Dark Net Markets (DNM) are growing bigger than ever, with the Economist reporting over $50 million USD in transactions flowing through these marketplaces. The publication used data collected from Gwern Branwen’s dark web archive and broke down quite a bit of the behavior taking place in the Dark Net Market environment.
Also read: The Hitchhikers Guide To The Invisible Internet
Dark Net Markets are Booming
Since the fall of the original Silk Road and the arrest of its creator many Dark Net Markets have continued to rise on the outskirts of the deep web. DNM’s have been hosted throughout the hidden web and can be found using Tor with buyers and sellers transacting with cryptocurrency and illicit goods.
From 2013-2015, Gwern Branwen scraped data on a daily and weekly basis from all the English-language DNM’s. Branwen’s comprehensive collection of data helped the Economist report on its editorial “Shedding light on the dark web.”
Since the original Silk Road shut down, DNM’s, or what the Economist calls “cryptomarkets,” have continuously set up businesses that offer vendors a place to sell drugs — and even legal goods.
Many of these DNM’s use escrow services, feedback and reputation features, anonymity services, and use moderators to handle complaints. Operating in a similar fashion to Amazon or eBay, users supply feedback on products and vendors. Most notably, Alphabay is currently the top dog in the DNM space, with the Dream Market taking second place.
The Economist reports that drug dealers today are dropping the trade within the streets for online vending as it is less dangerous, easier to manage, and can be done in a pseudo-anonymous manner. However, all of these markets are being regularly scanned by law enforcement as the Deep Dot Web reports that researchers from Northeastern University found hundreds of spy nodes targeting Tor services. If certain websites are not protected by HTTPS encryption, exit nodes can know just about everything you’ve done within the Tor service.
Drugs Pricier But of Better Quality
The findings also reveal that drugs purchased on these marketplaces are typically better quality, though at a relatively higher price. The most sold narcotic by value on DNM’s is MDMA (ecstasy), but the most popular drug sold by an overwhelming amount is cannabis. Additionally, prescription drugs such as oxycodone and diazepam have been increasing in sales over the years.
The paper explains that even though bargains can be found, predominately most drugs cost a lot more than the street value. A gram of heroin costs double compared to the street price and cocaine is 40% higher as well.
Nicolas Christin of Carnegie Mellon University says that competition internationally makes these markups rise as there are more sellers convening together in certain marketplaces. Christin also reports some of the higher costs are due to special packaging, which includes vacuum sealed bags, parcel techniques that help with odor, and other postage and packaging methods involved.
Furthermore, the quality of product sold on the deep web are typically far superior to narcotics found on the street. Energy Control, a Spanish think-tank, has tested some samples to discover that purity levels are a lot higher by comparison. The group found cocaine’s purity to be at 71.6% as opposed to the 48% product purchased on Spanish streets. Judith Aldridge of Manchester University explains that since the purity is higher, the price is actually lower because the customer gets more bang for his buck.
More People Are Using DNM’s
The increasing popularity of these markets has a lot to do with better quality, vendor reputation, and less risk. Nevertheless, there is still a lot of fear from law enforcement and the fallout from exit scams such as the Silk Road 2’s departure.
The publication states that buyers typically have multiple accounts across many DNM’s and leave the market as soon as signs of insolvency or authorities are recognized.
Violence ‘Useless’ Online
Another notable insight is the fact that most large drug cartels have stayed away from these online markets. The biggest reason for this the Economist explains is “their special skills—smuggling, intimidation, and violence—are useless online.”
According to the data, some believe that the drug market is experiencing the same type of retail boom experienced in the early nineties online.
Dark Net Markets are becoming a phenomenon governments and cartels cannot contain as people are flocking to these shops in greater number every week. The Silk Road was shut down only to serve as the predecessor to better platforms, tighter security and ways to conduct business using stronger reputation systems. It is only a matter of time when law enforcement will no longer be able to obstruct these services as DNM’s coalesce into a global network of untouchable decentralized marketplaces.
Do you think Dark Net Markets will always remain a step ahead of the authorities? Let us know in the comments below!
Images courtesy of the Economist, and Pixabay
Special Thanks to Gwern Branwen’s collection of data over the years.