Have you discovered that your email address or other sensitive information is on the dark web? Don’t know what it means or what you should do? Don’t panic – read along and set up your next steps.
In this blog post, we’ll explain what it means if your email or other personal data is found on the dark web, what you should do, and what measures you can take to ensure your sensitive data does not appear on the dark web. Without further ado, let’s jump in.
What does it mean when you find your email on the dark web?
The dark web is a mysterious place. It’s found in the deep web – an unindexed section of the internet that requires a specialized browser to access. Thanks to its spooky name, the dark web has developed a peculiar reputation. It’s known as a place where cybercrooks roam freely and sell illicit goods. There’s some truth to it.
While some surf the dark web for enhanced privacy online, others that reside there are up to no good. Among the most popular wares to trade in the darknet markets, you’ll find personal data, such as ID details, passwords, and email addresses. Unfortunately, one day, you might find out that your details are among those on sale.
Learning that your email has been found on the dark web can be a stressful, anxiety-inducing experience. If any of your personal information, whether that’s your full name or your email address, is spotted on the dark web, it likely means you’re a victim of a data breach. Personal data is a highly valuable commodity, and once your email is sold, it can be used in different ways:
You might experience an influx of phishing attacks – attempts to acquire more of your data, like your passwords, by sending you to suspicious websites that pose as legitimate ones. If you input your login credentials to such websites, cybercrooks can use them to overtake your accounts.
Your email might be used in spoofing campaigns. A nefarious party might create an email address that looks similar to yours – perhaps it uses a number instead of a letter or has a similar domain. By pretending to be you, hackers can try to play the same tricks on your colleagues or other contacts – this information might also be available to them on the darknet.
Do you use your breached email for online shopping? That might put your credit card information at risk as well. If your bank account details end up in the wrong hands, the funds can be used for illicit purchases or be drained completely.
Your data can be valuable blackmail material. You might receive ransom demands, be threatened with exposure of personal information, and have other intimidation tactics used against you.
Worst case scenario – your breached data can be used for identity theft. Using your personal information, bad actors can implicate you in their criminal activities.
As you can see, the consequences of data breaches are serious, and if you ever find out your data is involved, you shouldn’t brush it aside. Don’t assume it won’t happen to you – anyone can unwittingly fall victim to a data breach if a service they use is compromised.
You’ve found your email on the dark web. Now what?
If you ever discover that your email or any other sensitive information was found on the dark web, first — don’t panic. It’s a scary situation to be in, but it’s not the end of the world, and you can take quick steps to secure as much of your data as possible. Here are a few things you should do to mitigate any cybersecurity risks.
Change your passwords
First things first: reinforce your account security, starting with your email. It seems like a hassle, but it’s a surefire way to keep your accounts protected from potential intruders. Keep a few things in mind as you start the password-changing process:
Do not reuse any passwords that were impacted by the breach.
Ensure all your new passwords are different for each of your accounts.
Craft strong passwords that contain at least 12 characters.
Mix letters, numbers, and special symbols – don’t use regular words that you can find in a dictionary.
Naturally, coming up with tens of unique passwords requires some effort and creativity. If you have trouble coming up with unique, strong, and complex passwords yourself, our Password Generator can lend you a helping hand.
Set up multi-factor authentication for your online accounts
Now that your passwords are sorted, it’s time to set up a second line of defense. Many popular online platforms allow users to set up multi-factor authentication (MFA) – an additional step that requires you to verify your identity each time you log in to your account.
You can set up your phone, tablet, or a hardware authentication device for each account that you want to reinforce. If an attacker attempts to break into your account using a breached password, multi-factor authentication will ensure they run into a wall and fail. Combining multi-factor authentication with your new set of passwords will help you keep your accounts in your hands.
Check your online banking and other financing accounts
Although online bank fraud and other financial scams are rarely an issue for people whose emails are breached and shared on the dark web, it’s better to stay safe than sorry.
Firstly, log in to all your financial accounts and check whether everything looks fine. Keep an eye out for any suspicious transactions made to unknown third parties. Review your subscriptions to make sure that no unauthorized ones were added. Try to keep a close eye on your accounts for a few days.
If you notice anything that’s out of the ordinary, get in touch with your bank immediately. Freeze and block your credit card to prevent further unauthorized charges.
Check your device for malware
If the email tied to your Microsoft account or Apple ID appears in a data breach, there’s an increased risk that someone might try to overtake your account and devices. Then, using file synchronization, they might infect your device with malware. For example, unbeknownst to you, hackers might install a keylogger that tracks every keystroke input into your device. With it, they can gain access to all passwords and other personal information you type on your keyboard.
If your email is found on the dark web, make sure to check your computer for any malware or suspicious programs to stay on the safe side of things. Today’s cybercrooks are savvy, and it’s best not to underestimate their skills. Most operating systems come equipped with a pre-installed malware scanner. Use it to ensure no undesirable software is running on your computer. If you spot any unknown programs, quarantine them. If they turn out to be harmful, uninstall them immediately.
