A brief history of the dark web summarized by dark web forum Dread: 2008-2024

Recently, "PM_ME_YOUR_APPLAUSES", a user of the Dark Web forum Dread, published a rather amazing and stunning post "A Summary of the Dark Web: 2008-2024". The post organizes the past and present of the Dark Web and cryptocurrencies, and summarizes the history of the Dark Web from 2008 to 2024, making it a veritable history of the Dark Web. "ODN" is republishing the article and sharing it with you.

Before 2008: The Proto-Dark Web

The dark web was a loose concept. Anonymity networks like Tor existed for activists and journalists, but organized illicit trade was scattered and rudimentary. Despite this, there were several private darknet forums for drug sales and trades. These forums, mostly on the clearnet but requiring an invitation and login, were early predecessors to the marketplaces we recognize today. The recruitment of users to these forums occurred mainly through public clearnet drug and pharmacy discussion boards, highlighting the early stages of community formation that would later define the dark web's infrastructure. One of these forums, The Book Club, initially opened to the public to quickly build a userbase before transitioning to invitation-only. Some of these private forums transitioned to onion services between 2008 and 2011, marking the beginning of a more structured approach to anonymity and security in the digital underground.

2008: The Genesis of Potential

  • October: Satoshi Nakamoto publishes the Bitcoin whitepaper.
  • January: The Bitcoin network goes live with the mining of the genesis block.

Bitcoin was born, an untraceable digital currency, paired with Tor, setting the stage for what would become the dark web’s economic backbone. Early adopters saw potential where most saw chaos. During this foundational year, several private forums on the clearnet began operating, offering drug sales and trades to a select community. These forums required invitations and logins, making them precursors to the later, more structured darknet markets. Recruitment to these forums was primarily through public drug discussion boards, highlighting the early, covert network-building that would define the dark web's evolution.

2009: Groundwork and Experimentation

  • January: The first Bitcoin transaction occurs between Satoshi Nakamoto and Hal Finney.
  • December: The first Bitcoin exchange, BitcoinMarket.com, is established.

Cryptographic enthusiasts began tinkering, envisioning hidden online marketplaces. Forums buzzed with theories, and early attempts at anonymous trade stumbled, yet each failure taught valuable lessons. The groundwork for the dark web's financial infrastructure was being laid, with Bitcoin gradually gaining attention among digital privacy advocates. This year marked important technical strides in the development of Bitcoin, setting the stage for its future role as the primary currency for darknet transactions.

2010: Approaching the Crucible

  • May: The first real-world Bitcoin transaction occurs when Laszlo Hanyecz buys two pizzas for 10,000 BTC.
  • June: The Silk Road prototype begins development.
  • July: WikiLeaks begins accepting Bitcoin donations.
  • 2010 - 2012: The Farmers Market, a public darknet onion forum, operates after starting as a clearnet operation years before.
  • 2010: OVDB, a public darknet onion forum with vendors, is launched but is short-lived.

Feeder sites that rated drug vendors, online pharmacy forums, and blogs began to influence the landscape. Before the establishment of Silk Road, Bitcoin was not widely recognized or trusted for drug payments within these circles. Payment methods included centralized "digital gold currencies" like e-gold, Liberty Reserve, and Pecunix, as well as Western Union, Moneygram, and cash in mail. During this period, GreenDot MoneyPaks were also a popular payment method until regulatory changes made them unsuitable. Bitcoin's potential started to be discussed more widely, setting the stage for its future prominence. It was only with the advent of Silk Road that Bitcoin began to gain traction among darknet users, moving from a little-understood digital currency to a preferred method for conducting anonymous transactions on the dark web. The vision of a hidden, secure marketplace crystallized further. The dark web community’s experimentation hinted at the massive disruption on the horizon. Additionally, The Majestic Garden⚠️ forum became known in this environment, a semi-private platform that periodically opened its doors to new members. It fostered a community of psychonauts who preferred substances like LSD, DMT, MDMA, mushrooms, and weed. Operating without an escrow system, it relied entirely on trust among users, highlighting a unique facet of community building on the dark web.

