What is a dark web scan?

Tips & tricks
16 mins
alt=”What is a dark web scan?”

Data breaches are so common now that a new one seems to appear in the headlines every week. And one of the most frustrating aspects of these information leaks is there’s nothing that can be done by the average consumer to prevent them. Meanwhile, individuals also face the ever-present threat of an attacker phishing for personal details via social engineering. Most of these passwords, ID numbers, addresses, and more end up in one place: the dark web

There is, however, a tool that can help you sleep a little easier at night: a dark web scan. This service combs through the dark web to see if your sensitive data, like your social security number or credit card details, have been stolen or leaked. 

But is a dark web scan worth it and should you get one? Read on to find out. 

Jump to…
What is the dark web?
How can my information end up on the dark web?
What is a dark web scan?
How does a dark web scan work?
What are dark web scanners looking for?
How can I scan the dark web for free?
What to do if your information is detected during a dark web scan
Limitations of dark web scanning
Verdict: Is a dark web scan worth it?

What is the dark web?

The dark web is a network of sites that exist inside a layered proxy of networks, known as darknets. You can’t access the dark web through a typical search engine. Instead, you need a special browser like Tor (short for “The Onion Router”), which is designed to conceal the identity of its users. 

While there are legitimate websites on the dark web, many people associate it with Silk Road—the infamous online marketplace shut down by authorities in 2013. Silk Road was known for selling illegal drugs and weapons, but it also offered stolen data in bulk. Since it was shut down, several other dark web marketplaces have emerged, providing cybercriminals with new opportunities to sell stolen data. 

This means that if your information is stolen in a data breach and ends up on these sites, someone could purchase it to commit identity fraud. For example, they might use your credit card information to make purchases, take out loans in your name, or transfer money from your bank account.

Deep web vs. Dark Web

Because the internet is made up of multiple layers, the terms “dark web” and “deep web” are sometimes used interchangeably. However, they actually refer to different things:

  • The deep web: The part of the internet that’s not indexed by search engines. It includes things like your email account, online banking details, your health insurance portal, or a company’s private database, all of which require you to enter personalized credentials to access.
  • The dark web: A hidden part of the deep web that requires special tools to access it, and is often associated with illegal activities.

Learn more about the deep web, the dark web, and the differences between the two. 

How can my information end up on the dark web?

You may be wondering how your information could end up on the dark web, especially if you’ve never visited it before. While traditional methods of theft—such as pickpocketing and going through trash bins for account statements—still exist, the rise of the dark web has opened a new avenue for criminals to access and sell sensitive data.

A common way that personal information ends up on the dark web is through hacking. Hackers look for credit card numbers, CVV codes, social security numbers, and other sensitive information that they can sell on the dark web. These are usually obtained through nefarious means like malware installed on your computer or phishing scams

Large data breaches or hacks are also a surefire way for personal information to end up on the dark web. This data can include first and last names, credit card numbers, social security numbers, and other sensitive personal details. Some hackers also purposefully target data brokers—companies that collect personal data and sell it for marketing and advertising purposes. 

After obtaining the desired information, a hacker then proceeds to upload it onto the dark web, where it’s sold along with 1.4 billion other usernames and passwords currently available for purchase.


alt=”Personal information for sale on the dark web”Learn more: How much is your data worth on the dark web?

What is a dark web scan?

A dark web scan is a type of online security tool that checks the dark web for any of your personal information among lists of stolen data. If your personal details are found on any of these sites, you’ll receive an alert so that you can take the necessary steps to protect yourself from identity theft and other malicious activities.

Pros of dark web scans

The most significant advantage of a dark web scan is that it can alert you if your personal information is being sold on the dark web. That way, you can take quick action to protect yourself—like canceling your credit cards or changing your passwords. 

Another benefit is peace of mind. Knowing that your information is not on the dark web can be reassuring, especially in a world where cybercrime is on the rise.

Cons of dark web scans

One of the biggest downsides of dark web scans is that they aren’t foolproof. Even the best ones out there can’t guarantee that your information is completely safe. Some data is sold through private websites or traded privately, which is why it’s crucial to use other security measures such as a password manager and multi-factor authentication to protect your information.

Another downside to dark web scans is the cost, with some companies charging over 100 USD for the service. Some of these companies may even use scare tactics to try and convince you to buy their services, even if your risk of exposure is low.

How does a dark web scan work?

By using specialized software, a dark web scan can search through the dark web’s non-indexed websites, marketplaces, and forums to find any mention of your personal information. These scans work by utilizing algorithms to crawl through the dark web, looking for your name, email address, social security number, and credit card numbers on lists of stolen data known as data dumps. 

If any of your information is found, the software will immediately alert you so that you can take necessary actions to protect yourself. This could include changing passwords, contacting your bank, or reporting identity theft to the authorities.

