Featured Posts

Cookies, Pixels, and Other Ways Advertisers are Tracking You Online

In May of 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into effect in the EU. Seemingly overnight, websites everywhere started throwing pop-ups to inform us about their use of cookies and our privacy rights. While the presence of the pop-ups may be...

Online Gaming Risks and Kids: What to Know and How to Protect Them

Online games aren’t new. Consumers have been playing them since as early as 1960. However, the market is evolving—games that used to require the computing power of dedicated desktops can now be powered by smartphones, and online gaming participation has skyrocketed....

STEM for Kids: Why Does it Matter?

You have probably seen or heard news reports about STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), and how important STEM jobs are for the economy; or maybe you’ve heard reports on schools that are making strides to improve their STEM programs for...

Keeping Your Vehicle Secure Against Smart Car Hacks

An unfortunate reality of all smart devices is that, the smarter they get, and the more integrated into our lives they become, the more devastating a security breach can be. Smart cars are no exception. On the contrary, they come with their own specific set of...

Thoughtful Design in the Age of Cybersecurity AI

AI and machine learning offer tremendous promise for humanity in terms of helping us make sense of Big Data. But, while the processing power of these tools is integral for understanding trends and predicting threats, it’s not sufficient on its own. Thoughtful design...

Cybersecurity in Schools: What Families Need to Know

Our kids are more connected than any previous generation. From the moment they wake up, they have an instant connection to the internet through phones, tablets, and laptops. The internet is also now an important part of their learning experience, and many parents...

Out from the Shadows: The Dark Web

You’ve likely heard of the dark web. This ominous sounding shadow internet rose in prominence alongside cryptocurrencies in the early 2010s, eventually becoming such an ingrained part of our cultural zeitgeist that it even received its own feature on an episode of Law...

A Cybersecurity Guide for Digital Nomads

Technology has unlocked a new type of worker, unlike any we have seen before—the digital nomad. Digital nomads are people who use technologies like WiFi, smart devices, and cloud-based applications to work from wherever they please. For some digital nomads, this means...

Cookies, Pixels, and Other Ways Advertisers are Tracking You Online

Reading Time: ~ 3 min.

In May of 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into effect in the EU. Seemingly overnight, websites everywhere started throwing pop-ups to inform us about their use of cookies and our privacy rights. While the presence of the pop-ups may be reassuring to some (and annoying to others), the real issue is that very few of these pop-ups give any explanation as to how the cookies are used or whether they inform marketing decisions. So, before you click “accept” on that next privacy policy notification, read our primer on all things related to cookies, pixels, and web traffic trackers.

Check out the Webroot Community for more tips on how you can manage these cookies.

What is a Cookie?

Cookies (aka. HTTP cookies, session cookies, browser cookies, web cookies, or tracking cookies) are used by almost all websites to keep track of site users’ sessions. While you might not like the idea that a website is tracking you, cookies actually provide a very convenient function. Without them, websites you regularly visit wouldn’t be able to remember you or what content they should serve you. For example, if you added items to an online shopping cart and then navigated away without purchasing, that cart would be lost. You’d have to go back and add everything all over again when you were finally ready to buy. If it weren’t for cookies, our web experiences would be entirely different (and much more frustrating).

In cases like the previous example, the use of tracking cookies is pretty benign and helps smooth the user’s online experience overall. So, if cookies can provide a beneficial service, why do we need privacy laws like GDPR? The answer is because of a specific type of cookie, i.e. third-party tracking cookies. These are created by domains other than the one you are actively visiting. They run silently in the background, tracking you and your online habits without your notice and compiling long-term records of your browsing behavior. These are typically used by advertisers to serve ads “relevant” to the user even as they navigate unrelated parts of the web.

Who Serves Cookies and Why?

By far the most prolific servers of third-party cookies are Google and Facebook. To help businesses target and track advertisements, both Google and Facebook both suggest embedding a tracking pixel—which is just a short line of code—into business websites. These pixels then serve up cookies, which allow the site owner to track individual user and session information.

The tracking doesn’t stop there. To optimize their marketing tools for all users, Google and Facebook both track and store this data in their own databases for processing through their own algorithms. Even if you’re not currently logged in to Facebook, your session data can still be tracked by your IP address.