2011: The Silk Road Revolution

  • February: Ross Ulbricht launches Silk Road.
  • June: Gawker publishes an article about Silk Road, bringing it widespread attention.
  • November: Black Market Reloaded (BMR) is launched by a pseudonymous operator known as "Backopy."
  • August: Bitcoin value reaches parity with the US dollar.
  • 2011 - 2013: Black Market and Black Market Reloaded become prominent dark web marketplaces.

Ross Ulbricht launched Silk Road, the first true dark web marketplace. Leveraging Tor and Bitcoin, it offered a haven for anonymous trade. Silk Road’s success turned the abstract into reality, igniting the dark web economy. Meanwhile, Black Market Reloaded (BMR) also began to gain traction as an alternative marketplace. In this pivotal year, the broader potential of Bitcoin was realized within the underground economy, with earlier discussions on private forums paving the way for its adoption in high-profile platforms like Silk Road.

2012: Flourishing in the Shadows

  • April: Silk Road’s user base expands exponentially.
  • June: FBI and DEA begin active investigations into Silk Road.
  • November: The U.S. Senate holds hearings on Bitcoin and Silk Road.

Silk Road thrived, inspiring a proliferation of marketplaces. The dark web ecosystem expanded, becoming more sophisticated. LE, slow to catch on, struggled to keep up with the digital hydra.

2013: The Fall of a Titan

  • September: BMR experiences a significant data breach, but the marketplace remains operational.
  • October 1: The FBI takes down Silk Road, arresting Ross Ulbricht in San Francisco.
  • October: BMR sees a surge in users following the fall of Silk Road.
  • October: Silk Road 2.0 launches shortly after the original’s demise.
  • November: "Backopy" announces the temporary closure of BMR, giving notice to vendors and users.
  • November: Bitcoin value surges past $1,000.
  • 2013: Atlantis, the third ever modern darknet market, ends in an exit scam.

The FBI took down Silk Road, capturing Ulbricht. Yet, the hydra sprouted new heads—Silk Road 2.0 and others emerged. Black Market Reloaded saw increased user activity, despite security challenges. The dark web community, resilient and undeterred, adapted swiftly.

2014: Operation Onymous and Resilience

  • February: The first known arrest of a Silk Road 2.0 vendor.
  • February: BMR returns briefly, but its operator "Backopy" permanently shuts it down due to security concerns.
  • November: Operation Onymous leads to the seizure of over 400 hidden services, including Silk Road 2.0.
  • November: The arrest of Blake Benthall, the alleged operator of Silk Road 2.0.

Operation Onymous saw global LE seize several marketplaces. Yet, the dark web proved antifragile. Silk Road 2.0’s fall led to the rise of AlphaBay and other robust platforms. The closure of BMR marked the end of an era, but it also signaled the community's ongoing adaptability and resilience.

2015: Hydra, Evolution’s Exit Scam and Agora's Graceful Exit

  • March: Evolution Marketplace administrators exit scam, disappearing with millions in Bitcoin.
  • April: AlphaBay rises to prominence, filling the void left by Evolution.
  • June: Ross Ulbricht is sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
  • July: Darkode, a cybercriminal marketplace, is dismantled by LE.
  • August: Agora, one of the largest and most respected dark web marketplaces, voluntarily shuts down citing security concerns.
  • 2015: Hydra Market launches and begins to gain traction. Originating in Russia and primarily serving Russian-speaking users, it quickly becomes known for a wide array of illegal activities, including drug trafficking and financial services such as cryptocurrency tumbling.

AlphaBay ascended, but Evolution’s infamous exit scam in March underscored the inherent risks. New contenders like Nucleus and Dream Market filled the void, embodying the dark web’s relentless dynamism. Agora's exit in August marked a significant moment, as it voluntarily shut down to prioritize users' safety, setting a precedent for responsible operation in the dark web ecosystem. Hydra Market becomes a significant player in the dark web landscape, offering not only illegal drugs but also a variety of financial services that facilitate money laundering and the exchange between cryptocurrency and Russian rubles. Its unique offerings help it stand out among other darknet markets.

2016: AlphaBay’s Dominance

  • Throughout the year: AlphaBay becomes the largest dark web marketplace.
  • March: The FBI and Europol dismantle the Avalanche network.
  • May: The rise of ransomware attacks, including the infamous WannaCry attack.
  • August: The closure of Nucleus Market due to internal issues.