It’s important to note that there are many dark web scanning services available online, but it’s crucial to choose a reputable one. While no single scan can cover the entirety of the dark web, most scans focus on the most popular dark web marketplaces that lack additional privacy safeguards.

If you find that one dark web scan is not enough, you can also consider using a scanning service called dark web monitoring. This service uses crawlers and scrapers to constantly search through compromised data for signs of your personal information, providing you with an added layer of protection and peace of mind.

What are dark web scanners looking for?

The goal of dark web scanners is to identify and report any illegal or harmful activity that is taking place on the dark web. This means that it’s also regularly used by law enforcement agencies and other organizations to combat crime and protect public safety. 

Apart from identifying websites that deal in stolen data, these scanners are capable of looking for most types of illicit activity or content that are commonly found on the dark web. 

Some of the specific items or websites that dark web scanners may be searching for include:

  • Illegal drugs
  • Weapons
  • Child pornography
  • Hacking tools
  • Counterfeit goods
  • Terrorist content

How can I scan the dark web for free?

While it’s possible to scan the dark web for free, exercise caution when doing so. After all, the dark web is notorious for hosting illegal activity, and you don’t want to accidentally stumble upon something that could get you in trouble. You’ll also want to be careful of potential scam services that claim to offer free dark web scans but actually end up stealing your personal information instead. 

That said, there are a few reputable free tools available that can help you conduct a quick scan of the dark web to spot if your information is up for sale:

1. Firefox Monitor

Great for: Checking if your email address is on the dark web. Firefox Monitor is a free online service offered by Mozilla (the same company behind the popular browser) that helps users stay informed and protected in the event of a data breach. All you need to do is enter your email address, and it scans a database of known breaches to see if your email has been compromised. 

  • Easy to use: Firefox Monitor is simple and straightforward, with a user-friendly interface that allows you to quickly check if your email address has been involved in a data breach.
  • Breach scanner: Firefox Monitor uses a comprehensive database to scan for breaches, ensuring that it detects as many breaches as possible. It also provides security tips to help you stay safe online.
  • Identifies what info was leaked: If your email address is involved in a breach, Firefox Monitor will tell you what information was exposed. 
  • Breach search: Firefox Monitor allows you to search for breaches using keywords or specific domain names, making it easy to check if your email address has been compromised in a particular breach.
  • Limited coverage: While Firefox Monitor scans a comprehensive database of known breaches, it may not detect all of them, especially those that are not publicly disclosed.
  • Account required: To use Firefox Monitor, you’ll first need to create an account with Mozilla. 
  • Email only: Firefox Monitor only scans for breaches associated with your email address, which means it may not detect other types of data breaches, such as those involving credit card information or social security numbers.

2. MyPwd

Great for: Finding out if your email password has been leaked.

MyPwd is a password management tool that can detect compromised passwords on the surface, deep, and dark web. It also provides email subscription alerts for suspicious activities. It has three pricing options, including a free plan.

Pros Cons
  • Powerful scanning abilities: MyPwd can detect compromised email passwords on the dark web.
  • Email subscription alerts: MyPwd offers email subscription alerts for suspicious activities associated with user passwords.
  • Limited features: MyPwd doesn’t have a ton of features compared with other dark web scanners—it’s only able to search for the passwords of email accounts. 
  • Minimal support: There are limited supporting articles or FAQs available to assist users in navigating the tool or troubleshooting issues.

3. IDStrong

Great for: Finding your personal, identifiable, financial, and medical information on the dark web.

IDStrong is a tool that constantly checks the internet for signs that your personal information might have been compromised. It keeps an eye on black market websites, social media feeds, public records, and the dark web. If it detects any suspicious activity or information related to your identity, it sends you an immediate alert.

  • Wide range of data scanned: Scans a large range of various personal details, including name, email, phone number, usernames, passwords, and more.
  • Strong monitoring and support: Offers monitoring, reporting, and live support features to help protect your identity.
  • ID restoration: Provides ID restoration support, which can be crucial in the event of identity theft.
  • Comprehensive internet monitoring: Monitors not only the dark web, but also black market websites, social media feeds, public records, and other data points across the internet.
  • Subscription for extras: Scanning is the only service that IDStrong offers for free. Additional features such as monitoring and live support require a subscription fee.
  • Not foolproof: While IDStrong monitors a variety of sources for signs of identity theft, it’s possible that some threats may slip through the cracks.
  • Risk of providing sensitive info: Users may need to provide sensitive personal information to IDStrong in order to use its services, which could potentially put them at risk if IDStrong’s security is ever compromised.

4. Have I Been Pwned

Great for: Checking the source of the data breach that leaked your information.

Created by a security researcher, Have I Been Pwned aims to raise awareness about data breaches and the need to secure personal information. The website can help you find out if your personal information has been hacked or stolen. You can enter your email or username to see if your account credentials have been exposed in any known data breaches.