What is People-Based Targeting?

Google and Facebook’s ad platforms work incredibly well because they pair cookie data with an existing bank of user data that most of us have willingly (or unwillingly) given them. Your Facebook account, Instagram account, Gmail, and Google Chrome accounts are all linked to larger systems that inform sophisticated advertising networks how to appeal to you, specifically, as a consumer. This way, websites can serve you ad content you’re likely to click on, no matter which sites you’re actively visiting. Combining traditional cookie tracking with these types of in-depth user profiles is called “people-based targeting” and it’s proven to be an incredibly powerful marketing tactic.

How to Protect Your Data

The sad truth is that you’ll never fully escape tracking cookies, and, frankly, you probably wouldn’t want to. As mentioned above, they streamline your online experiences in a pretty significant way. What you can do is reduce the breadth of their reach in your digital life. Here are a few key ways to do that.

  1. Stay vigilant. Be sure to read the privacy policies before you accept them. This advice goes beyond the GDPR-compliant pop-ups that have become so prevalent in the last year. Keep in mind that tech giants are often interconnected, so it’s important to be aware of all the privacy policies you’re being asked to accept.
  2. Clean house. You don’t have to do it often, but clear your cookie cache every once in a while. There are plusses and minuses here; clearing your cache will wipe away any long-term tracking cookies, but it will also wipe out your saved login information. But don’t let that deter you! Despite that sounding like a hassle, you may find your browser performance improves. Exact steps for how to clear your cookies will depend on your browser, but you’ll find plenty of guides online. Don’t forget to clear the cache on your mobile phone as well.
  3. Use a VPN. Most of all, we recommend installing a virtual private network (VPN) on all of your devices. VPNs wrap your web traffic in a tunnel of encryption, which will prevent tracking cookies from following you around the web. Make sure you use a reputable VPN from a trusted source, such as Webroot® WiFi Security. A number of the supposedly free VPN options may just sell your data to the highest bidder themselves.

Cookie tracking and digital ad delivery are growing more sophisticated every day. Check back here for the latest on how these technologies are evolving, and how you can prepare yourself and your family to stay ahead.

Online Gaming Risks and Kids: What to Know and How to Protect Them

Reading Time: ~ 4 min.

Online games aren’t new. Consumers have been playing them since as early as 1960. However, the market is evolving—games that used to require the computing power of dedicated desktops can now be powered by smartphones, and online gaming participation has skyrocketed. This unfortunately means that the dangers of online gaming have evolved as well. We’ve examined the top threats that parents need to know about to keep their kids safe while gaming online.

Check out our Antivirus protection for PC gaming without impact on your gameplay.

Online Bullying and Harassment

A recent study shows that 65% of players who participate in online gaming have been harassed; a statistic that does not bode well for underage gamers. Your first instinct may be to try to prevent your child from participating in online gaming altogether, but this may cause them to sneak playing time without your knowledge. A stronger choice would be to talk with your kids and prepare them for the types of negative behavior they may experience online, and to make sure they know they can come to you if they are being harassed. It’s also important to explain the impact that online bullying can have on others, and to set firm consequences if you catch your child participating in harassment or abusive language. Regulating the use of headsets can help prevent both your child’s exposure to and participation in online harassment.

Two types of harassment specific to online experiences go a step beyond what you would expect from online bullying: doxxing and swatting. Doxxing is when one or more online participants seek personal, identifying information on a particular user for blackmail or intimidation purposes. Doxxing can often lead to the release of real names, phone numbers, home addresses, employer information, and more. Swatting is a form of harassment that uses doxxing techniques to create an actual, tangible threat. A harasser will call in a threat to a doxxed user’s local law enforcement, often claiming there is a kidnapping or hostage situation at the victim’s address. This may bring a large SWAT response unit to descend upon the address.

Keeping an open line of communication about your kid’s gaming experiences is critical. Swatting can happen over seemingly innocuous events. One of the most notorious examples followed a dispute over a $1.50 bet in “Call of Duty: WWII.”

Pro tip: one is only vulnerable to doxxing and swatting if a harasser can link identifying information back to the targeted gamer. Educating your kids on digital privacy best practices is one of the strongest security measures you can take against these forms of online harassment.

