From the Archives: Empire Market Admin Talks DNM Community and Future plans
Tape was able to get an interview between the admin of Empire market and a former darknet news site.
The essence of bringing this is to show how the market has survived despite the few challenges it has.
Here’s our interview with Empire’s admin:
Q: When you started your market, an admin (Syd) mentioned on your forum that you began work on Empire after the fall of AlphaBay, apart from that, what other factors pushed you guys until the end?
Empire Market: Alphabay was the biggest market on the darknet. It had a huge impact. Many people loved it and wished it never left. After its fall, my team and I took the initiative upon ourselves to recreate what once was a great market.
Q: As you began developing the new market, are there any challenges that you experienced as an individual or team. If any, can you highlight them?
EM: Recreating Alphabay wasn't easy. It was a huge market with a lot of features. The development took longer than expected because we wanted to make sure we had all of the features AB had, and more.
Compiling over 100 screenshots took time, to make sure we had every detail.
The fall of Hansa and Alphabay left a massive hole in the darknet market scene. So there was a lot of scrambling going on among DNM users. The majority went to Dream Market. We started development in August and wanted to launch in November, but that did not happen.
When TradeRoute collapsed, we knew it was the perfect time to launch, but we were not ready. And then AERO Market launched, and they were an option for many users who were displaced.
They became too overwhelmed with so many users that they apparently exit scammed/got hacked, bringing so much more distrust to marketplaces.
Q: Given the fact that the level of competition is high, what measures have you put in place to ensure that you sail through the wave?
EM: Good question. You are right; the competition is high right now. Many people saw the opportunity after AB, Hansa, AERO, and TR left the scene. Security is our number one priority, and we have very tight security at all layers.
It is hard to tell which markets are going to fall soon since we cannot know their infrastructure, but, I am assuming in the next six months, one of the top markets will go down.
Based on available statistics and case studies, we can tell that they will fall through an exit scam, hacked or seizure by law enforcement.
Q: Based on what you have said, I see that you guys have a game plan to take over after a big market has fallen?
EM: Yes, we are ready. Our infrastructure is entirely prepared for this.
Q: From experience, you have noticed that darknet markets fall through seizures by law enforcement agencies, hacks and exit scams. What is your take on this?
EM: The market administrators have a responsibility to protect its users. At least this is our stance. However, there have been unfortunately too many markets that do not care about protecting their users. All they care about is scamming their users (by exiting from the scene unexpectedly).
I'd also like to add that it’s the responsibility of the market to make sure their development is entirely secure, utilizing the best technology to keep everything safe.
Q: So, what are you doing to ensure that your marketplace does not fall victim to hacks and it does not suffer the same fate as Alphabay?
EM: Well… Our server setup is not half-assed like some of these markets who get taken down. A typical user would not be able to set up this type of sophisticated structure. It is a professional setup where our IP address will never be able to get leaked, ever.
I am sure you knew about our launch on Reddit.
Q: Now that Reddit has banned forums relating to the dark web, how do you plan to engage users of your site?
EM: It seems as though users are moving over to Dread, a TOR hidden service similar to Reddit, but designed in mind for the dark web.
Q: And what about voat.co. Have you heard about it? It operates on the clearnet.
EM: Yes, I have heard of Voat, I think the previous moderators of [the] DarkNetMarkets subreddit wanted to migrate there. But, I think, and most others believe this as well, that users should not use a clearnet site to talk about such things as darknet markets and about drugs etc…
So I would recommend Dread than anything else at this point.
We also plan to advertise on the dark web on specific websites.
Q: Given the fact that other virtual currencies can be used, what particular reason made you guys settle for Bitcoin and Litecoin at first?
EM: We initially planned to use Litecoin solely, because Bitcoin's fees were horrible.
But, we also knew that Bitcoin was here to stay, and the #1 cryptocurrency. So we decided to implement both, along with XMR.
