How is Surface Web Intelligence different from Dark Web Intelligence?

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Intro


When it comes to cyber threat intelligence (CTI) operations, there are a variety of information sources but they fall into two major categories - Surface Web intelligence and Dark Web intelligence.

What is Surface Web and how is it different from Dark Web?


To understand the difference between Surface Web and Dark Web, we can take the analogy of an iceberg to visualize the cyberspace.


The tip of the iceberg that is visible to all the Internet users is called the Surface Web. This part of the web is completely searchable and indexable, thus visible to anyone using a search engine.

This includes all the everyday websites and online services that we use including social media, e-commerce sites, blogs or personal websites, company websites, government portals, and more.

On the other hand, the part of the web that is not indexed by standard search engines is called the Deep Web. This includes the non-indexed parts of various online platforms like webmail, online banking, and paid services like video-on-demand, online magazines, and newspapers to name a few.

The deep web content can be accessed through its direct URL and is often guarded by an additional layer of security like a password.

Further below the Deep Web, there is a portion of it that is only accessible with specific software or hardware. For example, the Tor network which is designed to only be accessible from the Tor browser. This part of the web is referred to as the Dark Web.

The Dark Web is designed to provide anonymity to those operating on it. It is, therefore, often a home for illicit activities as well as individuals trying to escape surveillance.

For a security analyst, all the parts of the web have their utility and significance for gathering CTI information. Let’s take a look at how Surface Web Intelligence differs from Deep & Dark Web Intelligence in terms of their applications from an organizational security standpoint.

Applications of Surface Web Intelligence


The Surface Web also often referred to as the Open Web, consists of all the indexed and searchable web. The process, tools, and techniques used for gathering intelligence from the Surface Web are often collectively referred to as Open Source Intelligence (OSINT).

OSINT techniques applied to the Surface Web, provide insights into the exposed endpoints, latest threat research, and more resources that are often released publicly.

The application of Surface Web Intelligence includes the following.

Operations to gather intel on activities of cybercriminals
Monitoring open security forums
Monitoring threat intel exchange platforms
Monitoring social media platforms for attack announcements & alerts
Operations to tackle new or existing cyber threats
Monitoring phishing pages based on the naming convention of assets
Monitoring a specific malware, rogue app or botnet targeting the organization
Gathering intelligence on geo-specific, industry-specific and infrastructure-specific threat attack vectors
Monitoring social media for security issues’ reporting
Monitoring insider threats and third-party exposure risk
Operations to manage business risk
Monitoring for business and physical threats
Monitoring for mentions of brand name, top executives, email addresses, trademark, copyright, and sensitive assets
Monitoring fake information spread about the organization
Monitoring scams targeting the employees and customers
Monitoring rogue employees

Applications of Deep & Dark Web Intelligence


Security analysts and investigators are often competing with cybercriminals to close any security loopholes before they can be exploited. A large number of vulnerabilities are often leaked online before being listed in the official vulnerability database. This gives the cybercriminals a chance to successfully exploit it before the organizations can muster a defense.

In such instances, monitoring the dark web for exploits on sale can prove to be crucial in preventing a major attack. With proactive intelligence gathering, cybersecurity professionals can focus effectively on fixing security flaws in a timely manner.

It is often estimated that the Deep Web and Dark Web together make up the vast majority of the web. According to some estimates, it constitutes as high as 96% of the web.

Regardless of the exact figures, it is quite clear that a large part of the web is not visible to common users and it hosts a huge amount of data as well. Thus, the need for gathering intelligence from the deep and dark web is quite clear.

The applications of Deep & Dark Web Intelligence includes the following:

Operations to gather intel on cybercriminals
Monitoring IRC chatrooms and closed forums
Monitoring the dark web for sale of any compromised employee credentials or customers’ data
Monitoring the dark web for sale of any compromised Credit card/Debit card data
Hacktivist tracking and intelligence correlation w.r.t. the bank
Operations to tackle new or existing cyber threats
Gathering intelligence on geo-specific, industry-specific and infrastructure-specific threat attack vectors
Monitoring for exploits targeting unpatched vulnerabilities
Monitoring a specific malware or botnet targeting the organization
Monitoring compromised assets and data leaks
Monitoring third-party exposure risk
Operations to manage business risk
Monitoring recruitment efforts on the dark web for hiring insiders and rogue employees
Monitoring for mentions of brand name, top executives, email addresses, trademark, copyright, and sensitive assets

Conclusion


Overall, both the Surface Web and Dark Web provide meaningful opportunities for gathering critical CTI information. However, they have their own set of limitations as well.

The Surface Web provides a large amount of data where removing the noise and getting to the key information may prove to be a challenge. Moreover, cybercriminals are less likely to leave their tracks on the Surface Web which limits the scope of information that can be gained about their activities.

On the other hand, the intelligence gathered from the Dark Web has its own pros and cons. While intelligence received from the Dark Web can be more thorough and specific, but it comes with some reliability issues. The motives of those sharing information on the Dark Web also cannot be easily trusted.

Ultimately, the domain of CTI is enriched by intelligence gathered from all kinds of sources, whether from the Surface Web or the Dark Web. What is required is that all important sources are leveraged and collated intel is subjected to data fusion to produce a noiseless, relevant and specific threat intelligence.






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What is Open Source Intelligence (OSINT)?
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