Stolen bank details, credit card info, and plenty of other damaging information are now for open sale on the dark web—it’s no secret. For a few years now, it has been the place to trade illegal merchandise of all kinds, including the personal information of those scammed by phishing attacks and similar exploits. While this realization has many panicking, the truth is most people don’t know how to access the darknet and are not privy to the crazy transactions that happen there. But it appears this hidden dark market has now surfaced a little closer to home and is readily accessible through a simple Google search. But buyers of illegal merchandise don’t need Tor anymore to make their purchases—all they need to do is conduct a basic Google search, and they will find their target sellers on the public internet.
Posing as online sellers and advertisers, scammers have now made their way onto trusted public forums, offering stolen information for as low as $1.31 when purchased in bulk. This data is extensive and identifies many things about the victim, including their legal name, social security number, email address, password, mother’s maiden name, credit card number, bank account number, and answers to security questions. When used in an illegal capacity, these bits of information are all someone would need to steal an identity, rack up massive debt, and even commit other crimes under a false name. Truly, the options are endless. Aside from just monetary loss, victims could be subjected to a host of other legal and personal problems. Some victims have already encountered issues with their banking systems, account balances, and unauthorized credit card charges, and random offers from telemarketers. While all of these issues can (and likely will) be rectified through the proper channels, the larger process is slow and unwieldy, often leaving individuals with no ready cash or sense of future solutions.
A request has been sent to the search engine giant, Google, to block these searches—or to produce more imprecise search results—with the hopes of protecting it from the larger clearnet. Cybersecurity specialists recommend internet users be on high alert and suspicious of cybercriminals who do whatever it takes to capture someone’s personally-identifiable information. Illegal trade posted on the public web is now a thing because of the leniency of the crawler bots of the indexing of everything in the public web without any regulation.
This issue is not isolated to just public forums and Google searches—it is now accessible on certain Facebook pages as well. Anyone can create a public Facebook page and use it as a vehicle for selling illegal stuff. Of course, this does not make Google exempt from preventing the sale of illegal items. The Google Play Store itself has hosted apps with questionable integrity, often looking to trick users into granting unnecessary permission to access credit card and banking information if done on an Android smartphone.
Although these questionable leniencies have been present for many years, they have recently grown to an uncontrollable level. A device known as a card “skimmer,” which copies banking information from an atm or credit card, can now be easily purchased using a simple Google search. The search giant is also not regulating Youtube enough, as videos of how to scam people are posted regularly.
Standardizing internet technologies makes communication across devices and platforms easy, but it comes with a big cost. This compatibility essentially opens the clearnet up for exploit by cybercriminals. Google and the rest of the platform vendors are just implementing reactive systems that correct the error once it is detected, but it is not a preventive system.