Despite the success of the “Dark HunTor” operation, the operators of the remaining dark web marketplaces are not deterred
While international law enforcement agencies have praised their success in cracking down on some of the popular illicit marketplaces on the dark web through Operation Dark HunTor, operators of the remaining marketplaces say the crackdown has had little impact on their businesses.
The U.S. Department of Justice's "Dark HunTor" operation, conducted in cooperation with Europol, made international headlines in late October, resulting in 150 arrests worldwide and the seizure of weapons and drugs, as well as more than $31 million in illegal funds.
German and Italian authorities shut down several popular marketplaces on the dark web, including DarkMarket, Berlusconi Market and DeepSea Market. confiscating the servers of these marketplaces allowed law enforcement agencies to track more vendors and buyers on these platforms.
However, despite the shutdown of these cracked-down marketplaces, the dark web's trading market space appears to continue to thrive as users choose to easily flee to other markets that are still accessible.
On the Dread Forum page, the top dark web marketplaces are listed as "superlisted," and a total of 12 marketplaces appear to be continuing business as usual.
Several marketplace administrators agreed to share their views on the impact of the crackdown on dark web crime in the context of Operation Dark HunTor, with most of them believing that the crackdown would not stop them from continuing to operate their marketplaces because they had seen other administrators arrested as a result of human error.
One of the most popular sections on the Dread forums is called OpSec, which means Operational Security. This section is filled with detailed tutorials on how to use anonymity services, (e.g. Tor, PGP keys) and removable operating systems (e.g. Tails) to hide the identity of users.
William Gibson, an administrator at Versus Market who wants to be identified only by a pseudonym, said he doesn't believe law enforcement agencies have found new ways to track marketplace operators on the dark Web.
"Not at all. They're still trying to get at vendors and operators by tracking money and traditional police work, such as narrowing down where vendors are sending from by repeatedly buying their packages and tracking where they're coming from. They are unlikely to use 0days in Tor to eliminate operator/vendor anonymity, or any other sophisticated technology not known to us. Of course, marketplaces can make mistakes when setting up their servers and accidentally leak their IPs, which makes it easy for law enforcement to find them. While this happens, I suspect that most vendors and marketplace operators get caught because law enforcement follows the money. It's a point of failure that even the most sophisticated anonymous online activity can be linked to real-life identities, which is the best opportunity for law enforcement to find its targets." Gibson stated.
Nevertheless, Gibson noted that the recent success of the Dark HunTor operation shows that law enforcement agencies around the world are beginning to better understand how the dark web marketplace works.
"Law enforcement is now better funded, better equipped and more experienced to investigate this kind of online activity. A few years ago, they didn't know what Tor or cryptocurrencies were or how the market worked. For a long time, they underestimated the role of the dark web market in the international drug trade, and while it's still small compared to offline transactions, it's getting bigger because of the many advantages it has over offline transactions." He said.
One of the new tools Guardia di Finanza is using in Italy is an analytics platform that can track bitcoin transactions.
In response, the team behind Anonymous Marketplace began offering a new service called Antinalysis, a publicly available blockchain analytics tool that allows users to check whether their bitcoin addresses have been targeted by authorities.
"We consider ourselves advocates, and our team also offers Antinalysis and Sector.City (a privacy email service), which we hope will help users protect their freedom, anonymity and privacy." An anonymous marketplace administrator, who calls himself Pharoah, said.
Gibson, from Versus Market, believes that as long as the demand for such products remains high, the efforts of law enforcement agencies will only turn into a cat-and-mouse game.
"At the end of the day, every crackdown only creates more markets. For every market they close, some new one will emerge. It's a battle they can't win, and look how many markets there are now. Last time I checked, there were more than 20 new markets sprouting up." He said.
Operators also offered a different perspective on the role the dark web can play.
"On a completely different note, I would like to mention that the dark web is not all about drugs and cybercrime, even though it may seem that way at first glance. There are a lot of people who just feel that it's better to talk about certain things on the dark web because they can't do that elsewhere for a bunch of different reasons. The dark web is also a place where it doesn't matter who you are, your gender, the color of your skin or what you believe about your imaginary friends. In this highly social online world, the dark web is a place to just be yourself." He said.
In many ways, he added, the dark web reflects the early days of the Internet, and the emergence of social media and the monetization of user data that followed "destroyed everything" and made the Internet what it is today.
From：On DarkNet – Dark web News and Analysis
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