The Dark-Web has become host to a large community of users selling illegal goods. In recent years the dark-net blew up in popularity and became the go-to platform for criminals to buy illegal goods and services.
In the past five years the dark-net has seen a huge shift in the manner it operates. Dark-net markets and keep operating and evolving and communities keep getting bigger. The number of markets has also grown significantly in the recent year. Most markets have adapted significantly to emerging threats and technological advancements.
A look back at the roots
Silk-Road, the first dark-web marketplace has launched over 8 years ago. After it's launch in 2011, the rise of the dark-net marketplace has started. The next few years were marked with steady growth and a rise in popularity. Tor, which happens to be the most popular anonymity tool hosted over 80,0000 platforms by the end of 2015 a report suggests.
Experts estimated the significance of the dark-net economy. The dark-web economy produces more than $1 Trillion in annual revenue. This figure is larger than the GDP of many small countries.
This success can be attributed to the years of steady growth the dark-net faced. As the global threat landscape grew, dark-web marketplaces continued to evolve and shift. As dark-net user paranoia continues to grow, the has been a significant shift. Communication channels are safer and payments are more anonymous.
Analysts noted radical changes in the public sphere had a large affect on the dark web. Fake news and propaganda services grew rapidly for many reasons.
Dark-net communication channels were subject to significant changes. A large shift could also be seen in the way markets and forums were managed.
Cyber-criminals also had to adjust to all the rapid changes. Eroding trust among dark-net platforms was a big issue. Because of the trust issues, many people resorted to clear-net communication channels. For this reason sites like Dark-net Trust were designed. This site allows you to check a dark-net vendors digital footprint using his username.
Dark-net markets were also quick to respond to the drop in user trust. Most markets quickly implemented a ton of security features. The rise of mandatory PGP message encryption and multi-signature escrow occurred. Most markets also started implementing no Java-Script policies. By then, wallet-less platforms were also introduced.
User paranoia is constantly making people find new ways to make markets safer. Users on dark-net forums are discussing blockchain technology that allows a market to be decentralized. This makes it very hard for any law enforcement or police to seize the market.
Dark-web markets perform very similar to traditional markets. The dark-net economy responds rapidly to the public sphere and events occurring in the real world. The most recent example is the Coronavirus pandemic. Due to the currently-raging pandemic, dark-net sales have skyrocketed along with social-engineering crimes.
Dark-net products and services have increasingly become closer to commodities. A service that could have cost the buyer $1000 in 2015 can cost as little as $20 today.
Integration of Cryptocurrency in Dark-Net Markets
Cryptocurrency is vital for the dark-web to function. Governments tend to blame cryptocurrency for the rapid growth of the dark-net. Without it anonymous transaction would be almost impossible between buyers and vendors.
In the last five years, three cryptocurrencies have remained on top in the dark-net industry. Namely Bitcoin, Monero and Zcash topped the charts as the most popular currencies on dark-net markets.
Bitcoin was the first pioneer of blockchain-enabled crypto transactions. After it's initial launch, the digital coin quickly developed into a money laundering platform. This coin had a massive impact on dark-net growth after it's launch.
Bitcoin is still the most used cryptocurrency on the dark-web. To this day people choose to use bitcoin over altcoins. The rise of algorithms that can track bitcoin transactions and link them to the dark-net is a real issue. Privacy-coins like Monero need to become the go-to for dark-net transactions.
The Rise of New Markets
Law enforcement agencies have done a relatively good job with anti-darknet operations. In the last 5 years, numerous dark-net markets and drug-rings were dismantled by authorities.
In 2017 authorities achieved their first milestone. A major operation that seized AlphaBay market - one of the largest markets at the time was executes successfully. The market had more than 200,000 users and roughly 40,000 vendors. Alpha-bay was known for its Silk Road like attributes that enable the sale of illicit drugs and other goods.
Following the major crackdown on AlphaBay, experts uncovered the dark-net regenerative nature. Once a market goes down, a new one comes back up soon after. Most AlphaBay users migrated to Hansa Market which would later be taken over by law enforcement too. Following the seizure of the dark-net market, a large number of users were arrested.
Despite the shutdown of a significant number of dark-net markets, new ones kept coming. Even after markets stopped getting seized as much due to new security features, new ones kept pouring in.
In late 2019, 12 dark-web market were online and active. That number increased dramatically during the pandemic. Lately no many markets are getting seized. Exit Scams are more common than traditional market seizures.
The largest dark-net marketplace today is Empire Market according to many source. Discussion forums and social media sites also suggest that. The market launched in 2018 and has grown to the large one-stop shop it is today.
Low Trust and DDoS Attacks
As mentioned above, law enforcement agencies are very active at dismantling dark-net operations. The AlphaBay - Hansa scenario is the repetitive. A market gets seized, it's users migrate and so on. Exit scams have also become a part of the dark-net cycle. This overall cycle has cause a state of paranoia across the dark-net. People are no longer just concerned about law enforcement, but they are fearful that site admins might be ripping them off.
The Wall Street Market is another example of a big market exit scam. In 2019, Wall Street was considered one of the largest dark-net markets. Law enforcement agencies were about to dismantle the dark-net platform so the admins just exit-scammed.
The last challenge dark-net markets face for now is DDoS attacks. DDoS attacks are already a part of the dark-web and never stop occurring. Competitors tend to DDoS competition but it's a choice for law enforcement agencies too. When law enforcement is having a hard time dismantling a dark-net market they tend to DDoS.
In March 2019 Dream Market announced it was closing down following large DDoS attacks. Back then Dream Market was the largest dark-net market. DDoS attacks went on for months as threat actors demanded $400,000 in crypto. The month that followed the announcement was marked by new DDoS attacks targeting other markets. Empire market and Nightmare market were the next victims of the attack.
In recent times, Empire Market has been constantly defending itself against these type of attacks. This is an aspect that cultivated frustration and undermined trust in the markets stability. In August 20th 2020, a tweet by an anonymous writer researching tor reveled that empire is under a huge DDoS attack.
The dark-net has evolved significantly in the last 5 years. The dark-net community has grown largely in recent years. There is more demand for dark-net markets than ever before alongside countless dark-net markets. Despite all the busts that occurred in the past, the dark-net is only becoming safer and safer. As law enforcement reveals its trick, markets are only increasing security and making it impossible to track vendors or users.