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Like an iceberg, only so much of the world wide web is visible to internet surfers. Much of it is below the surface.

What lies beneath is often referred to as the dark web. But what exactly is the dark web?

You may have heard about it in the news headlines, but the dark web is often misunderstood. It’s not something to necessarily fear, but in this age of data breaches, it’s important to know how it relates to the security of your personal information.

The Internet Iceberg

You may be surprised to discover that only about 4% of the content on the internet is the “surface web.” This means that it’s content that is indexed and linked through traditional search engines we use every day. In our iceberg analogy, this is the visible part at the top.

Much of the remaining information on the internet (more than 90%, in fact) is on the deep web. This “below the surface” content is invisible to conventional search engines, because it does not contain any links (which is how search engines like Google index the web). Content on the deep web includes personal email, online banking information, medical and legal records, and private databases.

The dark web is a component of the deep web and comprises the deepest portion of the iceberg. Often used interchangeably in the news, the deep web and the dark web are actually two different things.

An image of an iceberg, symbolizing three layers of Internet: Surface web (4%), Deep web (>90%), Dark web (<10%)

What is the dark web, exactly?

The dark web consists of websites that require specific private browsers to access, because they’re encrypted. Since it’s part of the deep web, the dark web is not indexed by conventional search engines. This inaccessibility provides an additional level of secrecy.

The dark web is best known for its dark content: online marketplaces for illegal substances, stolen data exchanges, and other illicit activities. But it’s not all bad. Many dark web sites simply let you do what you would normally do on the surface web — but with more anonymity.

In countries where the internet is highly regulated by the government, privacy and free speech advocates often tout this anonymity as a benefit. In addition to forums of people simply looking to avoid being tracked while online, you can also discover things like eBooks and recipe websites on the dark web.

How could the dark web affect you and your finances?

Conduct a quick internet search of the phrase “dark web,” and you’ll find numerous articles about stolen user information, customer data, and personal details. Data breaches have become more significant and commonplace in today’s digital-centric world.

The dark web has become a playground for stolen information, because its anonymity and lack of tracking capabilities allows for the sale and trading of private data without restraint. On the dark web, hackers sell and leak illegally obtained blocks of user data containing sensitive information. If you’ve been the victim of a security breach, you could find your personal or financial data on the dark web.

How can you help prevent your information from ending up on the dark web?

With cyberattacks happening more frequently, it’s essential to stay alert and pay attention to any news regarding recent security breaches, so you can take steps to ensure that your information doesn’t end up in the depths of the dark web.

Keep in mind: Cybercriminals will take advantage of the urgency and anxiety of timely events, like COVID-19, too. The more vigilant you are about your security, the more likely you are to stay safe.

It’s common practice for organizations that have experienced a breach to contact you about a data theft or account hack. But you can also try to remain one step ahead. If you hear of a cyberattack that could affect your information, proactively change your login information before a hacker can access it or sell it to the highest bidder on the dark web.

Many organizations and financial institutions, like Ally, have 2-step or two factor authentications built into their security solutions. This second level of security requires you to enter two pieces of information: a password, a temporary PIN, an email account, or a fingerprint before you can log in. It’s a good idea to activate this option, when available, as an extra layer of security and access protection across all of your accounts.

Your safety on the internet and giving you peace of mind is of the utmost importance to us. Which is why our team of security experts is committed to helping you stay safe online — and helping you keep your personal information from surfacing in the depths of the dark web.

Visit our Security Center for more on how we help keep you protected.