Campaign 2018: How the dark web could hurt the midterm elections

The encrypted internet is used to trade voter data and digital weapons.

The dark web isn't a place, it's a network.

Like the normal internet we use every day, the dark web is loaded with websites, wikis, e-commerce shops and forums. The difference? The dark web requires special encrypted software to access and is often a haven for cybercriminals, web activists and state-sponsored hackers.

It isn't a place your average internet user ventures or has the online security chops for. Dark web shops and forums typically use the .onion top-level domain URL, and require both virtual private networks (VPNs) and the "the onion router," Tor, web browser to access. These tools allow both the site administrator and the user to remain anonymous.

Voter data and digital weapons like the EternalBlue hacking toolkit and WannaCry malware, which have caused nearly $4 billion in damage to business and government computer systems, are widely available on the dark web.

"The same crime that happens off line, all the time, also happens on the dark web," said Emily Wilson, director of analysis at security firm Terbium Labs.

In 2016 Russian hackers used the dark web and about $95,000 in cryptocurrency to establish websites and fake social media accounts used for influence campaigns. This year Facebook and other social media firms discovered similar dark web activity targeting the 2018 midterm election.

Theresa Payton, the CEO of Fortalice Solutions CEO and a former White House CIO, says ransomware purchased on the dark web could be "incredibly devastating" if deployed on election day. Voters could be suppressed if hackers were to demolish communication and transportation systems.

For more on the dark web and how it may affect the upcoming midterm elections, read the full story on CBS News.

Campaign 2018: Election Hacking is a weekly series from CBS News & CNET about the cyberthreats and vulnerabilities of the 2018 midterm election.

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