AlphaBay became the premier marketplace, while ransomware proliferated, intertwining cybercrime with the dark web. Monero’s rise highlighted the shift towards enhanced transaction anonymity.

2017: Takedowns and Adaptation

  • July 5: LE shuts down AlphaBay.
  • July 20: Hansa Market, secretly seized by Dutch police in June, is also shut down.
  • October: Dream Market becomes the leading marketplace.
  • November: Operation Bayonet leads to the arrest of over 400 dark web vendors.

AlphaBay and Hansa Market fell to coordinated LE strikes. Yet, Dream Market and others quickly absorbed the exodus. The dark web, a phoenix in digital ashes, continued its dance of subterfuge.

2018: Persistent Innovation and Community Disruption

  • April: Dream Market faces continuous DDoS attacks but remains operational.
  • September: Operation DisrupTor results in numerous arrests and seizures.
  • October: Wall Street Market and Point Marketplace rise in prominence.
  • November: LE infiltrates Olympus Market, leading to its closure.
  • November: Wall Street Market exit scammed, a few weeks later German owners arrested.
  • March: Reddit bans /r/darknetmarkets, a central hub for dark web community discussions, leading to a fragmentation of the community.
  • May: Dread, a new dark web forum, emerges as a successor to /r/darknetmarkets, aiming to provide a secure platform for discussions and marketplace reviews.
  • 2018: Outlaw Market and Middle Earth Market gain attention, contributing to the evolving darknet landscape.

Dream Market led amidst instability. New marketplaces like Wall Street and Point rose. LE’s persistent raids were met with the dark web’s relentless innovation and decentralization efforts. The crackdown on /r/darknetmarkets dispersed the community, but the emergence of Dread offered a new platform for users to reconnect and share information. Despite the setback, the community's resilience and adaptability shone through, maintaining the dark web's vibrant and dynamic nature.

2019: Dream Market’s Closure

  • March: Dream Market announces its impending shutdown.
  • April 30: Dream Market officially closes.
  • June: Empire Market and White House Market gain prominence.
  • September: Operation Disarray targets dark web vendors, leading to numerous arrests.

Dream Market’s shutdown in April caused a temporary disarray, but Empire Market and White House Market swiftly rose. Operation Disarray highlighted global LE’s tenacity, yet the dark web’s resilience prevailed.

2020: Pandemic-Induced Surge

  • March: Surge in demand for counterfeit PPE and fake COVID-19 vaccines.
  • May 17: Archetyp Market launches, emphasizing security and user experience.
  • September: Operation DisrupTor leads to over 170 arrests.
  • October: Incognito Market and DarkMarket gain traction.
  • November: LE shuts down Sipulimarket, a Finnish dark web marketplace.

The COVID-19 pandemic spiked demand for counterfeit PPE and fake vaccines. Archetyp Market, launched in May 2020, gained attention for its security features and use of Monero (XMR) for transactions, setting new standards in the market.

2021: Enhanced Pressures

Operation Dark HunTor and the takedown of DarkMarket marked significant LE victories. Yet, Versus and ToRReZ markets emerged, showcasing the dark web’s adaptability amidst heightened pressures.

2022: Decentralized Ascent

  • April 5: Hydra Market, by then the largest dark web marketplace with a reported revenue of $5 billion and approximately 17 million users, is seized by German and U.S. authorities. The seizure includes the marketplace's Germany-based servers and its cryptocurrency assets.
  • June: Versus Market voluntarily shuts down due to security concerns.
  • July: Agartha Market rises in popularity.
  • Mid-Year: Operation SpecTor II targets multiple dark web marketplaces and vendors.

Decentralization surged with platforms like OpenBazaar gaining traction. Privacy coins like Monero became standard. Despite Operation SpecTor II, the dark web community’s innovation persisted. The end of Hydra's long run as the dominant force on the dark web, sparked conflicts over the Russian darknet drug markets due to its closure. Despite the significant disruption, the underlying network of administrators and managers behind Hydra Market remains undiscovered and unarrested.

