A lot of changes have occurred on the dark-net over the last couple of years. Law enforcement has managed to create quite a big storm. Multiple markets have been seized and countless people have been arrested. Not just that, but self-destructing events have caused many other markets to shutdown.
2019 appeared to be a transitional period in the dark-net. Ends up, 2020 was as much of a transition as last year. Despite all of these government take-downs, one large question still remains. Do all these dark web take-downs actually make a difference? Do cyber-crime levels drop at all?
Europol decided to look into this question. The European law enforcement agency noted the resilience of the dark-net. This specifically came to their attention after the 2019 take-downs. Following the seizures, the dark-web was very quick to adapt with most users migrating to other markets.
Recently Europol published an annual research that talks about the situation. The report titled Internet Organized Crime Threat Assessment for 2020 mainly focuses on the dark web. The report notes that marketplaces are now exhibiting shortened life-cycles. There is no evidence that a dominant market is overriding it's competition.
The shortened life cycles of markets affect a number of things. Not only trust is falling in markets, but it is makes things difficult for law enforcement. It has been observed that it is harder to efficiently monitor dark-net markets. This is the new way dark-net markets stay under the radar, avoiding police. Leaving the scene before they grab the attention of agents. Even if they get on the radar, agencies do not have enough time to act.
How Markets and Users are Adapting
The now defunct AlphaBay and Hansa market left a big empty gap on the dark-net. Other markets were quick to fill in that empty space left over. Dream Market and Wall Street Market filled that space but also went under.
Wall Street Market is one of the largest recent seizures conducted by law enforcement. It is reported that the market was ready to go down before the police caught up with it. In the case of Dream Market the story is a bit different. That market blamed the ongoing DDoS attacks and allowed users to withdraw. Since then it became a trend for markets to not be around for more than a year.
Since then, Empire Market has grown tremendously. It became the largest existing dark-net market platform. Soon after that the market started falling victim to DDoS attacks. In the end, the market decided to exit scam with over $30 million in cryptocurrency. Right after that users scrambled all over the place searching for new alternative platforms.
Right after that, a number of marketplaces were expected to grow. One of them was DarkMarket. As most criminal masterminds try to keep markets as efficient and profitable, one thing can be made out. Most dark-net criminals are now sensitive to possible law enforcement attacks. When a market grows tremendously, it is almost certain it will exit scam. Admins now came to the realization that you cannot let a single platform grow beyond control. Users are also adapting to this new idea. Currently, no market absorbed a large number of migrants. Most users are spread out around different markets with many vendors having accounts on multiple platforms.
Why Dark-Web Markets are Still Thriving
Europol noted the increasing difficulty in targeting markets. They also mentioned the increased difficulty in tracking dark-web transactions. A large number of markets became wallet-less and only collect revenue through commissions every month. This new tactic enables the transactions to take place directly between the seller an buyer.
There are more important aspects in the dark-web evolution to note down. The fast adoption of privacy coins like monero make it much harder for law enforcement to track crime. A good example is Monopoly Market. Monopoly only allows the user of monero due to its better privacy features compared to bitcoin.
It is also important to note that the dark-net is not a simple criminal enterprise. It is a rather diverse place with a number of illegal entities. It is impossible to combat the dark web in a single blow. Seizing dark-net market platforms like AlphaBay simply affects just a small part of the dark net. Every specialty has its own sector.
Law enforcement now understands that the dark-net itself does not pave the road for crime. Infact, drugs, fraud, weapons and more crime encourage the use of the dark-net. Before such markets, all this crime was happening elsewhere. The dark-web is just a different place for criminals to conduct their activities. The only place this does not apply to is cyber-crime. That is the only sector that skyrocketed due to the existence of the dark-net.
As mentioned in previous articles, the dark-net community is adapting. Law enforcement slightly adapted and learned to tackle some part of the dark-net but this is not effective for long. As criminals adapt to the tactics employed by law enforcement, new tactics are needed to target criminals. Law enforcement is now acknowledging the increased difficulty when it comes to targeting the dark net. New payment technologies, cycles and security features are constantly deployed by criminals. It is not to say that law enforcement is not adapting to the new tactics. US law enforcement is always looking for new ways to reduce crime on the dark-net. This can be seen in the development of tool that can track monero transactions.
Until such technology is finalized, for now the dark-web can still thrive. Although markets will keep going down, new ones will keep coming back. It can also be said that new tactics with also be deployed by criminals in the future. It is unclear what the long-term future holds for the dark-net but for now we can firmly say that it's adapting.