ANNOUNCEMENT: Since the Silk Road 2.0 bust by the feds a few other Darknet Markets have fallen. Silk Road 3 is up and running with a big selection of goods.
Without too much effort, anyone with web access can buy illegal drugs from approved vendors on the deep web. More than half of all anonymous drug sites implement websites with templates that closely resemble that of Silk Road, from simple things such as formatting to user policy. Dread Pirate Roberts’ site created some form of status quo which other actors are now following suit, the complexity of setting up a new marketplace has been reduced to just imitating them.
Most darknet markets operate briskly, and have relatively stable daily sales averaging at around $300,000-$500,000. This marks a huge growth from when Silk Road was still experimenting with sales of hallucinogenic mushrooms in 2011. These sites offer dealers more product reliability, while at the same time removing the risk of confrontation or physical violence in face-to-face meetings with customers. Though some of these Silk Road successors host products such as stolen credit cards and Netflix accounts, most listings still focus on drugs which dealers ship through ordinary postal mail.
Marijuana typically accounts for a quarter of the overall sales found in these sites, closely followed by MDMA which is also referred to as Molly or ecstasy. Nevertheless, since the closure of Silk Road, theft by new market operators, conning by fellow vendors and arrest by state authorities have posed significant risks for market players. Generally, market activity tends to slump when law enforcers bust a few of them or massive scams are reported, but then rebound a short while later with new trendsetters.
One of the largest dark web sites to pick up from Silk Road was Evolution, however it recently closed down after administrators were suspected of pilfering cash payments stored in escrow intended for traders. Agora also shut down its operations in August for purported security upgrades, with operators cautioning account holders to withdraw their funds before the process begins. The main strategy which new operators are employing is not to stay in business for too long, there’s a considerably high demand for these services so vendors will still continue taking financial risks.
The current market leader is AlphaBay Market, closely followed by Abraxas and Nucleus Market which have both grown significantly since Agora was closed. Latest reports show that AlphaBay has around 21,372 drug listings, while Abraxas has 16,000 and Nucleus nearly 13,000. Though these listings don’t directly correlate with sales volume, to a certain extent they reflect some level of growth in darknet operations.
Those who buy drugs from these sites aren’t always timid about discussing their experiences, customers use special forums and reddit to talk about their successes and even warn others when cops intercept a package. Sales on these platforms appear to be robust, though the overall growth appears to be explosive, particularly taking into consideration the large international market for narcotics.
One thing that’s coming out clear after 2yrs. is that the online drug trade problem hasn’t gotten worse than before, since new markets emerge and go while others are caught in fraudulent activities of taking people’s money and shutting down. Even so, key sets of evidence that were used against Ross Ulbricht during the Silk Road trial may prove crucial for would-be operators to avoid being caught as well. For instance, it’s a bad idea for administrators to openly tell friends what they are doing all the time, or keep a detailed journal of their work which can be used to leak IP addresses over to another server.
Nevertheless, security isn’t always guaranteed when using darknet sites. The apprehension of Blake Benthall from Silk Road 2.0 just goes to show that future operators can be even less careful than their predecessors; feds reportedly infiltrated Silk Road 2.0 and identified its servers by configuring Tor network’s structure of hiding user IP details. During his arrest, Benthall lived large but did the mistake of directly connecting to his personal server regularly from the hotel room when traveling.
The Silk Road case also laid a roadmap for future prosecutions involving the bitcoin currency. Before this trial, prosecutors didn’t know that bitcoin wallet files don’t just represent the amount of bitcoins to be seized, but can as well index the entire transaction history which was used for bitcoins. Ulbricht wasn’t keen enough to take matters in his own hands and conceal the virtual currency he transferred to his own wallet.
Most people who buy drugs online risk life imprisonment and tough federal penalties, but they still continue with their business since there are no available avenues of buying narcotics legally. Others just do it for the thrill of defying government orders. A couple of lessons are emerging from the Silk Road case, including that it would be wise for darknet operators to reside outside America, probably in a foreign jurisdiction unlikely to collaborate with U.S authorities.
Silk Road was developed by an amateur script language PHP programmer who made lots of mistakes; current market operators probably enjoy better internet protection and more layers of anonymity for maximum safety even when the server is breached. After Silk Road’s 2-yr. reign as the undisputed trusted leader, some dark web sites appear to forgo some level of privacy in exchange for improved reputation, including subtle changes such as giving more specific time-stamps for online customer reviews.