A famous dark web market for buying and selling drugs has been offline more than three days, fueling speculation about its destiny and despair among several users.
Much like the notorious Silk Road site closed down by law enforcement in October 2013, Empire Market had been of the most trafficked illegal online markets in the past few years, following the passing of other markets like AlphaBay and Hansa. Besides promoting drugs, Empire Market offered fake documentation such as passports and drivers’ licenses and off-the-shelf malware.
Now, experts who follow the dark web — and a few of Empire Market’s customers — wonder what became of the website’s administrators, who are not known.
“Running a criminal forum or market typically leads the administrators to one of two most likely outcomes,” stated Mark Arena, chief executive officer of Intel 471 Inc, a cybersecurity company that monitors dark web marketplaces. They’re either detained by law enforcement or take part in an “exit scam” where they steal deposits from customers, he explained.
“On Empire Market itself, it has not been available for the past few days which naturally results in speculations in the underground which may be an exit scam,” Arena said, adding that Empire was among the biggest English-speaking dark web markets.
Many different illegal goods and services are bought and sold on the dark web with cryptocurrency, such as drugs and malware, which may be utilized in cyber scams. Such underground websites sometimes require that sellers make deposits to market their wares on the market. That digital money is held in escrow as an extra layer of privacy, utilizing the marketplace as an intermediary to transfer payment for illegal goods. But that also gives administrators control over the cash, letting them shut down the website without warning and eliminate off with all the digital cash, according to the dark web experts.
“As vendors often use these marketplaces for their daily business, they generally have considerable amounts of money saved in these accounts because of their large volume of trades,” said Kacey Clark, a hazard researcher in cybersecurity firm Digital Shadows Ltd.”If the stage is longstanding and established, such as Empire was, they will probably leave funds in their account for a longer period because of lack of fear of them being unable to get them at any given stage, as a sort of trust was built.”
Although it’s hard to estimate just how much was held in escrow by Empire Market, it was”probably was large, single-digit millions at least,” Arena said.
Such exit scams have been persistent in the dark web underworld for decades, and among Empire Market’s moderators, who basically perform customer service, implying that happened this time too.
“I’m crushed and embarrassed by my admin’s apparent decision to evaporate with your own funds,” the moderator wrote Wednesday. “It’s tough to grasp that this is actually happening. I’m in shock.” A couple of days earlier, the exact same anonymous moderator said the website was offline because of a denial-of-service attack.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation declined to comment. Typically dark web sites captured by law enforcement will display a note from the applicable agencies. The Empire Market website is simply no longer online.
Users of this dark web market realize its loss, and their lost cryptocurrency, on online forums. They said there’s not any hint of the administrators, and they can’t access their accounts.
“If you guys removed, then you’ve got more than enough coin for the rest of your lives,” one anonymous user wrote. “So I make the request that you donate the 16k of mine you chose to a children’s charity.
One seller said that the reduction of Empire Market left them uncertain about what to do next. “I basically lost my dwelling existence. My primary income source. I was so dedicated since Empire had so much traffic, it just worked,” they wrote, claiming to have lost $5,000.
Another Empire Market seller claimed their cryptocurrency wallet was the goal of a so-called”dust assault.” Someone tries to de-anonymize the owner by sending them a small number of virtual currency.
On occasion, dark web markets may function as goals of days-long denial-of-service attacks, where the website is flooded with visitors and taken offline. Typically the individual operating the denial-of-service attack will try to extort the market administrator in exchange for standing down.
However, a lack of updates from Empire Market’s administrators makes users feel the website is gone for good.
In the aftermath of Empire’s evident closing, there’ll be doubt one of the community, based on Ian Gray, director of intelligence in cybersecurity company Flashpoint.
“Since the Silk Road invention, we’re continuing to observe a cycle of marketplaces that shut down, depart, or are taken down by law enforcement,” Gray said. “Other dark web marketplaces stay, such as ‘White House’ and ‘DarkMarket,’ which might see a massive influx of dark web marketplace consumers and sellers. Both vendors and customers will be concerned about exposure to law enforcement.”