Monero is one of those currencies that [is] good for the darknet community but is used a lot less.
Q: Empire adopted Monero some weeks ago; why have you not inserted the .onion links to a Monero tumbler as is the case with Bitcoin and Litecoin?
EM: Tumblers are OK for Bitcoin and other similar cryptocurrencies, to try and hide the source. However, you have to put trust in that system. With Monero, you do not necessarily need a tumbler. It's enough just to move the received Monero to another wallet.
Q: Is it because apart from using Stealth Addresses, Monero also uses Ring Signatures? I assume that other altcoins do not use uses Ring Signatures; they only use Stealth Addresses.
EM: To get into specifics about Monero's security, visit getmonero.org. I know that the developers of Monero were having an issue with trying to keep it 100% private, away from any Blockchain. But, there are Blockchain viewers now available to view Monero.
Monero has an update that is happening on the 8th of this month (April), to try and fix to make transactions more anonymous. They are increasing the ringsize, and one thing to note is that Monero [forks] twice a year (Copy/pasted from their Github).
There are not as many persons using Monero compared to Bitcoin or even Litecoin. Monero is the least used. And rightfully so, It can be a pain to obtain XMR compared to BTC, and the wallets that are needed might not install correctly (buggy). And that is happening on 2018-04-06.
Q: How is the phase two development going on so far?
EM: Instead of breaking the development into phases, it has been more of a “if the feature is needed, just add it.”
Practically all the features that were scheduled for phase two have already been developed and added. The market has many more features than when we launched.
MultiSig for Bitcoin, auto dispatch for digital items, Bitcoin and Monero implemented, queue system added, bidding system for featured listings, advanced search algorithm, bug fixes, bulk discount system.
Q: Now that you have integrated Monero into your marketplace, are you considering adding more altcoins?
EM: At this time, we won’t be adding any more altcoins. We think that Bitcoin, Litecoin and Monero are good for now. Perhaps we will add a few more in the future. ETH would probably be the next one that we add.
Our search Algorithm is far superior to any of the other markets; I'd like to add.
Q: Is Empire considering building LApps?
EM: If lightning apps become more mainstream, then Empire Market will consider having it. Empire Market aims to be at the cutting edge of technology, always adapting and updating to the best.
If it helps our users increase their anonymity level, then we will implement it.
We have to be mindful of the typical user. Most users do not stay current with the latest technology. So it’s best to try and educate the darknet users, especially the newer users, about such technology. But how do we do that?
Q: Yes… How do we do that?
Time, it’s going to take time to rebuild the community. Dread is doing that.
Q: What can be expected from Empire in the next few months?
EM: Empire Market has added a lot of features in a short period. You can expect us to experience an upward trajectory, every day. You can expect improvements on the front end. You can expect fantastic customer service, uptime, and professional service.
We are here for the long haul. We are here for the community.
Q: There are several categories of goods and services. What category/categories would you say experience the highest fraud levels?
EM: It is the weapons category. We have had to ban many weapons vendors because they are trying to scam the buyers.
They try to deal outside of the escrow market system. And also they try to set their listings as "Digital" so they can receive their finalized funds in 2 days.
Other vendors have done this as well, but a lot were weapons dealers.
Q: How does the escrow system in Empire work?
EM: A buyer sends Bitcoin to their Bitcoin deposit address on the market. It takes about 5-10 minutes to receive the Bitcoins into your market account.
Once you have a product, you want to purchase, buy it, and then your funds are stored in the escrow balance of the sale so the vendor and buyer cannot touch it.
The sale is then shipped by the vendor to the buyer. Upon receiving what was ordered, the client may then proceed to confirm the order.
If the order is received in good standing, the buyer can Finalize the purchase so the vendor can receive their Bitcoins from the escrow. If the buyer is not satisfied with the order, they are free to file a dispute.
Q: But the auto FE still works right?
EM: If the listing is auto finalization early, then the funds will bypass the escrow system and go directly to the vendor, once the item has been marked as shipped.
