene and using a VPN whenever you visit the dark web for complete protection.

Yes, dark web monitoring is essential due to the rampant data breaches and hacks today. It bolsters your online privacy, showing you which passwords and accounts are vulnerable and require attention. This helps to prevent identity theft and financial fraud, and stave off other online threats.

It can be very difficult to scrub any sensitive information leaked on the dark web. While you can try getting in touch with the admin of the forum or site to remove your personal information, the chances of success are low. You can also contact law enforcement to help remove the information.

Yes, it’s advisable to change your phone number if it’s leaked on the dark web. This eliminates the possibility of criminals using your phone number to scam you or steal your identity. However, if, for any reason, it’s impossible or inconvenient to change your number, keep an eye out for any suspicious activity and avoid picking calls from unknown numbers.

Tech journalist
Mohit is a legal and public policy researcher whose work focuses largely on technology regulation. At VPNOverview, he writes about cybersecurity, cryptocurrencies and sports events.