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The Fight Over Dark Web Marketplaces

By J.Austine March 22, 2022, 7:30 p.m.

The fight over dark web marketplaces didn't start yesterday. In July of 2017, United States and Dutch law enforcement launched Operation Bayonet. They reportedly seized and disabled two of the most prominent dark web marketplaces, AlphaBay and Hansa. AlphaBay somehow found its place and tried to reclaim its fallen glory.  Hansa struggled, unfortunately, there's nothing to celebrate ever since. United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions described the operation as one of the most in the history of the country.

The Fight Over Dark Web Marketplaces

Before Operation Bayonet, English-speaking cybercriminal activities mainly took place on these platforms. The online dark web marketplaces, AlphaBay and Hansa were the main platforms. Here is where hundreds of thousands of vendors and buyers were doing an estimate of over $1 billion in 'illegal' trade.

The authorities didn't stop there–in 2019, May 7, an internationally coordinated operation led to the takedown of two more dark web marketplaces. This time round, Wall Street Marketplace and Valhalla Marketplace (Silkkitie) found it rough. In the same operation, law enforcement simultaneously disabled one popular dark web news source and review page, DeepDotWeb.
DeepDotWeb wasn't closed down for the same reasons as Wall Street and Valhalla.

DeepDotWeb did not sell contraband; however, administrators reportedly profited from promoting the sites. It's unclear though whether the allegations are true. Its seizure displayed law enforcement’s willingness to target more of the illegalities beyond the marketplaces.

The State of Cybercrime in the Post-AlphaBay and Hansa Age

Agencies explored the impact of these dark web marketplace seizures. While a large chunk of cybercrime was largely undisrupted, a breach of trust occurred in dark web trade. This breach of trust caused criminals to consider new ways for generating trust in the underground.

While dark web markets, such as Tochka and Empire, certainly still exist, no market has yet risen to the prominence of Silk Road, AlphaBay, or Hansa. New dark web marketplaces continue to crop up, but they struggle to grow. They also tread lightly with the growing fears of law enforcement disruptions and takedowns. To grow, these marketplaces need a solid reputation, financing to scale, security to maintain current users, and trust to gain more traction.

There are some interesting candidates, however. Market.MS Marketplace, run by the former administrator of the prestigious Exploit hacking forum. The guy who coincidentally now leads the emerging XSS forum (formerly Damagelab), is an up and comer in the dark web market. Focused purely on cybercrime; MarketMS is near peerless. So security agencies do their best to bring down dark web marketplaces. The operators of these markets also do their best to remain relevant. It's a push me I push you game we see who will carry the day. It's a matter of time for us to see where the fight over dark web marketplaces is headed.

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