The past year has proven stormy for the dark web ecosystem, with the occurrence of landmark anti-darknet operations and a spate of self-destructing events leading to closure of some of the largest marketplaces to ever grace the hidden web.
Even as 2019 appeared to be a transitional period for a variety of reasons, the big question continues to linger – do dark web takedowns actually make a difference as far as the global cybercriminal enterprise is concerned?
Well, a report by the European law enforcement agency Europol has noted the resilience of dark web spaces as 2019’s law enforcement shutdowns were followed by critical adaptations within the illicit ecommerce hubs.
According to Europol’s annual research titled Internet Organized Crime Threat Assessment for 2020, dark web marketplaces have exhibited shortened lifecycles with no evidence of a dominant market overriding importance of its peers.
The significance of short life cycles is observed in the law enforcement difficulty to efficiently monitor crime-oriented dark web sites. Site admins have been staying under the police radar by keeping market lifecycles low through deliberate platform takedowns.
Looking back, the platforms that grew to fill the space left by the now-defunct AlphaBay and Hansa – including Dream Market and Wall Street Market – went under.
Then, even as Wall Street Market was getting seized by law enforcement, it was reported that the site’s admins were planning an exit before the police caught up with them. In Dream Market’s case, the platform operators announced a shutdown and blamed it on DDoS attacks.
Also recently, following the $30 million exit scam by Empire Market, which had grown to become the largest darknet platform by user traffic, observers noted a significant disruption in the entire ecosystem as users scrambled to search for alternatives.
A number of dark web marketplaces, such as Darkmarket, were expected to absorb the bulk of refugee Empire Market users. Point is, while criminal masterminds attempt to keep dark web markets as efficient and profitable as possible, they seem to be sensitive to possible law enforcement risks that may arise from letting any single platform to grow beyond control.
Why Dark Web Markets Are Still Surviving
As noted by Europol, law enforcement agencies are increasingly finding it hard to track dark web transactions. A long list of markets have gone walletless as they collect revenue through monthly commissions – in return for enabling transactions between buyers and sellers dealing in various darknet wares.
An important aspect of dark web evolution can be observed using the crypto lens, where markets have started adopting privacy coins on an exclusive basis. A good example is Monopoly Market that only permits the use of Monero that has far better privacy features than Bitcoin.
Importantly, the dark web criminal enterprise is a rather diverse agglomeration of specialties that cannot be combated as a single entity. Seizing a platform like AlphaBay can be seen as a single strike considering that it represents a very small segment of the entire darknet criminal market.
The illegal corridors of the dark web are paved by drugs, fraud, fake products and weapons that operate independently for the most part. Drug dealers are known to flock specific sites while hackers-for-hire and assassins may not necessarily use identical websites to conduct business.
In conclusion, the communities within the dark web have become more resilient than ever, and are bound to prevail in the test of time as they continue to embrace cutting edge browsing and payment technologies.
While global law enforcement takedowns are bound to keep coming, the dark web ecosystem will continue building its own history as a highly adaptable sector that must be handled through a multidisciplinary approach.