Sites on the so-called dark web are often in for a bumpy ride. Thanks to scams, downtime, and law enforcement operations, the life of underground marketplaces and forums can be largely unpredictable.
Now, it looks like one of the more popular dark web hacking forums has been acquired by a new set of owners. On Thursday, administrators for computer exploit market The Real Deal claimed to have taken ownership of Hell, a site with a history of distributing large data dumps and stolen data.
"We will be removing the invite-only system for at least a week, and leave the "vetting" forum for new users," one of The Real Deal admins, who also used the handle The Real Deal, told Motherboard in an encrypted chat.
"It's always nice to have a professional community that meets our market's original niche, hopefully it will bring some more talent both to the market and to the forums," the admin continued. "And it's no secret that we as admins would enjoy the benefit of 'first dibs' on buying fresh data, resources, tools, etc."
To prove their control over Hell, the admin uploaded several files in different directories of the forum with messages directed towards this reporter.
Hell has already had a fairly dramatic history. Originally launched in early 2015, Hell was where the Adult Friend Finder breach emerged. A few months later, the site's apparent owner, a hacker who used the handle Ping, disappeared, and the site closed down shortly after. Eventually, the site relaunched anew in January of this year, seemingly with a new administrator.
This time, however, it's the forum itself that is being traded.
"I personally will be giving the old admins a few btc," The Real Deal wrote, who added that current administrators would be demoted to a lower rank on the forum. The reason for the trade, The Real Deal claimed, was because the current admin could no longer take care of Hell due to personal reasons.
In another complication that may worry members of Hell, The Real Deal isn't without its own mysterious happenings. In July of last year, the marketplace suddenly vanished, as did its administrators. A week or so later, one returned, telling Motherboard at the time "I am the only 'free' admin right now." That admin claimed that he had, along with his collaborators, been arrested as part of raids on another cybercrime hub, called Darkode.
At the time of writing, no announcement related to the switch over has been made on Hell. Instead, it appears to just be business as usual.