WENY News - SPECIAL REPORT: Dangers of the Dark Web

SPECIAL REPORT: Dangers of the Dark Web

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ELMIRA, N.Y. (WENY) -- LinkedIn, MySpace, Uber and Equifax. 

These are just some of many websites that have had data breaches, leaking personal information for millions of people.

Hackers can then either keep your information, or sell it on what's called the "Dark Web".

"The dark web is a part of the internet that you can't get to, or at least you can't get to it without special software that allows you to access and move through various firewalls that protect this dark portion of the internet," said Cornell University's computer science engineering professor, Stephen Wicker. 

Wicker says once your data has been breached, hackers will try to profit off it. 

"One aspect of the dark web is that there's a lot of things for sale," said Wicker. "One of the types of information that's for sale is basically people's private information and personal information. Credit cards, social security numbers, that sort of thing."

With Equifax, the credit agency had access to the personal information of millions of Americans, regardless of whether or not you had an account with them.

So when when they were breached earlier this year, hackers were able to obtain the personal information of nearly forty-four percent of the U.S. population.

So when Equifax was breached earlier this year, hackers obtained the personal information of nearly forty-four percent of the U.S. population.

"The recent Equifax breach is one of the largest, said Wicker. "But there are breaches that occur on virtually a weekly basis."

But with the Equifax breach, it was a while before they realized there was a breach and made it public.

By then, hackers already have a jump start on stealing your identity and selling it on the dark web.

Wicker says there's two key ways to protect yourself from having your information leaked.

The first is protecting your computer at home. 

"Your computer has the software that has the same vulnerabilities that Equifax suffered from, speaking generally," said Wicker. "Maintain your software. Put your patches in place and if you're doing that, you're doing the best thing you could possibly do to protect your own personal information."

His next tip is to be careful as to who you give your information out to. 

"Don't just give it away," said Wicker. "Be very careful and, if you can avoid it, don't let people keep your credit card info. Don't give them your birth date, please don't give them your social security number. Sign in as a guest, buy your products as a guest."

But what happens if your information has already been breached?

According to the Better Business Bureau of upstate New York's communication director, Melanie McGovern, it's best to act immediately.

"You definitely want to put a fraud alert on your credit report," said McGovern. "You can freeze your credit, which means there can be no accounts opened under your social security number."

McGovern says to also make sure to do things like checking your credit card statement every month and shredding documents like billing statements.

"People are their best advocate when it comes to their own credit," said McGovern. "So we always encourage people to make sure that they're monitoring their statements, they're checking their credit reports from all three bureaus and that they're really just being very meticulous in noticing if there's any changes, that they're reporting that right away."

So with with the holiday season upon us, make sure you're protecting your information, or risk having it sold to the highest bidder on the dark web. 

For more information about what to do if your personal information has been exposed in a data breach, you can visit the Better Business Bureau's website at: https://www.bbb.org/breach/.

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