Though global law enforcement officials took down two of the world’s largest dark web drug websites in the past few weeks, another site continues to peddle thousands of painkillers and other narcotics.
Empire, the dark web site that sells 18,000 drugs, including oxycodone and the powerful synthetic opioid, fentanyl, continues to operate. In such a buzzworthy market, it’s not completely surprising.
However, it is suspect considering the dark web sites, known as Wall Street Market and Valhalla, were shuttered by the FBI and Europol in recent weeks. They were online marketplaces for illegal drugs, weapons, stolen data, and other illegal items, and each boasted more than a million customer accounts.
In April, the two law enforcement agencies also took down the dark web news and information site, DeepDotWeb. The news site, which operated as a shady marketing affiliate for sellers, made its money sending out promotional links to black market drug sites.
Just prior to this, the widely popular drug market, Dream, took itself offline at the end of April. Some guessed Dream may have sensed that police were closing in on its operations, or it possibly grew nervous after a multi-agency U.S.-based law enforcement taskforce arrested more than 60 people in a major dark web opioid operation in March.
What Some Think May Be Happening
Some believe existing businesses may be honeypots, which are traps law enforcement agencies will use to detect and learn from unlawful behavior. Many savvy dark web watchers know that whenever a site is down or closes for an unexpected period of time it could mean a bust is coming.
Whenever a bust looks to becoming, frequenters of the dark web contact each other through other sites, like Reddit, to give them heads up.
Why It’s Not Difficult for These Platforms to Operate for Lengthy Periods of Time
Dark web businesses operate, promising anonymity to all buyers and sellers. They are able to do this using encoded digital currencies, like Bitcoin. Though all transactions are kept in a public ledger, these transactions make it difficult to monitor. These types of sites and the use of cryptocurrency have made it easier for platforms to sell illegal goods, like drugs. Once a person places an order, sellers on these platforms have been known to ship goods in stuffed animals and other items that don’t raise suspicions.
Each time one of these popular dark web operations shuts down, it temporarily halts the online drug trade. After the dust settles, another one opens. In most cases, when a new one opens, the online marketplace is bigger, more sophisticated, and more secure.
It essentially leaves law enforcement officials chasing their tails until they stumble upon on new break. This is because authorities have a very difficult time determining who operates these sites. They are protected by layers of encryption, the administrators only go by screen names, and some have used rented equipment, making them more difficult to track down.
Like with other law enforcement efforts to crack down on drugs, they often only put a temporary cap on the situation. As long as there is a market for contraband and illegal drugs, sellers will find ways to supply it. Though it appears that authorities have been making dents in the dark web markets lately, if history is correct, others will slowly start to creep back into the digital space.