What is a Dark Web Scan?

Learn how to shield your personal data with dark web scanners, providing practical steps and preventive measures to reduce the risk of online exposure. 

Use dark web scanners to proactively safeguard your personal information. These specialized tools delve into the hidden corners of the internet to detect and alert you if your sensitive data—such as social security numbers, email addresses, or credit card details—have surfaced where they shouldn't. By actively monitoring these elusive parts of the web, dark web scanners provide an essential layer of security in today's digital age. 


What is a dark web scanner?

A dark web scanner is a specialized tool designed to detect if personal information has inadvertently made its way onto the dark web —a hidden part of the internet not indexed by traditional search engines like Google. This portion of the internet, part of the larger “deep web,” is known for its enhanced privacy and anonymity. While not all activities on the dark web are illegal, it is a notorious marketplace for trading stolen data such as social security numbers, credit card details, and personal identities. 

The primary function of a dark web scanner is to safeguard individuals and organizations by monitoring dark web sites, forums, and other digital locations where such illicit transactions occur. By entering your personal details into the scanner—such as your email address, phone number, or social security number—the tool searches these obscured parts of the web to see if your information is being misused or sold. 

How to run a a dark web scan

You can run a free dark web scan with Malwarebytes. If you’re worried that your email or other personal details might have been exposed on the dark web, this tool offers a quick and easy way to find out. Submit your most-used email address and we’ll give you a free report detailing any exposures. 

This free scan is an essential step in managing your digital footprint, alerting you to potential breaches and providing actionable recommendations to secure your personal data. Visit Malwarebytes Digital Footprint solution  to get started.  There’s additional functionality to this scan, including proactive dark web monitoring and more.

How does a dark web scanner work?

Dark web scanners operate by searching through parts of the internet that are not visible to common search engines. To perform this, these scanners utilize specialized software that accesses the dark web through secure and anonymous networks, primarily using the Tor browser, which masks the identity of its users. 

Scanning process: 

  1. Data input: You must first provide the scanner with personal data to monitor. This could include your email addresses, phone numbers, social security numbers, or other personal identifiers. 
  1. Search execution: The scanner uses this information to search through databases and websites on the dark web. These sites might include underground marketplaces, forums, and other networks where stolen data is bought and sold. 
  1. Data matching: If the scanner finds a match—meaning your information appears in a compromised database or on a sales platform—it alerts you to the potential breach. 
  1. Reporting: You receive notifications regarding the details of where and how your information was found, often with recommendations on how to secure your data. 

What technologies the dark web scanner uses

  • Crawlers: Automated bots scour the internet for specific data matching the input criteria. 
  • Encryption: To protect your details and the integrity of the search, dark web scanners use advanced encryption methods. 
  • Database comparison: Many scanners maintain a database of known data leaks and breaches, which they use for cross-referencing with your data. 

Limitations: While effective, dark web scanners are not infallible. They can only search parts of the dark web that are accessible and may not detect every instance of data misuse. And because the Dark Web is vast and constantly changing, continuous monitoring is often recommended for comprehensive protection.  

When to use a dark web scanner?

Using a dark web scanner is essential for proactive digital hygiene. It acts as an early warning system, helping to mitigate the risks associated with identity theft and financial fraud. Here’s why employing such a scanner is crucial: 

  • Early detection: Scanners can detect stolen information before it’s used maliciously, providing you with a vital window to secure your data and prevent further damage. 
  • Peace of mind: Knowing that a tool is continuously scanning the dark web for your personal information can provide significant peace of mind in today’s digital age. 
  • Response preparedness: If your data is found on the dark web, scanners often offer guidance on how to respond, which is crucial for minimizing harm and restoring security.  

Choosing the right time to use a dark web scanner can enhance its effectiveness. Consider using a dark web scanner in the following scenarios: 

  • After a data breach: If a service provider or website you use suffers a data breach, it’s wise to immediately check if your information has been exposed on the dark web. 
  • Regular security checks: Regular scans (e.g., monthly or quarterly) can help catch new instances of data exposure as soon as they happen. 
  • Before and after major life events: Before applying for a mortgage, a new job, or other significant events, check what personal information is currently exposed. Similarly, checking after such events can ensure no misuse of your data occurred during times of high activity. 
  • Suspicious activity: If you receive alerts about unusual activity from your bank, credit card provider, or even from services like credit monitoring, it’s a good time to perform a dark web scan. 

By integrating dark web scans into your regular security routine, you can stay one step ahead of cybercriminals. Knowing why and when to deploy these tools effectively can significantly enhance your digital resilience against potential threats. 

Dark web scanning vs. dark web monitoring

When deciding between dark web scanning and monitoring, it’s important to understand their distinct roles in protecting your personal information against cyber threats. 

