Three years and a similar number of months after the FBI seized the Silk Road, the darknet markets’ equivalent of Amazon, and other new entities are coming up and even booming in the very same niche. You may be wondering how this is possible considering that law enforcement agencies have improved scrutiny to stem the growth of such sites.
Silk Road and other versions of its incarnation as well as Agora, Evolution and Abraxas have risen to dominate the dark web before falling only to find replacement in other, probably better-coded websites. The story behind their rise, and eventual fall, vary though and this is probably the reason even their lifespans vary.
The Silk Road
To everyone who knew him, Ross Ulbricht was an ideal kid. University of Texas even accepted him on a full scholarship. He did not pass for a person who would orchestrate and run a US$1.2 billion illicit drugs marketplace; yet he did!
While in college, Ross developed a strong disinclination for government inference. He started growing a strain of hallucinogenic fungi, which he hoped to peddle using the ever-extending distribution channels of darknet market. While his mushrooms were growing, he decided to try a hand in computer programing. He roped in his pal, Richard Bates, who was already a programmer with eBay.
Using Bate’s assistance, Ulbricht was able to code successfully, the script for Silk Road including hiding it on Tor browser to evade banking and government oversight and intrusion. The website went live in February 2011 and within a few short months, had thousands of enlisted vendors and buyers.
Silk Road’s ranking system, that graded vendors based on feedback, made it a favorite with many customers. This steady traffic, flawless distribution aided by encrypted communication and the website’s 10 to 12% commission soon made Ulbricht rich. The website managed a whopping 1.2 million transactions during its lifespan with total revenue amounting to about 9.5 million bitcoins.
The fall of Silk Road started almost immediately it went live. Senator Charles Schumer made requests to have Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Department of Justice shut it down. After this request, all communication to and from the website came under scrutiny and in October 2013, the FBI seized the website arresting and charging Ulbricht with computer hacking, money laundering and conspiracy to traffic narcotics.
Following the demise of Silk Road, many online entities rose to fill the gap left. One of these entities, Evolution, also called Evo by darknet markets customers came alive in January 2014. The site’s creator, Verto, also founded Tor Carding Forum, an identity theft and stolen cards forum on Tor.
Evolution’s rapid growth came about because it went alive at a time when law enforcement agencies were seizing its competitors. The weird blend of both cyber security as well as lax rules on the use of stolen cards also propelled Evo to the top of darknet markets. Despite this laxity, it still disallowed prostitution, child pornography, murder, terrorism and assassination related services and Ponzi schemes.
Unlike other darknet markets, Evolution shut down in March 2015, apparently due to exit fraud by the administrators in order to steal users’ cash in their escrow accounts.
Agora and Abraxas
Agora went live in 2013 and soon became a major darknet markets destination. Following the closure of Evolution in an apparent exit fraud, Agora became the leading darknet website. Unlike many of its counterparts, it did not suffer the wrath of Operation Onymous, the international law enforcement agencies’ operation that targeted hidden services and darknet markets hosted on the Tor network. The website’s administrators took it down in what they termed as protection from potential attacks meant to de-anonymize server locations.
Soon after Agora went down, Abraxas emerged and claimed the darknet markets’ top place. Like others before it, it also went down in what is possibly an exit fraud.
Thriving Darknet Markets
The legion of online users averse to government inference keeps growing each day. This breed of consumers helps spur the growth of darknet markets. Since the emergence of the Silk Road, a shutdown of a darknet market usually precedes an emergence of a replacement. Soon after Agora and Abraxas’ demise from the scene, new darknet markets have risen to fill whatever gap existed.
AlphaBay and Dream Market now occupy the pinnacle of darknet markets. Though they operate in the same Tor network that hosted the other dark net websites, they are perfecting the art and science of concealing their tracks. Their survival in this rather unstable niche is however, only a matter of time.