Darknet markets: no honour among thieves

Ever since the takedown of AlphaBay back in July 2017, the Darknet marketplaces have been plunged into disarray. Law enforcement agencies have been gaining momentum and successfully shutting a number of sites down, while site administrators have simultaneously been performing exit scams to profit from their fellow Darknet users. This report aims to take a brief snapshot of today’s Darknet markets – both the existing, the former, the emerging, and the declining.

TOP MARKETS!

Dream market - 97.79%

Point / T•chka Free Market - 69.51%

Wall Street Market – 96.40%


As shown above, Dream Market, Tochka, and Wall St Market are currently listed as the top markets by DeepDotWeb. Dream Market has been a stalwart of the Darknet marketplaces since 2013, and continues to soldier on. But how much longer can Dream really last?

Dream has been suffering repeated DDoS attacks in recent weeks and months, and has taken to publishing an ever-growing list of mirror sites from which users may access the marketplace. Dream Market moderators have voiced their opinion on their forum, and they believe the most recent wave of DDoS attacks is being launched by rival market Agora - If much of the disruption is indeed caused by competition between the marketplaces, this is surely an indication that the Darknet community is struggling to work together.

In September, it was reported that one of the Dream Market admins had been arrested in the US. The arrest sparked a wave of mistrust across the site, as buyers and vendors alike believed that law enforcement agencies had managed to infiltrate and compromise the market. Germany’s Bundeskriminalamt (BKA) announced in November the arrest of another Dream Market admin (please find the full press release here), sparking further waves of mistrust across the market. Forum users have been voicing their concerns of law enforcement infiltrating the site and dissatisfaction from unresponsive admins is making users question the legitimacy of the site.

This said, there have been users questioning Dream Market’s validity for some months now, and the site continues to operate. Despite the uncertainty, Dream could continue for some time.

Tochka, too, has shown considerable resilience. The site also suffered DDoS attacks, as did numerous markets in the wake of AlphaBay and Hansa being shut down.Yet despite lengthy periods of outage due to these attacks, the site has staged a recovery. The market even rebranded itself as Point Marketplace in an attempt to make it more user-friendly for English speakers. DeepDotWeb’s availability status of the top markets shows Tochka with just 64% availability. Whether the site is being hit harder by DDoS, or whether they are less able to deal with the attacks is difficult to say. Either way, the market still exists and is still considered one of the top three.

Wall St Market currently seems to be growing in both reliability and popularity. Vendors have been flocking to the site as other markets fall or lose credibility. As of 13 December, Wall St Market boasted 11,167 registered users on its forum. This has now risen to 12,772 on 22 Dec. While this is still several thousand shy of Dream Market’s 19,530 registered forum users, it is interesting to note that Wall St is rapidly closing the gap between the two. Wall St only came to prominence in 2017, while Dream has been around since 2013. There are clear signs that Dream is losing market share to Wall St.

Aero marketplace emerged in September amid the general chaos as displaced vendors sought out pastures new:

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It quickly grew in popularity but has just as quickly faded away after a suspected exit scam. The site’s forum URL still appears to be functioning, but the forum area is mostly filled with disgruntled vendors stating that they have moved to Agora.

Agora first came into existence some years ago and has lived through several different iterations. This latest version of Agora, also known as Agora Reloaded, once again shows signs of rapid growth and potential interest, but it is perhaps too early to tell given it only became active in November 2017.

White Shadow Marketplace was another example of a site that appeared one month, and was gone the next. There is now a growing sentiments that Darknet users are fed up of the continual scamming and phishing links that have plagued the marketplaces.

The fall of TradeRoute back in October added to users’ exasperation. The market grew enormously after the takedowns of AlphaBay and Hansa, but performed an exit scam just as users were becoming settled in the new market. This widespread frustration could shape the future of Darknet trade:

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OpenBazaar 2.0, currently in beta, is a fully decentralised marketplace which could provide an answer to the Darknet marketplace situation. The online e-commerce platform is accessible on the Clearnet, but can now also be configured for Tor and could theoretically allow the Darknet community to continue buying and selling anonymously. There is considerable interest in the concept, but there remain some unresolved issues:

• Vendors can easily create fake reviews thus getting an excellent rating.
• Vendors can create many moderator accounts to use for stealing money from
customers.
• Only one dispute per trade without any possibility for appeal. A heaven for the
crooks.
• Anyone with physical or remote access to your computer can steal your coins
because the developers decided to leave your bitcoin wallet open without any
encryption or password. Takes only a few seconds to snap a photo of your seed or
slightly more to copy your openbazaar2.0 folder.
• Support for Tor added to make life easier for the criminals.

While law enforcement agencies may have initiated widespread anxiety across Darknet markets, the scammers, DDoS’ers and phishers are perpetuating this cycle of mistrust. The damage to Darknet markets could be long-lasting. Low-level fraudsters will likely continue to use whatever markets and forums are available in the short term, but anyone looking to sell high-value illicit products and services anonymously will have ever-greater need for a different solution.