Viruses and Malware

As with almost every digital experience, you’ll find specific cybersecurity threats associated with the online gaming landscape. We asked Tyler Moffitt, Webroot security analyst, for his thoughts on the malware threats associated with online gaming. 

“The thing kids should really watch out for with games is the temptation to cheat,” explains Moffit. “In popular games like Fortnite and PUBG, ‘aimbots’ are very common, as they allow the player to get headshots they normally wouldn’t be able to make. However, many of the aimbots that kids download from forums are packed with malware—usually  ransomware or info-stealing Trojans. What’s worse: a lot of young gamers also don’t run antivirus because they think it will make the game slower.”

The bottom line: cheating at online games isn’t just ethically icky, it makes you a proven target for hackers. Make sure your kids know the real cost of “free” cheats.

Phishing Scams and Account Takeovers

Where there’s money, there are scammers. With more than 1 billion gamers actively spending money not just on games, but in games, it’s no surprise that phishing scams have become commonplace in gaming communities. One of the most prevalent phishing tactics in gaming: account takeovers are often prompted by a risky link click on a gaming forum, or a compromised account sending out phishing links to other users. Once the hacker has control of the account, they can run up fraudulent charges to any attached credit cards or, in some cases, sell the compromised account (particularly if it contains valuable items or character skins). Young gamers are especially at risk for these hacks. In these cases, chances are that any credit cards attached to gaming accounts belong to you, not your kids, so young gamers aren’t going to notice who’s spending your hard-earned funds.

Keeping Your Kids Safe

You’ll find plenty of tools to help your kids stay secure while gaming. Reliable antivirus software installed and up-to-date on all of your household smart devices can protect your family from malicious software. Additionally, wrapping your household web traffic in the secure encryption of a trusted VPN could reduce doxxing potential. But your kids will only find true security through digital literacy. Start conversations with them not just about online bullying, but about recognizing cybersecurity threats and phishing scams. If you’re having a hard time connecting with them over the threat, remind them that it’s not just your wallet on the line. Account takeovers are now all too common, and no kid wants to see their Fortnite skins sold for a stranger’s profit. Also, always be sure to exercise caution in giving out information on the internet. Even small, seemingly irrelevant pieces of information could be used to pull up Facebook or other user account pages to grab even more personal data.

To keep your kids educated about online gaming risks, it’s important to educate yourself as well. Have a question we didn’t cover here? Ask the Webroot community.



STEM for Kids: Why Does it Matter?

Reading Time: ~ 3 min.

You have probably seen or heard news reports about STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), and how important STEM jobs are for the economy; or maybe you’ve heard reports on schools that are making strides to improve their STEM programs for kids. It’s important for parents with school-aged children to fully understand what a STEM education is and why access to STEM learning resources is so critical.  

STEM education, which is rooted in a strong foundation in the disciplines of science and math, is traditionally a part of any student’s curriculum. But a truly effective STEM education focuses on the interdisciplinary layering of these disciplines into the larger educational picture. When applied appropriately, effective STEM learning is integrated across subject areas, which taps into a child’s natural curiosity, providing them with an outlet for their creative energy. 

Check out some more tips on what you can do to help create the STEM leaders of tomorrow.

Why is STEM important for kids?

STEM isn’t just a buzzword acronym. The data shows a real impact when a child is exposed to STEM activities or programs. Here are just a few of ways kids are benefiting from STEM learning. 

  • College Readiness: A recent study from ACT shows that teenagers with an expressed interest in STEM display significantly higher levels of college readiness than their uninterested cohort.  
  • Workforce Opportunity: Humanity will always need engineers, and STEM workforce growth will always reflect that need. Since 1990, STEM employment has  grown by nearly 80%, and the sector expects to see an additional 8.9% in growth before 2024. Even better, STEM workers earn around 26% higher salaries than others. Even if they don’t end up working in a traditionally STEM-focused field, people with STEM degrees tend to earn more on average across the board. 
  • American Infrastructure: It’s no secret that we have a shortage of STEM workers in the United States. In fact, of the 970,532 STEM-interested students polled in the ACT survey, only 5,839 indicated a plan to pursue a degree in a STEM field. With less than one percent of STEM-interested students pursuing the field, this leaves the future of our country’s digital infrastructure in potential peril. Consider this: China has a ratio of roughly one STEM grad for every 293 citizens, while the United States has one STEM grad for every 573 citizens. As it stands, we have roughly half the engineering power as our main economic rival, with no sign of bridging the gap. 

