If the name sounds sinister, it’s because the darknet is a scary place.
It’s where criminals go on the internet to buy and sell your personal information.
October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month — a good time to learn about the darknet and about how to protect yourself from identity thieves who want to buy and sell your personal information.
Since it’s also Halloween Wednesday, here are some scary facts about the darknet:
>> There have been more than 2,000 data breaches since 2015, impacting more than 7 billion records, according to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.
>> With so many data breaches, experts say you should assume some of your personal information has already been stolen.
>> Basic personal information that can be used to steal your identity can be purchased on the darknet for about $3, less than the price of a fancy cup of coffee.
>> Even though most Americans know they should take basic precautions against identity theft, an alarming number of people do not adequately protect their personal information. Are you one of them?
AARP surveyed Americans about digital identity-theft awareness and their online behavior. Our survey found about half of adults (47 percent) said they experienced fraudulent charges on their credit or debit card. But very few (14 percent) ordered a security freeze on their credit report. Nearly half (48 percent) of adults used the same password for more than one online account and only 2 out of 5 respondents reported having online access to all of their bank accounts.
Doug Shadel, AARP’s leading fraud researcher, believes many people have given up and think it’s inevitable criminals will be able to exploit their identity at some point. But Shadel said taking just a few simple steps can be a powerful deterrent to identity thieves.
AARP brought Shadel to Hawaii last year to talk about identity theft. He said younger people are actually more likely to be victims than older residents because they aren’t as experienced and tend to trust technology more. But older people are targeted more often because they tend to have more money than younger victims.
Criminals are lazy, Shadel said. They prefer easy victims. So if you take just three steps to protect your identity, you can discourage most identity thieves. The steps: Freeze your credit, closely monitor your financial accounts and use a password manager, an app that can generate and store strong passwords for you.
Identity theft can be scary. But if you arm yourself with knowledge and take three simple precautions you can mostly avoid being tricked.
HOW TO PROTECT YOUR DIGITAL IDENTITY
>> Order a free credit freeze: Thanks to state and federal laws, it is free to freeze your credit. If you notify the three major credit reporting agencies to place a security freeze on your credit report, no one can access your credit file unless you give permission to unfreeze the account. For more information, visit aarp.org/CreditFreeze
>> Monitor your financial accounts: Set up online access to all your financial accounts — bank accounts, credit cards, 401(k)s, etc. — and regularly monitor the accounts so you can recognize any fraudulent activity. If you’re not online regularly, make sure you review all your statements when they arrive in the mail.
>> Use separate passwords: Make sure you use unique passwords for each of your online accounts. That way, if one account is hacked, it does not put your other accounts a risk. A good way to manage a variety of passwords is to use a digital password manager. These apps keep all your passwords secure and help you create different, strong passwords for each of your online accounts. There are many out there — just search the app store or do an internet search and pick one with good recommendations that meets your needs.
WHAT IS THE DARKNET?
Think of the Internet as an ocean of information. The surface is where most of us spend our time. That’s where you do Google searches, read news stories and buy goods on Amazon or eBay.
Below the public layer is the deep web. You generally need a password to get there. It’s where information is stored on cloud databases and websites that require logins. Traditional search engines can’t find the information here because it’s protected by some level of security.
The darknet is even deeper. It’s accessible only to those who use software originally developed by the U.S. Navy as a way to allow spies operating overseas to communicate anonymously with colleagues in the U.S. Those using the software are anonymous. Tech-savvy criminals use the software and the darknet to safely and secretly buy and sell illicit goods and stolen information.