One of the largest darknet marketplaces in the world, Empire Market, mysteriously went offline last month. Though it’s still unclear if Empire is shut down for good (or if whoever runs it really made off with $30 million in Bitcoin as part of an exit scam), the question remains in an anonymous illicit economy, where might so many illicit buyers and sellers go?
Whether it’s new, less trusted marketplaces, or older ones that are tried and true, other dark web markets could soon see a spike in cryptocurrency transactions as a result of Empire’s fall.
Over the weekend, Dark.fail, a Twitter account that claims to be an anonymous journalist researching Tor (software that allows users to browse the Internet anonymously), highlighted several remaining marketplaces that could see growth in light of Empire Market’s absence. (It’s worth noting, however, that Bitcoin transactions still make up just one percent of total Bitcoin transactions, according to the latest figures from research firm Chainalysis).
Commenting on Dark.fail’s list of remaining darknet marketplaces, another anonymous Twitter researcher, Caleb (@5auth)—who said he does not buy or sell from any of these places—highlighted White House market and Dark Market as “the top two markets by users right now.”
While the outcome of Empire’s closure remains to be seen, here are some darknet marketplaces still thriving:
According to dark.fail, Dark Market is the first dark web marketplace said to be run by women. Dark.fail stated that this market currently has 1,400 vendors and 220,000 users and the administrative team are trusted by most major vendors. They prohibit doxxing, threats of violence, discrimination or hate speech as well as the sale of contract killing, fentanyl, guns, human trafficking and child exploitative content.
White House Market
Along with Dark Market, White House market is one of the top two darknet marketplaces by users. With 68,000 users and 1,700 vendors, it is recognized by both researchers Decrypt spoke with as the most secure marketplace currently operating.
White House Market uses PGP two-factor authentication and little to no password recovery options if a PGP key is lost. Along with the usual prohibited listings, the marketplace’s rules for vendors specifically prohibits, “miracle coronavirus cures.” It only permits transactions with the privacy coin, Monero, a so-called privacy coin and the second most widely used cryptocurrency on darknet markets after Bitcoin.
Hydra: Largest Russian Language Marketplace
The longest running darknet market, Hydra is a Russian-language-only darknet marketplace. Like most darknet marketplaces that have been around for more than two years, Hydra’s operational status is constantly in flux.
In late 2014, its domain was seized in a joint operation between the FBI, Homeland Security and Europol. In 2019, blockchain analytics firm Chainalysis reported that the demise of another marketplace, AlphaBay, could have nearly doubled Hydra’s Bitcoin flows between 2017 and 2018. Hydra ended 2019 by hawking an ICO to raise $146 million for worldwide expansion.
The token sale was intended to fund several projects, with the two most notable being AspaNet and Eternos. The people behind Hydra claim that AspaNet will be a new way to access hidden dark web addresses similar to Tor though it remains to be seen while Eternos would be an English-speaking equivalent to Hydra.
Cannazon: A Specialized Marketplace
Along with Canada HQ and CannaHome, Cannazon is another marketplace that only sells marijuana. As a result, this smaller specialized marketplace may draw less scrutiny from law enforcement given that marijuana is being decriminalized in many U.S. states. Cannazon has a comprehensive user guide as well as information for how to prevent online phishing. It accepts Bitcoin and Monero.
According to 5auth, other notable contenders to see higher inflows of cryptocurrency also include Monopoly and Versus marketplaces. The former has “too few users… and is plagued by constant FUD” while the later “has a significant following but their security issues are concerning for a market that prioritized security.”
Although it remains to be seen whether or not Empire Market will come back online, such a development will likely spin up new marketplaces eager to serve illicit markets even if they are not trustworthy.
“Six new darknet markets have already launched in the past five days according to my inbox,” stated dark.fail in a tweet less than a week after Empire Market became unresponsive. “Expect a lot of scams.”