Getting kids involved in STEM

STEM may seem intimidating to introduce to a young child, but it’s such a diverse field in which you can find several points of entry. Many existing extracurricular activities have already integrated STEM initiatives. One notable example is the Girl Scouts of America’s pledge to bring 2.5 million young women into the STEM pipeline by infusing their existing programs with STEM education projects. Many local and national programs are also focused on engaging children in STEM. If you’re having trouble finding such programs in your area, don’t forget the valuable resource that is your local library. They can often help you find a few relevant activities around town. 

STEM at Home

You don’t have to wait for a STEM program to begin encouraging your child’s curiosity. Many simple, safe, and fun STEM projects can be worked on at home, like fun games or building toys (like creating magnetic slime or the engineering of simple robots). Finding at-home STEM activities to do with your child is an excellent first step toward giving them a solid foundation in STEM principles and nurturing their interest. 

Creating a new generation of scientists, engineers, and inventors is important for all of us. Here at Webroot, we partnered with the Air Force Association’s CyberPatriot program to engage with Denver-area students around the topics of STEM and cybersecurity awareness, and we’re continuing thisinitiative again this year in honor of National Cyber Security Awareness Month in October. By engagingwith students in our community, we hope to plant the seeds that will encourage students to explore future opportunities in cybersecurity and IT.  

How are you applying STEM education to your child’s life? Find ways to get involved in National CyberSecurity Awareness Month here. 

Keeping Your Vehicle Secure Against Smart Car Hacks

Reading Time: ~ 3 min.

An unfortunate reality of all smart devices is that, the smarter they get, and the more integrated into our lives they become, the more devastating a security breach can be. Smart cars are no exception. On the contrary, they come with their own specific set of vulnerabilities. Following high-profile incidents like the infamous Jeep hack, it’s more important than ever that smart car owners familiarize themselves with their inherent vulnerabilities. It may even save lives.

Want smart device shopping tips? Make sure your security isn’t sacrificed for convenience.

Smart Car Vulnerabilities

At a recent hacking competition, two competitors were able to exploit a flaw in the Tesla Model 3 browser system and compromise the car’s firmware. While the reported “Tesla hack” made waves in the industry, it actually isn’t even one of the most common vulnerabilities smart car owners should look out for. These, easier to exploit, vulnerabilities may be more relevant to the average owner.

Car alarms, particularly aftermarket car alarms, are one of the largest culprits in smart car security breaches. A recent study found that at least three million vehicles are currently at risk due to insecure smart alarms. By exploiting insecure direct object reference (IDORS) issues within the alarm’s software, hackers can track the vehicle’s GPS location, disable the alarm, unlock doors, and in some cases even kill the engine while it is being used.

Key fobs are often used by hackers to gain physical access to a vehicle. By using a relay attack, criminals are able to capture a key fob’s specific signal with an RFID receiver and use it to unlock the car. This high-tech version of a duplicate key comes with a decidedly low-tech solution: Covering your key fob in aluminum foil will prevent the signal from being skimmed.

On-Board diagnostic ports are legally required for all vehicles manufactured after 1996 in the United States. Traditionally used by mechanics, the on-board diagnostics-II (OBD-II) port allows direct communication with your vehicle’s computer. Because the OBD-II port bypasses all security measures to provide direct access to the vehicle’s computer for maintenance, it provides particularly tempting backdoor access for hackers.

Protecting Your Smart Car from a Cybersecurity Breach

Precautions should always be taken after buying a new smart device, and a smart car is no exception. Here are the best ways to protect your family from a smart car hack.

Update your car’s firmware and keep it that way. Do not skip an update because you don’t think it’s important or it will take too much time. Car manufacturers are constantly testing and updating vehicle software systems to keep their customers safe—and their brand name out of the news. Signing up for vehicle manufacturer recalls and software patches will help you stay on top of these updates.

