Dark Web Monitoring and Intelligence Playbook

December 17, 20235 min read

Playbook Objectives

  • To detect and analyze covert communication channels and marketplaces within the Dark Web that could be used for trading stolen data from our company.
  • To proactively monitor potential data breaches and threat actors targeting our organization on the Dark Web.
  • To exercise incident response plans and improve the security team’s responsiveness to Dark Web threats.
  • To evaluate the effectiveness of existing data loss prevention (DLP) and network security measures against devised Dark Web attack tactics.

Difficulty Level

  • Advanced


  • AcmeCorp, a leading financial services company specializing in consumer and corporate lending, has recently experienced an increased volume of phishing attacks. Intelligence suggests that the attacks may be originating from a sophisticated group of cybercriminals operating on the Dark Web. The company’s sensitive data, including customer financial records and proprietary trading algorithms, are potential targets for these threat actors.
  • Alice Johnson, Chief Security Officer (CSO)
  • Bob Smith, Data Analyst and Dark Web Monitoring Specialist
  • The Red Team, playing the role of a cybercriminal group “PhantomPhish”
  • IT Security Team (Blue Team)

Company Network and Systems

  • Corporate Intranet with proprietary data repositories and internal communication systems.
  • External-facing customer portal for online financial transactions.
  • Data center hosting multiple virtualized environments for different business functions.
  • Off-site backup facility with redundancy for critical data.
  • A Security Operations Center (SOC), equipped with advanced network monitoring and intrusion detection systems.

Detailed Attack Story

  • A notorious cybercriminal hacker group, “PhantomPhish,” is known for its presence on the Dark Web, selling high-value data stolen from financial institutions. They have been crafting a new strategy to infiltrate AcmeCorp by exploiting vulnerabilities in third-party email services and by developing a custom, stealthy malware designed to bypass conventional detection systems.
  • PhantomPhish uses the Dark Web to communicate securely and trade sophisticated tools with other cybercriminals. They also boast of a proprietary “Data Bazaar” where they list stolen datasets for sale. Bob, the company’s Dark Web monitoring specialist, has stumbled upon a discussion thread suggesting an impending data heist targeting AcmeCorp.
  • Upon recognizing the gravity of the threat, Alice Johnson calls for an emergency cyber range exercise. The exercise’s primary objective is to assess AcmeCorp’s readiness to identify and respond to an actual breach facilitated via the Dark Web while aiming to gather actionable intelligence on the attackers’ modus operandi.


  • Dark Web Monitoring
  • Cyber Threat Intelligence
  • Incident Response
  • Data Breach Detection

Exercise Attack Steps

  • Reconnaissance: The Red Team gathers information on AcmeCorp’s network using both public sources and specialized Dark Web resources to plan their attack vectors.
  • Weaponization: Creation of a custom malware designed to exfiltrate sensitive data without triggering the SOC’s detection systems.
  • Delivery: The malware is delivered through a spear-phishing campaign targeting AcmeCorp’s employees, leveraging information gathered in the reconnaissance phase for authenticity.
  • Exploitation & Installation: As an employee falls for the phishing email, the malware gains access and establishes a foothold within the network.
  • Command & Control (C2): The malware communicates back to a C2 server on the Dark Web to receive further instructions and begin data exfiltration.
  • Actions on Objectives: The Red Team utilizes the C2 channel to remotely access AcmeCorp’s network, moving laterally to locate and package the targeted data for extraction.
  • Data Exfiltration: Sensitive data is covertly sent to a secure drop site on the Dark Web, simulating the breach.
  • Monitoring & Detection: Bob and the SOC team are tasked with monitoring Dark Web sources and internal traffic to detect the presence of the breach and identify data exfiltration.
  • Incident Response Activation: Once the SOC identifies indicators of compromise, they activate the incident response plan, aiming to isolate affected systems, eradicate the threat, and begin forensic analysis to understand the breadth of the attack.
  • Threat Intelligence Gathering: During the attack response, the IT Security Team gathers intelligence on PhantomPhish’s tactics and techniques for future defensive measures and potential legal actions.
  • Debrief & Improvement Plan Creation: Post-exercise, the teams convene for a debrief to discuss lessons learned, identify gaps in current defenses, and formulate a plan to bolster AcmeCorp’s resilience against Dark Web threats.