By now, you would have heard of the term “Dark Web,” and will probably have an idea of the sort of marketplaces available on it such as the infamous Silk Road. But these online black marke
ts don’t begin and end with Silk Road. It may have been the most famous simply because it was one of the first, but it most certainly won’t be one of the last.
Today we take a further look into the history of dark web marketplaces.
How did dark web markets come about?
Believe it or not, one of the first uses of computer networks was in coordinating online drug deals in the 1970s – as evidenced by Stanford University students undertaking an exchange of marijuana facilitated by computer networks with their counterparts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
With the birth of the World Wide Web in the late 80s and early 90s, underground drug forums and Usenet groups sprung up, offering people a place to come and chat about, and yes, buy and sell drugs online.
The first dark web marketplace
When Tor, the anonymous communication software launched in 2002, it provided the perfect means for both buyers and sellers to conduct black market trading under a cloak of anonymity.
The Farmer’s Market, a known darknet market, in operation online from 2006 (previously under the name of Adamflowers and operating under a private email service), moved their services to Tor in 2010 where they proceeded to operate similar to Amazon, but with darknet market items, sold with PayPal and Western Union transfers.
The market subsequently shut down in 2012, after “Operation Adam Bomb,” a two-year operation by law enforcement officers across the globe, finally arrested the ringleader and other high up men. The charges, however, stemmed from the marketplace use before the migration to Tor.
And it’s all been happening since then!
Law enforcement starts to catch up
By now, law enforcements were starting to become aware of the fact that the Tor network could be used to cloak dark web market trades – a scary proposition considering the methods of investigation that they generally employed in tracing black market exchanges.
The other people to become aware of the use of Tor for setting up these online black market bazaars were people who wanted to facilitate free and open trade across the net. And this is where the infamous Silk Road comes in.
Launched in January of 2011, Silk Road was similar in structure to The Farmer’s Market, but used the newly developed Bitcoin cryptocurrency to deter traceability in its user trades. It built on the premises offered by The Farmer’s Market and introduced a whole new, anonymous way of doing business for black market trades.
A few short months after Silk Road was made public, there were calls by a US Senator to bring down the people behind the marketplace. Already, law enforcements were on the case. As early as June, suspicious drug packages were being monitored. After a prolonged investigation, led by the FBI, the site was finally shut down in October 2013, and the mastermind behind the marketplace, Ross Ulbricht, arrested.
This, of course, wasn’t to be the end of dark web marketplaces! Already in operation were the BlackMarket Reloaded, Atlantis, Sheep Marketplace, Deepbay, and BuyItNow. Not only had that, but Silk Road 2.0 sprung right up in its place, along with a string of other competitors. The floodgates had opened and law enforcements were left scrambling to try and keep up.
- Silk Road – Seized 02.10.2013
Silk Road was the most widely known marketplace bust in the history of the dark web. Ross Ulbricht, the site’s creator is now doing life in prison.
- Utopia – Seized 11.02.2014
Seized by the Dutch authorities, this market was one of the bigger markets to come up in the wake of the Silk Road fall.
- Silk Road 2.0 – Seized 05.11.2014
Unfortunately, Silk Road 2.0 went the way of its predecessor, when it was seized by the authorities in 2014 as a part of Operation Onymous.
- Hydra – Seized 05.11.2014
Another empire to crumble under Operation Onymous was Hydra. The operator of the site was arrested in Hungary.
- Cloud Nine – Seized 05.11.2014
A third victim of Operation Onymous, Cloud Nine suffered a similar fate as the other dark web marketplaces targeted under the massive operation.
- Dark web marketplace exit scams
Of course, it’s not just law enforcement that can bring about the downfall of an illicit enterprise. Many markets have gone offline of their own accord, owing to security vulnerabilities, such as Agora – who went offline and refunded Bitcoin in customer’s accounts, lack of administrator interest, or other reasons.
More sinisterly, though, there are also those darknet markets that are going offline after highly coordinated and executed exit scams. The term exit scam is used when monies held by another party in good faith are taken – in terms of marketplaces, they can take all funds currently in Escrow, and just not allow buyers or sellers to withdraw funds.
- Atlantis – Exit Scam 20.09.2013
While initially, the Atlantis market was accepting withdrawals from customers, eventually they packed up and left with all users’ deposits, vendor bonds and escrow.
- Pandora – Exit Scam 19.08.2014
After being targeted by hackers resulting in a loss of half the funds in escrow and then continuing to operate under extraordinary circumstances, the operator of Pandora fled with users’ deposits.
- Evolution – Exit Scam 14.03.2015
After withdrawals were slowing down on the marketplace, people started realizing that money was being siphoned from Evolution. According to report, the scammers got away with up to $35 million worth of Bitcoin that was being held in Evolution escrow.
- Abraxas Market – Presumed Exit Scam 06.11.2015
Abraxas suddenly went offline in November, 2015 and no one has heard from the moderators since. Funds have not been returned to users, so it is expected that they have simply been stolen.
- East India Company – Presumed Exit Scam 01.01.2016
The market suddenly became unreachable and all withdrawals were stopped. It is unfortunately the case that it looks like another exit scam for this smaller market.
- Darknet markets that are booming
Despite all the negativity, business is booming on the dark web. Here are the ones that are getting the most respect right now.
Currently occupying the number one dark web market spot is AlphaBay. It has a very reliable uptime, however reviews from buyers and sellers are mixed, and scammers abound.
- Dream Market
Dream Market has been operational since 2013 and has a relatively good track record with its users. They use the traditional escrow system.
RAMP is the biggest Russian dark web marketplace. If you can communicate in Russian, it is well worth a look.
An invite-only dark web market, Valhalla was previously a Finnish only marketplace but is now available in English. Admins are reportedly very responsive.
- Nucleus Market
Nucleus Market is another large marketplace, which stands out from its competitors by offering Litecoin and Dash transactions as well as Bitcoin, too.
If drug exchanges have occurred over networks since the beginning of networks themselves, then we have no doubt that online black market trades will continue to operate over networks as long as they still exist. Advances in cryptography, networking, and systems, are likely to make the markets stronger, more resistant, and even more user-friendly than previous iterations, too. Although it remains a somewhat risky business for all involved, the dark web provides the means necessary to cover your tracks and perform trades that would otherwise be infinitely slowed in conducting real life interactions. And that is something to be impressed by.