Disable unused smart services. Any and all of your car’s connectivity ports that you do not use should be turned off, if not altogether disabled. This means that if you don’t use your car’s Bluetooth connectivity, deactivate it. Removing these access points will make your car less exposed to hacks.

Don’t be a beta tester. We all want the newest and hottest technologies, but that doesn’t keep us at our most secure. Make sure that you’re purchasing a vehicle with technology that has been field tested for a few years, allowing time for any vulnerabilities to be exposed. Cutting-edge technologies are good. But bleeding edge? Not so much.

Ask questions when buying your vehicle and don’t be afraid to get technical. Ask the dealer or manufacturer which systems can be operated remotely, which features are networked together, and how those gateways are secured. If you’re not comfortable with the answers, take your money elsewhere.

Advocate for your security. As smart cars become so smart that they begin to drive themselves, consumers must demand that manufacturers provide better security for autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles.

Only use a trusted mechanic and be mindful of who you grant access to your car. OBD-II ports are vulnerable but necessary, so skipping the valet may save you a costly automotive headache down the line.

Keep the Conversation Going

As our cars get smarter, their vulnerabilities will change. Check back here to keep yourself updated on the newest trends in smart car technologies, and stay ahead of any potential threats.


Thoughtful Design in the Age of Cybersecurity AI

Reading Time: ~ 3 min.

AI and machine learning offer tremendous promise for humanity in terms of helping us make sense of Big Data. But, while the processing power of these tools is integral for understanding trends and predicting threats, it’s not sufficient on its own.

Thoughtful design of threat intelligence—design that accounts for the ultimate needs of its consumers—is essential too. There are three areas where thoughtful design of AI for cybersecurity increases overall utility for its end users.

Designing where your data comes from

To set the process of machine learning in motion, data scientists rely on robust data sets they can use to train models that deduce patterns. If your data is siloed, it relies on a single community of endpoints or is made up only of data gathered from sensors like honeypots and crawlers. There are bound to be gaps in the resultant threat intelligence.

A diverse set of real-world endpoints is essential to achieve actionable threat intelligence. For one thing, machine learning models can be prone to picking up biases if exposed to either too much of a particular threat or too narrow of a user base. That may make the model adept at discovering one type of threat, but not so great at noticing others. Well-rounded, globally-sourced data provides the most accurate picture of threat trends.

Another significant reason real-world endpoints are essential is that some malware excels at evading traditional crawling mechanisms. This is especially common for phishing sites targeting specific geos or user environments, as well as for malware executables. Phishing sites can hide their malicious content from crawlers, and malware can appear benign or sit on a user’s endpoint for extended periods of time without taking an action.

Designing how to illustrate data’s context

Historical trends help to gauge future measurements, so designing threat intelligence that accounts for context is essential. Take a major website like www.google.com for example. Historical threat intelligence signals it’s been benign for years, leading to the conclusion that its owners have put solid security practices in place and are committed to not letting it become a vector for bad actors. On the other hand, if we look at a domain that was only very recently registered or has a long history of presenting a threat, there’s a greater chance it will behave negatively in the future. 

Illustrating this type of information in a useful way can take the form of a reputation score. Since predictions about a data object’s future actions—whether it be a URL, file, or mobile app—are based on probability, reputation scores can help determine the probability that an object may become a future threat, helping organizations determine the level of risk they are comfortable with and set their policies accordingly.

For more information on why context is critical to actionable threat intelligence, click here.

Designing how you classify and apply the data

Finally, how a threat intelligence provider classifies data and the options they offer partners and users in terms of how to apply it can greatly increase its utility. Protecting networks, homes, and devices from internet threats is one thing, and certainly desirable for any threat intelligence feed, but that’s far from all it can do.

Technology vendors designing a parental control product, for instance, need threat intelligence capable of classifying content based on its appropriateness for children. And any parent knows malware isn’t the only thing children should be shielded from. Categories like adult content, gambling sites, or hubs for pirating legitimate media may also be worthy of avoiding. This flexibility extends to the workplace, too, where peer-to-peer streaming and social media sites can affect worker productivity and slow network speeds, not to mention introduce regulatory compliance concerns. Being able to classify internet object with such scalpel-like precision makes thoughtfully designed threat intelligence that is much more useful for the partners leveraging it.

