From the President

Dive into the dark web to protect your organizations and clients

As part of a recent fraud examination, you’re conducting research on your computer via several search engines. But even if you diligently study hundreds of sources, you’ll only see a fraction of online information. You must explore the dark web — the series of networks that common internet browsers don’t index.

As Emily Wilson, CFE, points out in her cover article, content on the dark web is designed to be hidden from search engines and from casual users. We can’t simply stumble across dark web sites by accident, Wilson writes. However, we might be surprised to learn that the dark web, which conjures images of abhorrent crimes, also stores legitimate common data and allows legal transactions.

“The dark web is a privacy tool, designed with user security and anonymity in mind,” Wilson says. “Security and privacy are neutral goals — they’re as beneficial to legal communities looking for protection as they are to criminal communities looking for a way to hide.”

So, even though the dark web has a legitimate place in the cyberworld, we still have to keep current on developments because its illegal activities are constantly evolving. Fraudsters can easily buy personally identifiable information and financial data that cyberthieves steal from individuals and organizations and re-sell to other criminals on the dark web. And cryptocurrencies allow perpetrators to encrypt and disguise these transactions to avoid detection.

Wilson describes some of the transactions as the “digital equivalent of back-alley trades.” In reality, she writes, these are well-structured e-commerce websites that are shocking in their familiarity, like shopping on eBay or Amazon. We have to acquaint ourselves with the dark web complexities that might feel foreign but are more familiar than we realize. As Wilson says, fraud examiners don’t need to start from scratch.

The fraud landscape is ever-changing, and we must be equipped and educated to see it. As CFEs, it’s just one more area we need to look at, explore and investigate. Even if we aren’t experts in fighting the denizens of the dark web, we still must understand it and know how to navigate it so we can shed light on the fraud it works to hide.

Bruce Dorris, J.D., CFE, CPA, is president and CEO of the ACFE. Contact him at