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{ insiders’ ADVICE

Web of Spies blake dowling uncovers how illicit websites can threaten data security.


hat happens when a data breach occurs? We hear about it almost every day. Target was the victim of a massive client data theft in 2013, the U.S. government just had millions of employee data stolen in June. In July the Ashley Madison website was hit with an embarrassing hack. Ashley Madison is for married people to arrange “dates.” That’s really not a good idea, but if you do, keep it low tech! Back to the issue at hand. I saw a piece on “60 Minutes” recently where a guy files fake tax refunds to the tune of $100,000 or more a year in fraudulent proceeds. When asked where he got the Social Security numbers he said the Dark Web, where everything is for sale. Have you heard of the Dark Web? Most people haven’t, according to polls. The traditional Internet is where search engines like Google scan when you are looking for something. Then there’s the Dark Web, which is completely different. The Dark Web is a collection of thousands of websites that use anonymity tools such as Tor and I2P to hide their IP addresses. To access that world you need a Tor browser. It’s most famously been used for black market drug sales and pornography, but the Dark Web also enables

anonymous whistleblowing, selling hacked data and protecting users from surveillance and censorship. Criminals want to operate in such a space to make it harder for authorities to find them. This summer Ross Ulbricht, founder of Dark Web site Silk Road, was sentenced to life in prison. The judge handed down the maximum sentence allowed for the money laundering, computer hacking and conspiracy to traffic narcotics charges against him. Silk Road gave its customers online access to unregistered firearms, drugs, fake identification and any other illicit black market item someone might want. The easy access to drugs the site provided, and resulting fatal overdoses, led the judge to hand down such a harsh sentence. Silk Road’s servers were in Iceland and owned by fake identities that Ross created from his Austin, Texas headquarters. The multilayered digital deceptions kept authorities at bay for two years. From 2011 to 2013, Silk Road went global. Transactions made exclusively using Bitcoin—the hard-to-trace digital currency—provided another layer of deception. By the time of Ross’ arrest he had amassed a fortune of $18 million worth of bitcoins. Although most of what you’ll hear

about the Dark Web focuses on the criminal, it has its advocates. Those who want to legalize controlled substances contend that taking the drug trade off the street removes the violence from such activity, a worldwide problem. Also, other Dark Web advocates contend it provides a platform to speak freely and avoid digital government oversight. The National Security Agency watches most of what we do on the Internet. But with the Dark Web, if you were a corporate whistleblower you could post negative information without revealing your identity. And, of course, it’s a place where personal data is bought and sold. To that end, keep passwords long and complicated, keep an eye on credit reports and credit card statements, shop cautiously online, and shred all sensitive mail before throwing it away: There are people are out there hunting and looking to sell personal data of all kinds.

Blake Dowling is chief business development officer at Aegis Business Technologies. His technology columns are published in a variety of regional publications. Contact him at dowlingb@aegisbiztech. com or at


INFLUENCE Magazine - Fall 2015  

Recognizing the 100 most influential people in Florida politics.