Dark web scanning is generally a one-time service that checks whether your personal information has been exposed on the dark web. This type of scan is particularly useful for a quick assessment following a data breach. It searches through known databases and websites that are accessible at the time of the scan. However, as it is a one-time scan. its scope is limited by the data and sites the service can access during the scan, potentially missing newer or more secretive databases. After the scan, you receive an instant report detailing any findings, which can help you take immediate steps to secure your accounts. 

In contrast, dark web monitoring offers ongoing protection. This service continuously surveils the dark web, including sites and databases, to detect if your personal information appears. Monitoring provides broader coverage than scanning because it often includes access to new and emerging databases through agreements or advanced technologies. Furthermore, this service benefits from real-time alerts, notifying you immediately when your information is detected, which allows for quicker responses to prevent further misuse of your data. 

What can criminals do with my personal information?

Understanding the potential misuse of personal data on the dark web can help underscore the importance of using dark web scanners. Here are common threats that individuals face when their information is compromised: 

  • Identity theft: Criminals can use stolen identities to commit fraud, such as opening credit accounts, applying for loans, or filing fraudulent tax returns in someone else’s name. 
  • Financial fraud: Stolen credit card and bank account information can be used to drain accounts or make unauthorized purchases. 
  • Phishing attacks: Using personal details obtained from the dark web, cybercriminals can craft convincing phishing emails to extract more sensitive information or spread malware
  • Blackmail and extortion: Sensitive personal data, such as compromising photos or messages, can be used to blackmail individuals. 
  • Reputation damage: Personal information used in malicious ways can damage an individual’s reputation professionally and personally. 
  • Each of these threats can have serious, long-lasting impacts on an individual’s financial and personal life. Dark web scanners play a crucial role in early detection and mitigation of these risks by alerting individuals to the presence of their data on the dark web before it can be used harmfully. 
  • By being aware of what can be done with stolen information, individuals can better appreciate the value of proactive security measures such as dark web scanning and monitoring. 

What you should do if your personal information was stolen

If you find out that your personal information has been exposed on the dark web, taking immediate and effective action can significantly limit potential damages: 

  • Reset your passwords: Immediately change any breached passwords, including any you have reused across other accounts.. Ensure each password is unique to each account. 
  • Alert your financial institutions: Inform your bank and credit card companies about the breach so they can watch for and prevent fraudulent transactions. 
  • Place a fraud alert: Contact one of the major credit bureaus—Experian, TransUnion, or Equifax—to request a fraud alert on your credit report, making it harder for thieves to open new accounts in your name. 
  • Consider a credit freeze: A credit freeze will prevent creditors from accessing your credit report, blocking the opening of new accounts. 
  • Monitor your credit reports: Regularly check your credit reports for any signs of unauthorized activity. You can obtain a free report annually from each of the three major credit bureaus via AnnualCreditReport.com. 
  • Report to the authorities: Notify local police and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) via https://www.identitytheft.gov/ to receive further assistance and prevent additional fraud. 
  • Stay vigilant: Continue to monitor your financial statements and alert systems for any signs of unauthorized activity. 

Get more advice here if your social security number leaked to Dark Web.

Preventative measures and best practices

After addressing the immediate dangers of a data breach, it is crucial to implement comprehensive preventative measures to safeguard your personal information against future risks: 

  • Strengthen your passwords: Use a password manager to maintain robust, distinct passwords for each account, avoiding the use of easily guessed passwords and personal information. 
  • Update software regularly: Keep all your devices and applications up to date to protect against new vulnerabilities and security threats, including malware that can be installed without your knowledge. 
  • Be wary of phishing attacks: Educate yourself on recognizing phishing emails and suspicious links. Verify the authenticity of any communication that asks for personal information. 
  • Secure your home network: Strengthen your Wi-Fi security with a robust, encrypted password and consider using a VPN, especially on public networks. 
  • Monitor financial transactions: Regularly review your bank and credit card statements to quickly spot and report any suspicious activity. 
  • Educate family members: Make sure everyone in your household understands the importance of online security and follows basic cybersecurity practices. 
  • Consider identity theft protection services: These services provide monitoring and recovery tools to help protect your personal information and alert you to potential threats. 

Implementing these preventative measures can significantly decrease the likelihood of your personal information being compromised and appearing on the dark web. Staying informed and cautious with your digital interactions and personal data is crucial in today’s interconnected world. 


How to do a dark web scan? 

To perform a dark web scan, submit your your email to our Digital Footprint Scanner. We will search through data dumps on the dark web to see if your data has been compromised, helping you take steps to protect your identity. We'll also monitor your exposure moving forward.