Darknet Review - 24 April 2018

Ever since the closure of AlphaBay and Hansa back in July 2017, there has been a sense that Darknet vendors are holding back in fear of law enforcement.

AlphaBay and Hansa were closed down following Operation Bayonet, a joint initiative between Dutch police forces and the FBI. It is believed that as many as 10,000 real-life identities of Darknet users may have been exposed during the operation.

The closures sent shockwaves throughout the Darknet community, and since then there has been a continual stream of markets emerging, gaining popularity, and then either being shut down by law enforcement or performing exit scams.

While the cycle of mistrust and confusion has been in evidence since July 2017, there has been a notable change in sentiment over the last couple of months. Indeed, in April 2018 we have seen a marked spike in activity, begging the question as to whether Darknet vendors are regaining their confidence.

This report seeks to provide some analysis and insight around a few of today's top markets and forums.

Dream Market

Against all odds, Dream Market still exists. Active since 2013, this is one of the oldest markets. Many Darknet users believe it has been compromised by law enforcement, but there does not seem to be any conclusive evidence surrounding these claims. There are currently 17,943 users registered on the Dream Market forum; while there is still a large number of active accounts, much of the activity appears to be limited to scammers or the sale of drugs. General chatter indicates a widespread mistrust of this market.

Tochka

Tochka is another market that has been around for a while, yet continues to soldier on. It suffered heavy downtime towards the end of 2017 when all the major Darknet marketplaces were under prolonged DDoS attacks. However, despite this, Tochka has managed to stage a comeback and has even rebranded itself as Point Marketplace to cater for its English-speaking customers. The market has a quiet forum attached to it with few active members, but a wide variety of marketplace listings including drugs, weapons and counterfeit goods.

Wall St Market

Wall St Market emerged out the chaos of 2017, and whereas its counterparts such as TradeRoute, Outlaw, Aero and Agora Reloaded all fell, it has stood the test of time and is now regarded as a trustworthy site by the majority of its users and vendors. Both the forum and marketplace areas of Wall St see a lot of activity: the market currently boasts 390,600 users, of which 2,893 are vendors. Listings cover a wide range of products, mostly focusing on fraud and cybercrime-as-a-service offers.

Dread

Dread is in fact neither a market nor a forum, but more of a platform set up in the style of Reddit. Dread came to prominence only recently when several of the Darknet market-related channels were banned from Reddit, and users sought out a new area to discuss the different markets and forums. Dread grew extremely rapidly, with more than 12,000 users registering accounts within 3 months of it being launched. However, there are concerns regarding @HugBunter, the actor behind the platform: on 23 April the administration team behind Olympus Market managed to hack @HugBunter and take Dread offline. This was allegedly done to protect users, since @HugBunter was said to be secretly creating a new market named ‘Dusk’ with which he aimed to scam users.

Olympus Market

Olympus is a new market which has shown significant growth over 2018 so far. The administrators’ involvement in disrupting Dread could draw a lot of customers to their site, if indeed @HugBunter is the scammer they claim he is. However, it cannot be discounted that this may be a simple attempt to grab market share by slandering a rival site. More details will likely emerge in the coming days and weeks.

Empire Market

Empire Market is another new and promising market. Most notably, it uses the source code from AlphaBay. This appears to have had an extremely positive effect on users, who are repeatedly praising the site’s user interface. There are just 238 members currently signed up on the forum, and only 2,993 listings on the marketplace so far. However, the majority of vendor accounts appear to have been registered within the last couple of weeks, and it seems likely that this market will see significant growth in the coming weeks. As unlikely as it may be, it feels as though the source code of AlphaBay has returned some of the spirit of AlphaBay: listings are going up rapidly and covering all areas of cybercrime, from malware to drugs, fraud, weapons and counterfeits.

While the authenticity of listings cannot be vouched for, there is no doubt that activity across these marketplaces is on the rise. This series of Darknet Reviews will aim to continue monitoring trends across the hidden marketplaces, and provide some degree of transparency into the key developments taking place.