The Dark Web is smaller, and may be less dangerous, than we think

Another Dark Web market has been closed, and its leaders arrested. Law enforcement seems to be getting a handle on the Dark Web—is it really as big of a threat as it is made out to be?

The Dark Web: Here's what criminals can find out about you Graham Kates, an investigative reporter, shares the types of data cybercriminals can look up about anyone on the Dark Web.

The second largest illicit market on the Dark Web, Wall Street Market (WSM) has been seized by law enforcement, and three of its alleged operators have been arrested in Germany.

The arrests are the latest in a series of chaotic events surrounding the now-defunct WSM in which unknown individuals who ran the site performed an "exit scam" that found them making off with over $12.4 million USD in Bitcoins from WSM merchants.

The exit scam prompted a WSM moderator to blackmail users with the threat of leaking their physical addresses and evidence of illegal orders. That same moderator later published WSM server information and backdoor admin credentials to the Dark Web, leading to the police takedown and the arrest of three people believed to be the site's operators.

SEE: The Dark Web: A guide for business professionals (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

TechRepublic sister site ZDNet pointed out that with the shutdown of WSM, which comes only a month after the announced shutdown of the Dark Web market Dream Market, leaves only one major player in the Dark Web market scene: T•chka Market. A number of other markets have vanished from the Dark Web or been seized by law enforcement in recent years: Silk Road, Alpha Bay, and Hansa Market are just some of the most prominent to vanish.

The WSM shutdown, and others like it, are good news for businesses: There's one less place for stolen records to be distributed and sold online. That doesn't mean the threat is gone, though.

The Dark Web: Is it losing its teeth?

Threat analytics firm Recorded Future has found that the Dark Web is far from the vast network of hidden and illicit sites that the average person believes it to be. Recorded Future's research has found that the number of sites using the Tor protocol that are actually reachable amounts to only 0.005% of the number of reachable sites on the surface web.

Many Dark Web sites are unreliable, often vanishing without a trace with little to no warning. Scams are prevalent as well, Recorded Future said, largely due to the fact that Tor URLs are gibberish and look-alike domains are easy to fake.

The small scale, unreliability, scam-rich nature, and increasing law enforcement awareness of the Dark Web may be making it less and less of an opportunity for cybercriminals. With one major exchange after another shutting down, ZDNet points out, other small exchanges may not be willing to deal with the influx of users.

Some small markets may welcome the increased revenue that comes with competitor shutdown, but "WSM admins most likely realized that with the massive influx of Dream Market users, this would have also brought increased attention from law enforcement forces," ZDNet's Catalin Cimpanu said.

The Dark Web isn't the only threat

It's entirely possible that we're seeing the slow death of the boogeyman that is the Dark Web, but that in no way means businesses will be safe from cybercriminals looking to offload stolen data for a profit.

Businesses, said Recorded Future's director of data science Garth Griffin, need to remain vigilant even if the Dark Web is repeatedly stripped of influential marketplaces.

"Paying attention to the Dark Web should be just one part of a broader security strategy. Stolen data turns up in all kinds of places, some of which are Tor sites, but many of which also exist on the surface web. The wise threat intelligence team takes advantage of as much breadth of coverage as they can get their hands on to ensure they're covering all vectors, with Dark Web content being just one part of that picture," Griffin said.

Keeping your records off the Dark Web, or any other illicit site, requires not only being aware of the latest ways in which cybercriminals are distributing their wares, but also maintaining a good security posture to prevent threat in the first place.

There's no reason not to celebrate the closure of another Dark Web exchange, but don't let that be a reason to relax.

For more on the Dark Web, learn how automated Dark Web marketplaces make credential stuffing attacks more profitable, how criminals use fraud guides from the Dark Web to scam organizations and individuals, why it's cheaper than ever to buy stolen identities on the Dark Web to steal tax refunds, and about how a certificate issue disabling add-ons in Firefox and Tor Browser was finally fixed.

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