How to find out if your email is on the dark web
Finding out whether your data has been breached is a complicated process. Unfortunately, there’s no search engine or database tracking whether any of your sensitive data is on the dark web.
As a rule of thumb, we recommend keeping an eye out for any unauthorized activity on your online accounts. Routinely check for suspicious emails. See if your social media accounts are following strange pages or if any unusual posts appear on your personal timeline.
However, you can use a few tools to find out whether your email address has appeared on the dark web. For instance, you can use the NordPass Data Breach Scanner to monitor your email addresses and credit card details. Having your data exposed during a leak is a strong indication that it’s present on the dark web.
Can you remove your email from the dark web?
Unfortunately, if your email address has been compromised, there’s nothing you can do to remove it from the dark web. It’s impossible to track down the person responsible for the breach and ask them to remove your data from this unregulated corner of the internet.
Should you change your email if it was found on the dark web?
Keep in mind that many email service providers do not let you change your email address directly. If you want to update the address, you have to create a brand-new account.
Changing your password and setting up MFA should be enough to keep your account secure even after a breach. However, in a worst-case scenario, you might have to create a new email address and update all your details across different platforms.
How you can protect your email address and online accounts
Now that you’ve got an emergency plan for a potential data breach in place, let’s look at what proactive steps you can take to significantly lower the risk of having your email exposed on the dark web.
Avoid using public Wi-Fi
Public Wi-Fi hotspots might be convenient, but they’re notoriously unsafe. Hackers have their tricks to exploit public Wi-Fi networks and use these unsecured networks to distribute malicious software, gather data, carry out man-in-the-middle attacks, and much more.
If you have no other choice but to connect to a public Wi-Fi network, make sure to use a virtual private network (VPN) to protect the security of your connection.
Be cautious of suspicious links and attachments in emails
Phishing is a very popular method of gathering email addresses, passwords, and other valuable information that can be sold on the darknet. Don’t click any suspicious links, and check whether the domain looks legitimate. Often, cybercrooks use a website URL that looks very similar to the real one.
On that same note, do not download or click on email attachments from suspicious senders. Popular email service providers like Gmail offer tools to scan files before you open them and warn you if something seems unusual.
Be mindful of who you share your real email address with
Can you recall every platform you’ve created an account on or every online survey you’ve filled in that required sharing your email address? Probably not. After all, you only need some of those accounts for a single occasion and never revisit them. The same goes for shopping – online purchases often have us unwittingly oversharing information like our home address or phone number – not to mention our financial details. We don’t often think too thoroughly about the data policies of each e-commerce platform we frequent, and it’s easy to lose track of them all if you shop at some only once.
Giving out your real email address to random platforms is like giving your full name to a stranger on the street. In such instances, consider not using your primary or work email address to keep your data safe. If you notice an influx of spam emails after registering on a platform, check its data storage policies. You can create a secondary burner email for one-off accounts and purchases (spoiler alert: you’re about to learn about a useful tool for this strategy).
Create and use a temporary email account
If you want to reinforce the security of your primary email accounts, you can easily set up a separate email account for all unimportant online accounts. If one of such trivial sites experiences a breach or is used for data harvesting, your primary email won’t be affected, and your sensitive information won’t appear on the dark web.
With NordPass, you can set up email masking. This feature takes your primary email address and replaces it with a generic, non-identifiable email address. Once you have the masked email address prepared, you can use it anywhere online. All emails you receive will be forwarded to your real email inbox without exposing your details. This helps keep your accounts and email protected from phishing attacks, spam, and other digital threats.
Use multi-factor authentication
Let’s circle back to multi-factor authentication. We’ve already discussed multi-factor authentication as an action step to enable if your accounts are breached. MFA should be an integral part of our online security at all times, not only when we’re faced with a breach.
Enabling MFA means a password alone isn’t enough to verify your login attempts. So even if your password falls into the wrong hands, they won't be able to access your accounts.
Use a password manager
Perhaps the easiest way to ensure proper protection of all your online accounts is to use unique, strong, and complex passwords for each one. However, considering that an average internet user has around 100 online accounts, remembering every single complex password is out of the realm of possibility – unless you have photographic memory.
Here’s where a password manager like NordPass comes in handy. Password managers are purpose-built to help users manage their login credentials – but that’s not all they do to keep your personal data secure. Here are some of the features that NordPass offers to improve your online security:
All-in-one storage for your passwords, addresses, credit card details, ID information, and more.
Password Generator creates unique, complex, and secure passwords for all your accounts.
Autofill saves time by inputting your login details for you.
Email Masking protects your real email address from unwanted exposure.
Data Breach Scanner monitors your email addresses and credit card information and alerts you if it’s detected anywhere on the dark web.
It’s important to stay vigilant as you browse online, interact with other users, and share your credentials on numerous platforms. The NordPass password manager lends you a hand and takes some of the pressure off your shoulders, ensuring that even if you find your email on the dark web, you can still protect your accounts and sensitive data from major breaches.