What's a dark market?

Dark markets (or dark web marketplaces, DWMs) work similar to other legal online platforms like Amazon or Ebay. Vendors post listings, which include price, description, title, and shipping information. In the Figure, we show an example of a chloroquine listing from a DWM named “DarkBay.” Most DWMs also include feedback on listings, contributing to a vendor rating score used to establish trust between buyer and vendor. Moreover, markets can act as moderators, banning vendors or taking down listings. Examples include DarkBay, where banned categories include human trafficking, contract killing and weapons, or Monopoly marketplace, where COVID-19 fake vaccine listings were recently banned by moderators.

A bit of history

The online shadow economy is as old as the Internet. The World Wide Web facilitated the emergence of online illicit markets, where most of the online illicit trade took place. These first markets, however, could not guarantee anonymity and facilitated the traceability of users by law enforcement. Modern DWMs originated and still operate online, but outside the World Wide Web in an encrypted part of the Internet whose contents are often not indexed by standard web search-engines (like Google).

The SilkRoad marketplace was the first modern DWM, launched in 2011. It combined the use of the Tor browser to communicate and Bitcoin to exchange money, allowing the anonymous online trading of drugs and other illegal products. After the FBI shut down the Silk Road in 2013, new marketplaces quickly appeared, offering drugs, firearms, credit cards, and fake IDs. Now, there are tens of active DWMs, which trade involves hundreds of thousands of users and are collectively worth several hundreds of millions of USD per year. As a result, market closures are very frequent due to law enforcement shutdowns, cybercriminal attacks, or exit scams where market’s admins go away with the users’ money. However, DWMs have organised into a robust ecosystem which has proven exceptionally resilient to closures and whenever a marketplace is closed, users migrate to active marketplaces or establish new ones.

How to cite:

Want to cite and/or use the information provided in this page? It is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 - please cite our ongoing monitoring effort as follows:

A. Bracci, M. Nadini, M. Aliapoulios, D. McCoy, I. Gray, A. Teytelboym, A. Gallo, A. Baronchelli. The COVID-19 online shadow economy. Preprint arXiv:2008.01585 (2020)

Tue Nov 03 2020

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The research presented in the website is supported by the "COVID-19: Monitoring the effects of the pandemic on illicit online trade" project funded by the ESRC. Content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) unless otherwise specified in single posts.