How the Dark Web Fuels Insider Threats

New decentralized, criminal marketplaces and "as-a-service" offerings make it easy for employees to monetize their knowledge and access to enterprise networks and systems.

Kurtis Minder, Co-Founder & CEO, GroupSense

April 23, 2020

4 Min Read

Most enterprises think about the Dark Web as a giant market for cybercrime — exploits, hacking services, stolen data marketplaces, and so on. While this is true, there are other elements that might not be so apparent but are equally problematic for enterprises: malicious insiders looking for an easy way to monetize their knowledge and access.

Two simultaneous trends are opening new areas of profound risk to enterprises via the Dark Web: It is becoming both decentralized and democratized. Together, these two movements are converging to create a real problem, particularly as they pertain to insider threats.

Trend 1: Exit scams and market takedowns have caused a decentralization of Dark Web commercial activities. Instead of seeing giant marketplaces today, which can be taken down by law enforcement with meaningful impact, you instead see the equivalent of fair booths where threat actors sell their wares as independent vendors. Some are even moving to alternate channels, such as Discord, Telegram, and OpenBazaar, to further evade law enforcement. All of this activity makes it more difficult than ever for enterprises to uncover breaches and other indicators of compromise in the criminal economy, including those perpetrated by malicious insiders.

Trend 2: The democratization of cybercrime is making the Dark Web much easier to use. Today, people with limited technical skills can simply subscribe to services that will carry out their malfeasance for them. From an insider-threat perspective, this trend has also made it easy for insiders to monetize their knowledge and access, simply by participating in the many "as-a-service" offerings on the Dark Web or by directly promoting access to enterprise networks and systems. Just in the last couple of weeks, our researchers have seen several insider-related offerings that should resonate with many companies. These include:

  • Insider-trading-as-a-service sites. These have been relatively common over the last few years. Typically, for a fee, subscribers get access to a steady stream of insider information. The most recent site we found offers one-time tips for $500 or an annual subscription for one bitcoin, currently valued north of $7,000. Subscribers also receive instructions on how to execute trades without getting caught by regulators. And the site actively recruits insiders to share material information. In some cases, they are paid for these tips, and in others they are simply granted free access to the insider trading site. Insider trading is often thought of as a white-collar crime executed by high-level executives and financiers. However, when one considers how many staff members in the typical enterprise have access to non-public material information (legal, accounting, investor relations, IT, marketing, sales, etc.), the addressable market for this type of site — both people selling their insider information and those acting on it — is enormous.

  • Access to a live travel database with millions of credit card credentials. One insider, mostly likely an IT professional, offered access to the customer database of an online travel site. Unlike typical data breach dumps where the data can go stale over time, in this case, the person was offering live access to the database. So, in theory, bad actors could siphon off credit card credentials indefinitely (at least until the insider gets caught). Access was being sold for 1,500 euros.

  • Access to a hedge fund trading algorithm. This was an interesting one. An insider at a hedge fund was selling access to the company's "crown jewel" trading algorithm for $300,000, advertising how it had beaten the market for several years. Subscribers would receive credentials to gain access to the algorithm, and then they could do their own research or simply mimic the hedge fund's investing strategy to reap the same benefits as its clients (without the management fees, of course). This is a different kind of intellectual property theft — not "stealing" anything, per se, but instead, using a company's proprietary technology for personal gain.

In each of these cases, security technology is of limited use in catching the threat actors because there is no technology that can stop someone from walking out the door with insider information in their head or system credentials scribbled on a piece of paper. However, technology-enabled human intelligence operatives can find this activity on the Dark Web using counterintelligence and cyber reconnaissance techniques. And after the employer knows about it, there is a clear process to narrow down the potential culprits and put a stop to the problem. Using the intelligence data as evidence, the enterprise security and fraud teams pinpoint the systems that were accessed, correlate access with access management logs, and narrow down the potential suspects.

All of this leads us to the ultimate irony of today's Dark Web — as the new trends of decentralization and democratization make it significantly more dangerous to enterprises, the best countermeasure isn't fancy new technology; it's human intelligence accelerated by technology.

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About the Author(s)

Kurtis Minder

Co-Founder & CEO, GroupSense

Kurtis Minder is the Co-Founder and CEO of GroupSense where he leads a team of world-class analysts and technologists providing custom cybersecurity intelligence to some of the globe’s top brands. He has more than 20 years of experience in roles spanning operations, design, and business development at companies like Mirage Networks (acquired by Trustwave), Caymas Systems (acquired by Citrix), and Fortinet (IPO). Minder is also a world-renowned ransomware negotiator and was recently profiled in The New Yorker for his work. He has been featured in the media across four continents and has recently been on CNN, The BBC, and CBS, and featured in publications such as Reuters, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Fortune, and The Washington Post about ransomware.

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