Finally, the speed at which new threat intelligence findings are applied to all endpoints on a device is critical. It’s well-known that static threat lists can’t keep up with the pace of today’s malware, but updating those lists on a daily basis isn’t cutting it anymore either. The time from initial detection to global protection must be a matter of minutes.

This brings us back to where we started: the need for a robust, geographically diverse data set from which to draw our threat intelligence. For more information on how the Webroot Platform draws its data to protect customers and vendor partners around the globe, visit our threat intelligence page.

Cybersecurity in Schools: What Families Need to Know

Reading Time: ~ 3 min.

Our kids are more connected than any previous generation. From the moment they wake up, they have an instant connection to the internet through phones, tablets, and laptops. The internet is also now an important part of their learning experience, and many parents often assume that cybersecurity has risen as a priority for school administrators. But with many institutions struggling to modernize legacy systems, that assumption puts our children’s security at risk. Here are the top threats to cybersecurity in schools and how to protect against them, so you can send your kids out the door knowing they’re safe and secure. 

Learn how VPNs help safeguard your data and can enable private and anonymous web browsing.

Unsecured School WiFi

Many school WiFi networks are as vulnerable as any public network at a coffee shop or airport. In an attempt to secure WiFi networks in K-12 environments, many schools use pre-shared key (PSK) authentication. PSK authentication is the practice of sharing a single WiFi password with network users in order to grant access. This password often makes its way onto unauthorized devices, granting potentially malicious users access to the school’s network, and to your child’s digital footprint.

Weak Cybersecurity Practices

A school’s cybersecurity defense plan is only as strong as its weakest link, and that weak link is often the plan’s users and overseers. According to Verizon’s 2019 Data Breach Investigation Report, a startling 35% of all education sector data breaches were caused by human error. Mistakes as simple as using discontinued or out-of-date software can leave entire school systems vulnerable—even at prestigious institutions like Stanford University. Because Stanford was using discontinued software called NolijWeb, a white hat hacker was able to exploit a security flaw that left sensitive student data easily accessed through a simple change to a numeric ID in a URL. While exploring the scope of the vulnerability, 81 students’ private data was exposed, including information like Social Security numbers, citizenship status, criminal status, standardized test scores, ethnicity, and home addresses.

Targeted Cybersecurity Attacks

Due to the highly sensitive data stored within their systems, education IT infrastructure is consistently a top target for cybercriminals. K-12 school systems and higher education saw more than 48 million records exposed through data breaches in 2017 and 2018 alone. The threat has become a large enough issue that the FBI has released a public service announcement warning that the education sector was one of those most frequently targeted by social engineering schemes and phishing attacks. 

Beyond traditional cyber threats, schools often face a unique adversary—the students themselves. The Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) recently conducted a survey that examined more than 850 cyberattacks against schools and concluded that a majority of those incidents had been perpetrated by students or school staff. Although an attacker who targets a school so that they won’t have to take a test may not be as costly as one that targets student data, it still can grind a school system to a halt.

How to Protect Your Student’s Cybersecurity

How can you protect your child’s cybersecurity while they are at school? Get involved. Ask the school’s administrators about their cybersecurity policy. Ask about their strength of their firewalls, their email security measures, and the amount of encryption applied to the data storage systems. If you’re not satisfied with their measures, be your child’s cybersecurity advocate.

Although you may have limited control over any school-provided devices, you can secure your child’s personal devices behind a trusted VPN (though they must know how to use it first). This will wrap your child’s data in a tunnel of encryption, protecting them from prying eyes wherever they go. In some cases, VPNs can prevent access to testing and curriculum sites on school networks, so students should know how to connect and disconnect to their VPN at will.

Most importantly, teach your child to be aware of the risks of cybercrime and how to combat them. Help them understand how a VPN and other measures can keep them safe, how to recognize phishing attacks, and why they should always be vigilant. Your child knows to wear a seatbelt when riding in someone else’s car, they should also know how to stay safe online, whether at home, school, or a friend’s house.

