Threat intelligence from the dark web
Threat intelligence from the dark web

The reputation of the Dark Web perhaps exceeds its reality. Many think of it as a place where criminals operate. If used by security teams, however, the Dark Web can be ripe with threat intelligence just set for the picking.

Just a note: In this article, Dark Web refers to any collection of computers that create an internet which requires specific software, configuration, or authorization to access. For example Tor, Riffle, FreeNet, anoNet, and ZeroNet. 

The Opportunity 

The Dark Web has many purposes, but it is indeed a place where criminals buy, sell, and trade goods and services. This is what makes it valuable to security researchers. By exploring the Dark Web, security teams have the potential to collect actionable intelligence. This includes malware capabilities, new tactics, compromised technology, and the direction of future attacks.

Recently, The Security Stronghold's team of researchers ventured into the Dark Web for over four months to survey ransomware capabilities for our clients. This allowed us to look at how ransomware is targeting different verticals and with what tactics. Much of what we found is already known, but some intelligence collected helped us to clearly see current capabilities and gave insight into the future direction of ransomware aimed at certain clients.

When looking at threat intelligence from a hunting perspective there are a few specific items to look for. Here we are going to look at the features of malware and underlying tactics. Keep in mind that scouring the Dark Web will give you insight to much more than mere malware. 

Ransomware Intelligence Gathering 

For this survey, we visited a variety of marketplaces and forums ranging from public to private. By interacting with developers we were able to gain insight into what the underground economy is demanding as well as capabilities of malware.

The first phase was investigating marketplaces. Our team wanted to see if there were any obvious disparities between what was being sold and what the security industry was planning to defend against. Activities in this phase of the survey included identifying marketplaces unknown to the public, creating accounts or procuring access, and interacting with sellers. Communicating with ransomware developers and sellers was essential because our team needed to ensure that the capabilities and features were legitimate.

The second phase was interacting with developers in forums. Here our team was able to interact with a developing-centered community and discover the direction of future work. Many of the developers had experience with all types of malware but it is clear that ransomware is providing the largest return on investment for these criminals at this time.

The final phase was breaking down all of the information we had gathered. We tested proof of concept, ease of use, availability, looked at how certain variations and families of ransomware would affect different industries, and much more. With this survey, we were able to advise multiple clients about threats that would not have been realized had we not taken the time to threat hunt on the Dark Web. 

Keep This In Mind

First of all, keep in mind that spending time and money by sending your security team to gather threat intelligence from the Dark Web is not smart if your organization does not have the resources, risk, or need to deal with complex threats.

Focus on the big wins when gathering intelligence. In the beginning, much of what The Security Stronghold team spent their time on did not result in actionable intelligence. Soon, however, we realized that we should focus on the big wins. These “wins” are discoveries that will result in actionable intelligence for your organization. This intelligence will be different for every organization.

The former point brings us to our next one, only collect actionable intelligence. If you really wanted to, you could spend forever obsessing over every little find. It is only practical if you collect the intelligence which will lead to real-world action. Plenty of researchers have already gathered the basic information.

 Your Turn

 Gathering intelligence from the “Dark Web” once to explore is something entirely different than incorporating into security events at your organization. In order to fully develop threat intelligence capabilities within your security team, you should consider the following:

●      Do you have a threat hunting program in place already?

●      Is there a need for one?

●      Would it be best to outsource?

●      Do you have the resources to effectively hunt for threats in this manner?

Going Forward 

The Dark Web can allow your organization to gain valuable insight into threats you face, however, the most effective use of your resources may merely be to have your incident response team stay up to date with others who conduct this type of research. This type of hunting is a can be a great experience and something that properly equipped security leaders may want to consider. It allows you a look inside the mind of the attacker.