Rarely do darknet weapon vendors make clearnet appearances. Drug vendors, on the other hand, can be found anywhere; even on social media, advertising or defending their product. Many drug vendors have even been interviewed by DeepDotWeb. Similarly, we have interviewed high-profile market admins such like the main administrator of Alphabay, alpha02. Yet weapon vendors rarely see the light of day.
Meduza, a Russian news aggregator and online newspaper, conducted interviews with several major Russian deepweb entities. The interviews spanned a great length of time and covered many deepweb, darknet, and illicit topics. The topic that garnered the most attention, though, was that of Russian firearm trade on DNMs.
One site in particular raised global attention: Runion. Runion is one of Russia’s largest deepweb forums, according to Daniil Turovsky, a Moscow-based journalist. A source told Meduza that many Russian underground forums and marketplaces vanished following the Freedom Hosting drama. The four largest sites, Runion, RAMP, R2D2, and Amberoad continued to thrive, the source said.
One Runion member, operating under the pseudonym “Korabas,” allowed his story to be told online.
Korabas rented a soundproof shop in Moscow that served as his base of operations. From the shop, he assembled weapons to sell on DNMs and deepweb forums. This has been an ongoing tradition for several years now, he said in the Meduza article. Once the man discovered the darknet, he studied material on the production of various weaponry. He spent more on production, at first, than he expected to. After listing his first weapon for sale, however, he quickly realized how profitable the industry was.
Instead of selling firearms like many other vendors, Korabas said he would buy flare guns and rework them. He would transform the flare guns into pistols and submachine guns that fired the popular Russian 9×18mm Makarov cartridge. Korabas test fired the modified guns inside his workshop. “I’m too lazy to carry a gun into the forest to test it. In the movies, pistols with silencers shoot silently, in reality, it suppresses 50% [of the noise] at best,” he said.
Korabas wrote that selling guns on the deepweb is a hobby. His lowest priced weapon is $925 and he makes one or two sales a month, earning roughly $7,700 a year. “You definitely won’t earn that sitting at home,” Korabas wrote.
The man explained the money he earns from selling weapons lets him afford to pursue his own firearm interests. Fittingly, he wrote of his passion to leave town and go shooting. “I don’t take money for the shooting range from the family budget. I only spend the money that I’m earning through Tor,” he wrote.
Following the piece on Korabas, a Runion representative reached out to Meduza with an interview offer. The interview would be with “one of the most respected and influential persons of the Russian-speaking section of the so-called Deep Internet.”
The forum representative presented Nikkon, a forum administrator. Nikkon is a guarantor on the forums who verifies transactions. According his his profile on Runion, he also can additionally perform the following:
I can find for you a rare item or service to purchase anything for you (while ensuring compliance with the requested specifications), wash your money, and more, are the result of my activities. For transactions with a large gross spend a free examination of the goods (there are experts from various fields, able to manage not only the substance). The same service is available at an additional cost. I accept Bitcoin for BTC-E the current exchange rate (pair $ – btc), foreign currencies are translated at the current exchange rate of the CBR.
As displayed on Nikkon’s profile, the individual functions as an administrator, broker, guarantor, and even a money launderer. His position at the Runion forum was not the sole purpose for the interview, the Runion representative explained. Nikkon also wanted an opportunity to explain Tor is not just a place for pedophiles and drug dealers. He wanted to express, similarly, that Tor is safe for confidential communication.
This was in reference to the Yarovaya Laws (374-FZ and 375-FZ) passed in 2016. The laws required cellphone companies to store metadata about phone calls and text messages; email providers to provide cryptographic backdoors; and criminal charges for failure to report any type of terrorist activity. The laws received serious backlash in Russia in respect to personal internet privacy.
Nikkon did, of course, speak about the weapon transactions on Russian .onion sites, specifically Runion. He said he receives around $3,500 a month to verify drug and gun sales. However, he mentioned that he did not consider his position to be genuine work. “Alas, the proceeds from this activity and the basic salary are not the greatest,” he says. “It may change in a couple of years, given the rate of growth of the market. ”
When asked what his most memorable transaction was, he replied with “a real anti-tank missile launcher. Who and why anyone needed it, I’ll never know,” he said. “Maybe someone just took it from a stockpile, or perhaps read about it in the news somewhere :)” Both Korabas and Nikkon revealed that they prefered not to know what the buyers intended to do with their purchases.
“I’ve never wanted to know why people need to buy a gun from me,” Korabas said. “I always get the impression that the buyers with whom I communicate aren’t stupid. They’ve just mastered Tor, encryption, and Bitcoins. Educated people get themselves a gun just to have it. There’s no screening or censorship of a sale.”
Another Runion weapons vendor, Baron_Black, said something similar.
I don’t ask people why they need a gun. The role of guns in killing citizens is greatly exaggerated. Cigarettes and alcohol are killing hundreds of times more people than the occasional psychopaths who fire at a crowd. The government prohibits gun ownership because it can be used in defense against government tyranny.
The statement by Baron_Black about government control led segued into a Ross Ulbricht anecdote. Nikkon, as the Runion representative mentioned, wanted to let the public know that Tor is not bad. He pointed to a Ulbricht’s manifesto and a specific phrase: “I have created a new type of economy so people can feel what it’s like to live in peace without the influence of the authorities.”
Nikkon referenced Ulbricht’s libertarian ideologies in relation to Runion’s manifesto. The manifesto was written by the forum’s administrator, “Zed,” along with several users. Nikkon pointed to several key phrases that related to Ulbricht’s:
The Internet has become dangerous to people who want to take away our right to exchange information, to put it under their control, and restrict the freedom of speech. They harass people who spread their ideas and want to control our every step with surveillance. [Runion was] created by people with a keen sense of justice. We want people to decide with what and how to protect themselves and their loved ones. We want to control what goes into our own bodies.
Runion representatives stated their site is not a market or trading platform. Instead, Runion is simply a platform where information gets exchanged. The writers of the most interesting articles and posts are rewarded each month.
In closing, Nikkon pointed to what Ulbricht wrote after his sentencing: “I learned from Silk Road that when you give people freedom, you don’t know what they’ll do with it.”