The key to truly protecting your children from potential cybersecurity threats is education, both for yourself and for your family. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to stay up to date on the latest risk reports and security tips.

Out from the Shadows: The Dark Web

Reading Time: ~ 4 min.

You’ve likely heard of the dark web. This ominous sounding shadow internet rose in prominence alongside cryptocurrencies in the early 2010s, eventually becoming such an ingrained part of our cultural zeitgeist that it even received its own feature on an episode of Law & Order: SVU. But as prominent as the dark web may be, few average internet users can properly explain what it is and the cyber threats it provides a haven for. Let’s step back from the pop culture mythos and dive into what makes the dark web so dark.

Don’t let cybercriminals steal your money or identity. Protect your devices with cloud-based security.

Open Web, Deep Web, and Dark Web: Know the Difference

The open web, or surface web, is the internet we use every day. This includes all the web content that can be found through search engines and is accessed by traditional web browsers. Though you might find it surprising that the open web accounts for just 5% of the internet. The rest is made up of the deep web. 

The deep web is the section of the internet that is not indexed by search engines and cannot be found through traditional search methods. This means that the only way to access deep web content is through a direct URL. While rumors about the deep web make it seem as if it is exclusively used for nefarious purposes, content on the deep web is often banal. It is largely comprised of school and university intranet systems, email and banking portals, internal sites for businesses and trade organizations, and even things like your Netflix or Hulu queues. Nothing to be afraid of there.

While the dark web is technically a part of the deep web, it takes anonymity a step further by using overlay networks to restrict access, often attracting users engaged in illicit activity. These networks use special anonymized software to grant users access; the largest and most famous of which is Tor. Tor stands for “The Onion Router,” which references its “onion routing” technique of using encapsulated layers of encryption to ensure privacy. Tor websites are most easily recognized by their “.onion” domains, and by the fact that they cannot be accessed through traditional web browsers. You may have heard stories about the NSA trying to shut Tor down, but don’t expect the services to go away soon. It has funding from high places, with a recent FOI request revealing that one of Tor’s largest financial contributors has long been the U.S. State Department—likely to offer encrypted communication options for State Department agents working in the field.

Is the Dark Web Illegal?

The dark web isn’t inherently illegal—the illegality comes from how it can be used. Darknet markets, such as the infamous and now defunct original Silk Road, showcase how thin the line is between legal and illegal dark market activities. As long as what you are purchasing is legal, using a darknet market is as lawful as making a purchase from any other online retailer. But buying illicit drugs or human organs? Yeah, that’s definitely illegal. 

Although not as remarkable as some of the more grotesque items available, one of the most commonly found items for sale on the dark web is data. With a reported 281 data breaches in just the first quarter of 2019, we have already seen 4.53 billion records exposed this year alone. That’s potentially more than 4 billion chances for hackers to profit off the victimization of strangers, and a majority of them will use the dark web to do so. We have seen several high-profile data breaches resurface on the dark web—Equifax, Canva, Under Armor, and Evite all recently had their user data available for sale on darknet markets.

The Dark Web and Malware-as-a-Service

Beyond selling your data, the dark web can be used to harvest it as well. Webroot Security Analyst, Tyler Moffitt, explains this growing threat:

“Anyone can create malware in today’s landscape where the dark web is very accessible,” says Moffit. “There are ransomware services on .onion links that will allow you to input just a few bits of information, like a bitcoin address, desired ransom, late fees, etc., and unique binaries are generated to distribute however they like. The only ‘catch’ is that the portal creator usually takes a cut (around 30%) for any ransom payments made.”

These malware-as-a-service attacks mean that an attacker doesn’t even need to know how to execute one; they just need to know how to navigate to the portal. Therein lies the largest dark web danger for many consumers—anonymized cyberattacks available at the click of a mouse.

Keeping Your Data Off the Dark Web

Like a hydra with its multiple heads, black markets will likely never be wiped out. When you shut one down, two more will pop up. Darknet markets are just their newest evolution. While you can’t expect to see this threat disappear anytime soon, you can take steps to keep your data secure and off the dark web.

