Your Email Is on the Dark Web — What to Do?

Your Email Is on the Dark Web — What to Do?
Valeriia Dziubenko Valeriia Dziubenko 09 april 2024, 06:56 189
For beginners

To the uninitiated, the dark web refers to hidden parts of the Internet that are not indexed by regular search engines like Google and Bing. You need a specialized browser like Tor to access this part of the web. Because of its relative secrecy and anonymity, malicious actors often use the dark web to trade stolen information.

If you discover your email address or other sensitive information on the dark web, stay calm. Instead of panicking, you must take certain actions to minimize the chances of falling victim to cyber threats. The earlier you act, the less damage the leaked data can cause. We’ll guide you through the list of things to do if you discover your email account details on the dark web.

What does it mean if your email is on the dark web?

Email account credentials being leaked on the dark web can lead to various issues, including:

1. Breaking into your other accounts

Email is often used as the primary way to reset a forgotten password. If someone gets access to your mailbox, they may be able to gain access to your accounts on other platforms by using the password reset feature. Quite often, this procedure does not include any additional authentication checks, so you may find out that your accounts were stolen only when it’s too late.

2. Phishing attacks

Hackers often target people with sophisticated phishing attacks. They may try to use a stolen account of a popular brand or someone you might be familiar with to trick you into giving up sensitive information. For example, they might send an email requesting you to log into a fraudulent website that’s strikingly similar to one you’re familiar with. If you do this, the hacker gets your email and password.

That’s why we’ve advised being wary of any email asking you to sign into an account or provide sensitive information. Note that no legitimate company ever asks you to provide passwords over email.

3. Blackmail

Some malicious actors try to blackmail the owners of stolen data, depending on the severity of what they have about the person. For example, if a hacker gets hold of personal information, including home address and social security number, they might try to blackmail the owner to pay to avoid releasing that information. If you fall into this category, report to law enforcement and don’t give in to such blackmail. The criminal will likely keep asking for more money if you cave in once.

4. Identity theft

Cybercriminals can try to impersonate you for personal gain. For example, they might attempt to request credit lines in your name or use your identity to open accounts, potentially implicating you in criminal activities.

5. Money theft

Sometimes, people input their credit card details at an insecure site. Hackers often try to use these card details to purchase valuable items or pay for illicit material. That’s why we advise freezing your bank account until further notice if you discover your banking-related information on the dark web.

6. Spoofing campaigns

If a hacker gets your personal information, they could create an email address similar to yours and try to trick your friends, family, and colleagues into giving them sensitive information or money. To avert such a situation, you can alert your social circles after discovering your information on the dark web, telling them to be wary of any unusual request purportedly from you.

Actions to take after discovering your information on the dark web

If you discover your email address, password, and other sensitive information on the dark web, you must take urgent action to avoid becoming a victim. These are the steps to take after such discovery:

1. Scan your PC for malware and viruses

The first step is ensuring your PC hasn’t been attacked with a virus or malware, which is often the cause of someone’s sensitive information being leaked. If you have an antivirus tool like Norton and Avast, use it to run a deep scan. If not, download an antivirus tool and perform a thorough check.

Antivirus software is good at detecting most types of malware on your device. If anything suspicious is found, the software can remove it and keep your computer safe. There are many decent anti-malware tools available on the market, and even free ones may do an amazingly good job.

2. Change your passwords

It’s quite common for password dumps to appear on the dark web. Hackers break into companies’ databases and download all account details, including usernames and passwords, then upload it online or sell them for profit. If you find your data on the dark web, changing your passwords immediately is paramount to avoid falling victim to data theft or unauthorized access.

Change all passwords associated with the leaked email address. You can use a password generator to create new strong passwords for every account. If you’re concerned about remembering these passwords, use a password management tool like Dashlane and 1Password.

3. Enable multi-factor authentication (MFA)

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) requires using at least two means of authentication before granting access to your account. The first is usually the correct username-password combination, and the second is a unique one-time code sent to a linked phone number or email address. No one will be able access your account without this unique code even if they somehow get your password.

Other popular authentication means include:

  • A PIN generated by an authenticator app;
  • A biometric fingerprint or face scan;
  • A hardware security key.

According to Microsoft, multi-factor authentication prevents 99.9% of account compromise attacks. That’s why some apps make it compulsory for users.