The vendor needs to have reached Level 5: 400 sales, $25,000 volume, and 90% positive feedback to have FE.
Q: And in the event an order is placed and the vendor does not ship the product within the required time, are the funds refunded to the buyer's account automatically as was the case with AlphaBay?
EM: Yes. If the order is not shipped within the time allocated, it will automatically cancel the order and be refunded.
Q: Is there any vendor who is legible for FE at this point given the fact that the market is just a few months old?
EM: We have a few FE vendors, only because they were verified from other top markets as having FE (Verified via PGP). We have turned down many vendors who wanted FE though.
Q: Nearly four months have elapsed ever since you launched your market. Can you say it is performing according to your expectations?
EM: It's actually been only two months. But yes, we knew it would take some time to gain users, but we are increasing them. A slow launch has quickly allowed us to fix every bug that comes up with ease. Additionally it has enabled us to add many features.
Q: Sydney posted a message dated “2018.01.10.” That is about four months ago. Or is it that the news was drafted before? And when Sydney posted the message on the forum, what was the status of the market?
EM: We officially launched in Feb on Reddit. You'll notice the OP and the second one are of similar dates, but the rest are the 31 and past.
During that time we opened to the public for testing but did not launch officially on Reddit. We figured launching on Reddit would be the “official” time.
Q: What is Sydney's role in the market?
EM: Sydney is just a username that is used by all of us to get the message out.
Q: When I first requested for an interview, I assumed that he (Sydney) would be the one to respond. But it wasn’t the case since you were the one who answered and you finished with EM. So, what is your job description on Empire?
EM: Our jobs are entirely anonymous.
Q: Is EM still a username that can be used by any of you guys.
Q: Can you divulge more information about the number of personnel currently working on ensuring the smooth flow of the market? Also if you can tell us, are your staff members fixed to specific roles or do you help each other out?
EM: The number of staff is wholly confidential, but the users can be rest assured that we have enough members to cover all bases. The other thing they need to know is that all the staff can adapt to each role, irrespective of what it entails.
Q: And what if someone has discovered a security flaw, what is the best way to go about it?
EM: The user should send a support ticket about the issue, and we can resolve it quickly. Opening a support ticket is the quickest way to reach out to us.
Q: You made it clear that vendors from other markets will not have to pay the $100 provided they can prove they were working in other markets, right?
EM: Correct. If a vendor has an excellent reputation in other markets, then we verify them with their PGP. If the verification is successful, then we grant them a free vendor account.
Q: So, how many vendors have you been able to receive so far under the “free vendor” program?
EM: I don't have that number at the moment, sorry.
Q: And how many vendors do you currently have in total?
EM: We have about 143 active vendors.
Q: What category of goods do you think generates the most profits?
EM: Currently the drugs category is generating the most revenue. Just by the volume.
But I think the fraud category would be next in line when there are more listings. Yes, fraud is starting to get good revenue as well.
We have implemented auto dispatch for digital listings, and particularly for the fraud vendors. They can set their listings up so that the fraud information can be automatically dispatched when after a sale.
The fraud vendor would need to monitor quantities and any disputes/questions.
Q: Are people making use of the referral program?
EM: Yes, many of our users are using the referral program and making money. You can make 20% of the commissions from each sale the buyer makes, whom you referred.
Q: Do you have anything else to say?
EM: We will be one of the top markets very soon. That is all I can say.
The interview was done some months after the launch of the market. Right now, the market is still online and one wonders what makes the site unique despite others going down because of seizure and exit scams.
Moreso, there have been DDoS attacks that have caused havoc among markets but Empire seems to have contained the situation.
Tape will try to catch up with the admins of Empire and hear what they have to say but what has happened in the nearly two years of operation. If you are the market admin please reach us out we would like to hear from you.
For the customers, please share with us your experiences as we would like to hear it directly from you.