Using an up-to-date antivirus solution will help stop malware from scraping your data on the dark web. You can also lock your credit (called freezing) to help prevent new credit lines being open without additional information. Another recommendation is avoiding public WiFi without a VPN, as it leaves you susceptible to a man-in-the-middle attack (MITM). Even with these precautions, a breach may still occur. Keeping your sensitive accounts secured with a trusted password manager can also help prevent cyber attacks from spreading beyond their breach point. 

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to stay up to date on the latest threats to your online security and privacy.

A Cybersecurity Guide for Digital Nomads

Reading Time: ~ 3 min.

Technology has unlocked a new type of worker, unlike any we have seen before—the digital nomad. Digital nomads are people who use technologies like WiFi, smart devices, and cloud-based applications to work from wherever they please. For some digital nomads, this means their favorite coffee shop or co-working space. For others, it means an idyllic beach in Bali or countryside public house. One thing remains true wherever a digital nomad may choose to lay down their temporary roots: They are at a higher cybersecurity risk than a traditional worker. So what risks should they look out for? 

Public Wifi

Without a doubt, public WiFi is one of the main cybersecurity hazards many digital nomads face. The massive and unresolved flaw in the WPA2 encryption standard used by modern WiFi networks means that anyone connecting to a public network is putting themselves at risk. All public WiFi options—including WiFi provided by hotels, cafes, and airports—poses the risk of not being secure. How can a digital nomad be digital if their main source of internet connectivity is a cybersecurity minefield?  

When connecting to public WiFi as a digital nomad, it is crucial to keep your web traffic hidden behind a virtual private network (VPN). A quality VPN app is simple to set up on your mobile devices—including laptops and smart phones—and uses a strong encryption protocol to prevent hackers and other snoops from stealing important personal information such as account passwords, banking information, and private messages. VPNs will keep your data encrypted and secure from prying eyes, regardless of locale.

Device Theft

Physical device theft is a very real risk for digital nomads, but one that can largely be avoided. The first and most obvious step to doing so is to never leave your devices unattended, even if your seatmate at the coffee shop seems trustworthy. Always be mindful of your device visibility; keeping your unattended devices and laptop bags locked away or out of sight in your hotel room is often all it takes to prevent theft. Purchasing a carrying case with a secure access passcode or keyed entry can also act as an additional deterrent against thieves looking for an easy mark. 

If your device is stolen, how can you prevent the damage from spiraling? Taking a few defensive measures can save digital nomads major headaches. Keep a device tracker enabled on all of your devices—smartphones, tablets, and laptops. Both Apple and Android have default services that will help you locate your missing device.  

But this will only help you find your property; it won’t prevent anyone from accessing the valuable data within. That’s why all of your devices should have a lock screen enabled, secured with either a pin or a biometric ID, such as your fingerprint. If you believe these efforts have failed and your device is compromised, enabling multi-factor authentication on your most sensitive accounts should help reduce the effect of the breach.  

However, if you cannot recover your device, remotely wiping it will prevent any additional data from being accessed. If you have a device tracker enabled, you will be able to remotely wipe your sensitive data with that software. If you’re using a data backup solution, any lost files will be recoverable once the status of your devices is secure 

Lower Your Risk

Being a digital nomad means that you’re at a higher risk for a breach, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take steps to lower that risk. These best practices could drastically reduce the risk incurred by leading a digitally nomadic lifestyle. 

  • Toggle off. Remember to always turn off WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity after a session. This will prevent accidental or nefarious connections that could compromise your security. 
  • Mindfulness. Be aware of your surroundings and of your devices. Forgetting a device might be an acceptable slip up for most, but for a digital nomad it can bring your lifestyle to a grinding halt. 
  • Be prepared. Secure your devices behind a trusted VPN before beginning any remote adventures. This will encrypt all of your web traffic, regardless of where you connect.  
  • Stop the spread. In case of a device or account breach, strong passwords and multi-factor authentication will help minimize the damage. 

A staggering 4.8 million Americans describe themselves as digital nomads, a number that won’t be going down anytime soon. With remote work becoming the new norm, it’s more important than ever that we take these cybersecurity measures seriously—to protect not just ourselves, but also our businesses and clients. Are you a digital nomad making your way through the remote-work landscape? Let us know your top tips in the comments below!