  • Ease of use: Allows users to easily check if their personal information has been compromised in any known data breaches.
  • Informative: Provides information on what data was compromised and when the breach occurred, helping users better understand the impact of a breach.
  • Limited information: Only provides information on data breaches that have been publicly disclosed or reported to the site, meaning that it may not capture all data breaches.
  • Restricted coverage: Users may have to check multiple times to ensure that their information has not been compromised in a breach that was not initially reported to the site.

What to do if your information is detected in a dark web scan

Discovering that your personal information is on the dark web can be scary and overwhelming. While there’s no guaranteed way to completely erase your data from the dark web, there are a few steps you can take to safeguard your personal information and prevent further damage.

1. Change your passwords

One of the first steps you should take if your information is detected on the dark web is to change the relevant passwords and enable two-factor authentication wherever possible. This will make it more difficult for cybercriminals to access your accounts, even if they have your login credentials. 

2. Notify your financial services providers

If a scan reveals that your credit card or bank account numbers have been exposed, it’s important to contact your financial services providers, including banks and credit card companies, as you may need to cancel affected accounts and open new ones with new credit/debit cards to ensure the safety of your financial information.

3. Monitor your credit card statements

To protect yourself from fraud, make sure you regularly check your bank and credit card statements for any weird or suspicious activity. If you see anything out of place, contact your bank or credit card provider right away. The quicker you report fraudulent charges, the less likely you are to be held responsible for any unauthorized purchases. 

The Fair Credit Billing Act recommends that you report any suspicious purchases within 60 days, so keep an eye out for any strange charges and report them as soon as you can. And, if you do find any fraudulent activity, make sure you ask for a new credit card and account number from your provider to stop any further unauthorized charges.

4. Order your credit reports

To protect yourself from identity theft, order a free copy of your credit report once a year. If you’re an American resident, you can get your report for free from each of the three major credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, at AnnualCreditReport.com

Look out for any accounts or activity that you don’t recognize, and scrutinize the reports closely for any signs of fraudulent activity. If you find anything suspicious, contact the company that issued your card or loan to report the issue. If you’re in the U.S., you should also file an identity theft report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). 

5. Freeze your credit

If you’re worried about someone opening new accounts or applying for credit in your name, you can put a freeze on your credit reports. This means that no one will be able to access your credit report without your permission. Keep in mind that this could also prevent you from opening new accounts, so you’ll need to lift the freeze if you want to apply for credit. 

6. Check the permissions on apps you use

To protect your personal information, review the permissions you’ve given to the apps on your devices. This includes access to your contacts, photos, and location. Be sure to remove any permissions that you don’t need or delete apps that you no longer use. 

Many third-party apps store your information with your permission, but this can be risky if the information gets leaked or compromised. By reducing app permissions, you can mitigate this risk and prevent unwanted apps from accessing your sensitive data.

7. Limit how much information you give to companies

When it comes to sharing your personal information with companies, it’s important to be careful, especially if you don’t know the company well. The less information you give them, the less risk you put yourself in. Keep in mind that everything you share with companies has the potential to be released in a hack or leak, so it’s important to be cautious about what you share.

To further protect your personal details, consider using a VPN to help keep your online activity private and secure—especially when you’re using public Wi-Fi, like those found in cafes, airports, and hotels. 

Limitations of dark web scanning

Think of dark web scanners like detectives combing through the shadowy corners of the internet to find potential data breaches. But like any detective, they have their limitations.

1. Scanners don’t cover the whole dark web

Dark web scanners can only scan a small portion of the dark web and may not catch every data breach, leaving private transactions and lesser-known websites unchecked. Plus, dark websites change all the time, which makes it challenging for scanners to keep up.

Also, a single scan only captures a snapshot of the dark web on a particular day. It may not catch any breaches that occur afterward unless you conduct another scan. Therefore, relying solely on a scanner may not provide complete protection against data breaches.

2. If the scanner returns a result, your data has already been stolen

By the time a dark web scan detects your personal information, it’s likely that the data has already been stolen. Additionally, while a dark web scan can alert you to the presence of your information on the dark web, it can’t actually remove it.

Nevertheless, even if the news it uncovers is bad, it’s better to know that your data has been compromised than to remain oblivious. Armed with this knowledge, you can take immediate action to protect yourself, such as changing your login information or putting a freeze on your credit. 

Verdict: Is a dark web scan worth it?

Ultimately, the answer depends on your personal circumstances and risk level. Those who are at a higher risk of identity theft (such as high-profile or high-income people) may find a dark web scan to be a good investment, while those who are generally low risk may not need one. 

It’s important to approach any dark web scan service (free or subscription-based) with a healthy dose of skepticism, and to remember that the best way to protect yourself is to be vigilant about online security and take proactive steps to safeguard your personal information.

Learn more: The fastest ways to level up your privacy

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