4. Check your financial accounts and reports

It’s always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to financial security. Even if your bank accounts weren’t compromised, you should review them to ensure nothing has been tampered with.

You can temporarily freeze your bank or brokerage accounts until all measures are taken. You can also freeze your credit report to prevent malicious actors from requesting credit under your name (it’s a common method criminals employ to monetize stolen identities). Freezing your financial accounts keeps you safe as you work to mitigate the risks.

If you discover that your account was compromised, you’d better close it and open a new one. At the very least, be sure to change passwords and enable MFA, as described above.

5. Adjust your cybersecurity practices

Get acquainted with the best cybersecurity practices and imbibe them to reduce the chances of falling victim to attacks based on your leaked information. These practices include:

  • Avoid signing up on unknown sites without clear information about who’s behind them.
  • Avoid unnecessary downloads. Download links are often riddled with malware, especially on websites that offer pirated content.
  • Monitor your online accounts for suspicious activity and take urgent action if you notice any.
  • Install a reputable antivirus product on every device you own and ensure all updates are applied automatically.
  • Download mobile apps from the official source only (App Store for iOS and Play Store for Android).
  • Keep your device’s operating system updated to protect it from ever-changing security threats.

How to protect your information from theft

As the popular saying goes, “prevention is better than cure”. It’s vital to know how to prevent your information from ending up on the dark web. Here are some proven measures:

1. Avoid public Wi-Fi networks

Public Wi-Fi networks are notorious for being insecure. Hackers often target these networks to distribute malware and steal sensitive details. Avoid public Wi-Fi networks as much as possible – use them only when you have no other option. Even at that, ensure you’re connected to a virtual private network (VPN) that hides your browsing details from prying eyes.

2. Beware of suspicious emails

Phishing is a popular method used by hackers to steal private data. It involves sending emails impersonating trusted people or brands, and tricking the recipient into providing sensitive information. For example, the hacker can impersonate a banking platform to trick unsuspecting users into entering their passwords into a similar-looking but fraudulent website.

Beware of suspicious emails with links and attachments. Always double-check when an email includes an external link or an attachment — ensure you recognize the address before taking action. A link could be a phishing attempt, and an attachment is a common vector for introducing malware into a device.

3. Use a password manager

An average internet user has dozens of online accounts, which can be challenging to manage. People tend to forget their passwords and may continue using accounts even when they’re compromised. A good password manager helps you manage your online accounts without stress and keeps your data secure.

Features of password managers include:

  • A digital vault to store all your passwords and retrieve them anytime. Some password managers have auto-fill capability, depending on your web browser.
  • A password generator to create strong, unique passwords hackers can’t easily guess.
  • Email masking to protect your real email address from malicious eyes.
  • A data breach monitoring tool that continually scans the dark web and alerts you if any of your passwords have been leaked.

4. Be careful about giving away account details

Be mindful of who you share your email address with. You don’t need to sign up for every random platform with your original email address, especially with the same password you use on other websites. Some platforms may have weak security protocols, enabling hackers to steal user credentials and use them to break into accounts on other platforms.

It’s wise to have a separate email address for unimportant accounts and avoid using the same password for different accounts. This will protect you from major losses even if hackers steal your credentials.

FAQs about leaked emails

1. Is the dark web a threat to my private information?

The dark web serves as a hub of cybercriminals and malicious actors because of its relative anonymity and secrecy compared to the regular Internet. Many cybercriminals trade stolen data on the dark web, and affected persons may suffer serious consequences.

The dark web is a significant threat to private information, so you must take sufficient measures to prevent your details from being stolen.

2. How did my email get to the dark web?

Your credentials can leak to the dark web in various ways. It could be malware that extracted information from your PC, a breached website where you have an account or a phishing attack where you unknowingly provided sensitive information to a malicious actor. Either way, you must take urgent action to minimize the chances of falling victim to cyber-attacks immediately after finding your email on the dark web.

3. Can I remove my information from the dark web?

Unfortunately, you can’t remove information from the dark web in most cases. There’s no central authority to consult to scrub your details from numerous distinct websites on the dark web. The best you can do is damage control and mitigation against cyberattacks and identify theft.

4. How can I check if my email is on the dark web?

You can use a dark web monitoring service that regularly scans this hidden part of the web and alerts you if it finds your information on any page. Many antivirus software and password managers offer dark web monitoring tools as a plus to their users.

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