The Darknet Cat and Mouse Game: Law Enforcement Gains More Traction
Sep 8, 2018
Since the dawn of the Silk Road and the myriad of darknet markets (DNM) that followed, it’s been a cat and mouse game between law enforcement and DNM vendors and users.
For a while, after the Silk Road was taken down it seemed like law enforcement officials and many three-letter entities had a hard time keeping up with the myriad of DNMs that popped up afterward. But now authorities are seemingly getting much better, as they are busting vendors and users multiple times a week and claim to use blockchain analysis tools. Further DNM advocates saw the loss of two of the largest darknet markets last year — Hansa and Alphabay. Adding insult to injury, the authorities didn’t just take Hansa down — they took it over for over a long period of time, collecting information on all the vendors and users who visited, many of which flocked to Hansa after the Alphabay’s website went dark. Then, while DNM patrons were scurrying to find new vendors and markets, the firm Reddit shut down the most popular darknet market subreddit giving the ecosystem another low blow.
The multinational law enforcement project ‘Operation Bayonet’ started in 2017 and managed to take down the Alphabay, Hansa, and some smaller DNMs.
Today, according to the website Deepdotweb (DDW), the top three darknet markets are still fully operational with a 92 percent uptimes or higher. These markets include Dream (98.2%), Wall Street Market (97.7%), and Point (92.9%). However, scrolling through the DDW newsfeed there are also many DNM busts taking place multiple times a week. Law enforcement officials are arresting a ton of high up DNM vendors, while busting much smaller dealers and users as well. Additionally, back in July of 2017 news.Bitcoin.com reported on the Alphabay “public relations guy”, ‘Trappy,’ who warned users of faux Alphabay phishing sites, but did not explain the reason behind the market’s downtime. Ronald Wheeler III of Streamwood, Illinois who was also known as ‘Trappy’ was later busted, and this summer he was sentenced to four years in a federal prison. He also forfeited $27,000 cash, 13.9 BTC worth over $100K at the time.
The top DNMs are still operational, most of them accept BCH, XMR, and BTC.
Telegram Groups & Market[.]ms
With the biggest takedowns last year it’s been getting harder for vendors and DNM customers to connect with law enforcement getting closer every day. However, according to the intelligence firm Digital Shadows (DS), participants who used to patronize traditional DNMs are coming up with new ideas. For instance, Digital Shadows says since Alphabay has been removed, no market has been able to fill the void for the English-speaking community. Many DNM users are fleeing the traditional marketplaces hosted on the deep web for alternatives like Telegram groups and market[.]ms.
“Telegram, in particular, is proving increasingly popular — Over the last six months, the Digital Shadows analyst teams have detected over 5,000 Telegram links shared across criminal forums and dark websites, of which 1,667 were invite links to new groups,” the intelligence company explains.
These covered a range of services, including cashing out, carding and cryptocurrency fraud.
The DS researchers have also found another alternative marketplace gaining popularity called market[.]ms which was created by the founding members of the highly regarded Exploit[.]in hacking forum. Even though market[.]ms has a modest membership count compared to markets like Dream, the sophisticated platform is getting more attention.
Market[.]ms is nothing new as it launched its beta version in 2015, but it does have something different than the others because it does not host drugs like other DNMs. Researchers explain, however, that market[.]ms does offer lots of the services DNMs do provide such as compromised accounts, counterfeit documents, malware, and exploits. Even though global law enforcement has been making lots of arrests and chopping down darknets in great number, many DNM proponents and patrons believe online underground marketplaces will continue to grow new heads like the mythical hydra.