German authorities have shut down the largest illegal marketplace on the dark web called DarkMarket. The forum had nearly half a million members and over 2,400 vendors. In total, more than 140 million Euros in cryptocurrency has been traded on the platform. The marketplace’s suspected owner is a 34-year-old Australian.
Surface Web, Deep Web and Dark Web
The internet as we know it today consists of various layers. First of all, there is the surface web. This includes all websites that can be visited by you, me and everyone else via a web browser or via search engine results. These are the news portals, web stores, forums, video platforms, and so on. When we talk about “the internet” we actually mean the surface web.
One part of the internet that can only be reached by a handful of people is called the deep web. The URLs of these internet pages are protected, which means that search engines do not index them in their search results. Intranets and extranets are examples of the deep web, but also online databases of companies, hospitals, libraries, governments, international organizations and so on.
Finally, there is the dark web. This part of the internet is not easily accessible and can only be visited through special browsers, such as Tor. The dark web works differently from the regular internet. Domain names, for example, don’t end in .com, .au or .eu. neither do they have clear and recognizable names. Instead, domain names end in “.onion”, while random numbers and letters refer to the web address.
Although the dark web is without a doubt a hide-out for all sorts of criminals, it’s also a safe place for people who just wish to remain anonymous on the internet, like journalists and whistle-blowers. https://www.propub3r6espa33w.onion, for example, is the link to ProPublica, an investigative journalism outlet that also has a presence on the surface web. Here are some other dark web websites worth visiting, depending on your profession and interests.
DarkMarket Rises from The Ashes of Silk Road
Illicit goods were among the first items to be sold on the Internet on a large scale. The first modern darknet market was Silk Road. This platform was launched in February 2011. A mere 2.5 years later, in October 2013, the FBI arrested Ross William Ulbricht, better known as “Dread Pirate Roberts”. He was the founder and owner of Silk Road. Consequently, the largest and best-known illegal black market on the dark web went offline.
Silk Road was briefly relaunched by users with administrator rights. They dubbed the platform Silk Road 2.0. However, in early 2014, all bitcoin in user’s escrow accounts, valued at $2.7 million, were reported stolen. Later, it became clear that there was a vulnerability in the site’s “Refresh deposits” function. Silk Road administrators used their commissions on sales to refund users stolen funds.
About 50% of the victims had been completely repaid when, in November 2014, the marketplace went offline following the arrest of the owner, an English computer programmer. Shortly after the closure of Silk Road 2.0, new players were eager to fill the void. One of them was DarkMarket. This marketplace followed the same “model” as Silk Road. The platform could only be accessed via a Tor like browser. It also relied on escrow services in bitcoin, and had an eBay-like vendor feedback system.
DarkMarket Taken Down
DarkMarket, the world’s largest illegal marketplace on the dark web, was taken down by German authorities on 12 January 2021. At the end of 2020, the platform had more than half a million members and 2,400 vendors. They traded in drugs, counterfeit money, stolen credit card information and other personal data. As well as child pornography, anonymous SIM cards and rogue software that can be used to carry out phishing and other types of cyberattacks.
In total, more than 320,000 transactions had been carried out on the platform. Buyers transferred approximately 4,650 bitcoins and 12,800 monero (another form of cryptocurrency) for all kinds of illegal goods. At the current rate, this corresponds to € 140 million ($170 million).
German police uncovered the illegal dark web marketplace while investigating a “cyber bunker”. In an old, underground NATO bunker in Germany, they discovered more than 400 servers. These servers were being used to communicate via the dark web. The center had also bene hosting DarkMarket for some time. A 60-year-old Dutchman allegedly ran the complex. He was arrested in September 2019, along with seven others. The prime suspect is currently on trial.
Dozens of Servers with Important Data Seized
The presumed owner of DarkMarket is a 34-year-old Australian. The German police arrested him last weekend on the border between Germany and Denmark. Authorities had just completed a months-long investigation, which revealed him as the main leader of the illegal marketplace.
In addition, the German police confiscated more than twenty servers located in the Ukraine and Moldova. With the information on the servers, the police hope to find new leads to further investigate moderators, buyers and sellers. The Australian owner of DarkMarket remains in custody pending formal charges. He hasn’t given any information to investigators as yet.
During the investigation, German authorities worked closely with US, Australian, British, Danish and Swiss police forces. Europol had a coordinating role.