A recent report issued by Digital Shadows claims that darknet vendors and buyers are increasingly moving away from the use of centralized darknet markets, like Dream Market and Wall Street Market, and moving to decentralized marketplaces. Digital Shadows is an organization which monitors and reports on the darknet, the clearnet, and the deep web. In the new 15 page report, Digital Shadows claims that current centralized darknet markets such as Dream Market and Olympus have not met the demand that the former darknet market AlphaBay filled. Some cyber criminals have begun using blockchain technology to host their markets, such as the sites known as Joker’s Stash and The Money Team. Others have switched to using the decentralized markets on OpenBazaar.
The adoption of the decentralized marketplace OpenBazaar is slowly growing, but in their new report Digital Shadows claims OpenBazaar has grown by four thousand users in just the last four months alone. Digital Shadows believe that adoption of OpenBazaar is still just in its infancy. The report by Digital Shadows also states that cyber criminals are beginning to use chat programs such as Telegram and even Discord. Over the past six months researchers with Digital Shadows observed over five thousand Telegram links shared on various darknet forums and sites. Of the 5,000 shared Telegram links the researchers observed, 1,667 of those links were invitations to new forums. During the past six months the researchers with Digital Shadows also observed 743 invite links on Discord that were shared on various darknet forums and sites. The researchers from Digital Shadows reported that they believe the continuing trend of a movement away from centralized darknet marketplaces is a trend which began prior to the law enforcement investigation into AlphaBay and HANSA, known as Operation Bayonet.
According to the researchers from Digital Shadows, darknet vendors and buyers have already begun to abandon centralized darknet markets in favor of looking for alternative solutions to trading anonymously. In their report, the researchers stated that they believe that the law enforcement operation which shutdown AlphaBay and HANSA market “strengthened calls for new technologies and processes, including increasing security and anonymity through the direct peer-to-peer (P2P) communication already favored on more specialized forums, or enforcing more stringent vetting procedures for new members. Some even entertained ideas of a more radical, fully-decentralized marketplace model, manifested in sites such as OpenBazaar.”
In 2016 the hacker group known as The Shadow Brokers offered leaked NSA cyber warfare software for sale on a site hosted on the decentralized network ZeroNet. Decentralized solutions are also becoming popular with fraud and carding sites. In January 2016, the site known as The Money Team created a site which used a dot bazar domain name, which uses a decentralized and blockchain based Domain Name System (DNS). These decentralized and blockchain based domain names such as .bazar can be accessed using a browser add-on. One such decentralized blockchain DNS service is Blockchain-DNS, or BDNS, which can access domains such as .bazar, .bit, .coin, .emc, .lib, as well as other domain name extensions used by OpenNIC. Some of these domain name extensions are created using Emercoin or Namecoin.
The report also mentions Tralfamadore, a decentralized darknet market which operates on the Ethereum blockchain. With Tralfamadore, the market does not just use the blockchain for domain name registration and DNS services, it stores the entire market on the blockchain. Transactions between users on Tralfamadore utilize smart contracts. However, the researchers with Digital Shadows note that the decentralized Tralfamadore market has so far failed to attract a large user base. The report also notes that vendors and buyers aren’t just using chat channels on Telegram and Discord, but also IRC, Jabber, and Skype. The lingering and repeated concerns that the remaining centralized darknet markets could be infiltrated by law enforcement could help push even more vendors and use to switch to a decentralized marketplace. Technologies which enable decentralized marketplaces are likely to make it even more difficult for governments to shut down the free trading of goods and services on the darknet.