2023: The Year of Exit Scams and Enforcement

  • January: Kilos exchange went offline, likely exit scamming users.
  • February: Alexander Vinnik, linked to BTC-e and the Mt. Gox hack, was arrested.
  • February: The Incognito team launched the Libre Forum for darknet discussions.
  • February: IRS seizures of illicit cryptocurrency doubled in 2022, driven by major recoveries from Bitfinex and Silk Road hacks.
  • February: AlphaBay admin advised users not to use the market until a 2FA issue was resolved.
  • February: Dread announced private testing for its re-launch after three months of downtime.
  • February: The Tor Project is working to address DDoS attacks affecting the network.
  • February: Darknet market revenue declined by 48.4% in 2022, primarily due to the takedown of Hydra.
  • February: HugBunter provided updates on Dread and speculated about AlphaBay’s status.
  • February 6: AlphaBay 2.0 exit scammed, leading to significant user losses and casting doubt on the market's future.
  • March: Kraken Market hacked Solaris, redirecting its homepage to Kraken.
  • March: Dread re-launched with a new DDoS mitigation strategy.
  • March: Tor Market is pausing operations for 2-6 months to revamp its layout, support system, and payment processes.
  • March: BreachForums is closing after the arrest of its founder, Pompompurin, due to security concerns.
  • March: ChipMixer was seized by authorities for money laundering, with its owner indicted but still at large in Vietnam.
  • April: Elude, a BTC/XMR exchanger and coin mixer, is confirmed to be exit scamming, disabling withdrawals and increasing complaints of missing coins.
  • April: CryptBB staff resigned, accusing the owner of scamming users.
  • April: James Zhong, who stole over 50,000 BTC from Silk Road, was sentenced to one year in prison and forfeited his BTC.
  • April: The FBI seized Genesis Market's domains, resulting in 119 arrests, though the .onion site remains online.
  • May: Monopoly Market was seized, resulting in the arrest of 288 vendors and buyers and confiscation of significant assets.
  • May: Proof of Work implementation was merged into the Tor software package to mitigate DDoS attacks.
  • June: Vice City darknet market is suspected of exit scamming after issues with withdrawals and deposits.
  • June: Maximilian Schmidt, known as ShinyFlakes, was sentenced to 4.5 years in prison for drug trafficking.
  • June: Milomir Desnica, the operator of Monopoly Market, was arrested for laundering drug sales proceeds.
  • July: ASAP Market announced its closure, giving users a deadline to withdraw their coins.
  • September: Pitch, a Tor-only social media platform, launched, offering customization and privacy features.
  • August: Roger Thomas Clark, aka "Variety Jones," was sentenced to 20 years for his role in Silk Road.
  • December: Bohemia Market users reported missing deposits and withdrawals due to a rogue developer.

The dark web faced significant disruptions due to a series of exit scams and intensified LE actions. Early in the year, the Kilos exchange vanished, likely exit scamming users, setting a troubling precedent. High-profile arrests, including Alexander Vinnik, highlighted ongoing LE efforts. Despite these challenges, the community adapted. The Incognito team launched Libre Forum, and Dread re-launched with new DDoS defenses. However, issues persisted with several platforms pausing or shutting down, such as BreachForums and Tor Market. Exit scams were rampant, with Elude and CryptBB facing significant accusations. Despite these disruptions, the dark web community demonstrated resilience and adaptability, continuing to evolve in the face of adversity.

2024: Escalation and Innovation

  • March: Atlantis Market launches, offering a decentralized trading environment.
  • May 5: ASAP Market admin retires, explaining the market's closure on Dread.
  • May 7: LocalMonero and AgoraDesk announce they are winding down operations.
  • May 18: Lin Rui-siang, AKA Pharoah, the alleged administrator of Incognito Market, is arrested at John F. Kennedy Airport.
  • May 21: SuperMarket's wallets are drained by an administrator, /u/FatherBear.

Despite relentless LE operations, the community’s resilience and innovation remained unyielding. From abstract beginnings to a sprawling underground economy, the dark web has epitomized antifragility. Each LE strike, each marketplace takedown, only fueled its evolution. Technologies advanced, communities adapted, and a relentless pursuit of anonymity and resistance to control remained the dark web’s core ethos. In a perpetual dance of subterfuge, the dark web proved that in chaos, there is opportunity—and in every disruption, a chance to evolve and thrive.

From:On DarkNet – Dark Web News and Analysis
Copyright of the article belongs to the author, please do not reproduce without permission.

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