Just like the weather, the dark-net is defined by a clear set of cycles. Natural stages that dark-net markets go through, responding to the law and attacks. All dark-net markets have so-called "enemies", once they reach the top at-least.
The Dark-Net Cycle
It started with Dream-Market in 2019. The market was getting DDoS attacks for more than 7 weeks. The group carrying out the attack demanded a $400,000 ransom in bitcoin. Soon after that the market announced it was shutting down and allowed users to withdraw funds. This is one of the better results of a DDoS attack.
Soon after, the DDoS attack shifted. The next large markets were the targets. Nightmare Market and Wall Street both used the attacks as a motive to exit scam. Empire became the next target for the attackers. In the end all the attackers achieved is fueling another exit-scam.
Running and fueling illicit operation, dark-web markets continuously failed its customers. The much needed trust and protection from both scams and the law enforcement has not been given to its users.
Despite the wide uncertainty, the dark-web ecosystem is still constantly growing. With users migrating constantly from one market to another, the dark-net witnessed a huge influx of small markets.
User Migration on the Dark-Net
"Collective Dynamics of Dark Web Marketplaces" is a study affiliated to dark-net migrations. The study found that most users linked to a closed market tend to migrate to other existing one. The phenomenon is now a big part of the dark-net ecosystem and does not help create stability. According to the study above, this swift user migration is common across all shutdown markets.
Looking back, this trend can be seen at the very beginning of the dark-net. With the closure of AlphaBay, an influx of so-called "refugees" happened on Hansa Market. That market was too infiltrated by law enforcement agents.
Empire Market was established in January of 2018. Surprisingly, it is reported that the maket benefited from the AlphaBay shutdown too. The market quickly amassed over 1 million users.
What's Next after Empires Exit?
The Empire Market exit scam affected many vendors and buyers. The exit-scam is worth over $30 Million. Everybody is observing the candidates and looking for the best market. Currently users are all over the place but one market can be the top. It might take some time but when a market is the chosen one it will skyrocket.
Vice News reported that one anonymous analyst going by the name @5auth, or Caleb made a prediction. After the Empire Market exit, "users are likely to switch to White House Market" he stated. He went on to mention that such a decision would be heavily tied to user perception regarding law enforcement interference and trust.
So far, dark-net users seem to be migrating to a few marketplaces. Icarus Market and White House market both evidenced by users posts on Reddit. Other discussion forums on the dark-net also suggest the same.
One user going by the name of 'duhlishus' claimed to have already migrated to White House Market. According to his statement White House Market has made shopping more efficient and less risky. And he's not the only one happy about the market. Other users also like the new market.
Many users reported that the market is more secure than previous competitors. White House Market made it a requirement to send the cryptocurrency after making the order. Users also praised the automatic refund mechanism if extra funds are accidentally sent.
Israeli cyber threat intelligence monitoring company KELA provided BleepingComputer screenshots of dark-net discussions. Dread and The Hub forum indicated that White House, Versus and Icarus are the top choices. One of them is likely to blow up in the near future.
Versus is on the list because of its unique approach. It's security features are above average and the top of the list, while it's interface is cutting edge. Versus probably features on the the best user interfaces across the dark-web and has always provided a great alternative for a while now.
Further, markets try to compete by adjusting policies in order to take more refugees. This generally created interest for many markets. A great example is the decision Icarus made to waive the vendor bond. This was done to entice former Empire Market vendors to join.
Researchers also noted which market they believe are going to take the 2nd tier spot. Monopoly and Torrez are both going to be the secondary choices. The three markets mentioned earlier will be the first tier. All of these conclusions are made from forum analysis.
The latest exit-scam pulled off by Empire Market shaked-up the dark-net. Although many patterns can be made out from the last 8 years of the dark-net, it is still new and changing. It looks like the latest event has followed a previous pattern but created a new effect. Users are trying out multiple market and are spreading more evenly. It might be the case that from now on multiple dark-net market will be at the top, not just one. This wider distribution of users is not that bad since it creates more space for competition.