The disappearance of Evolution, one of the darknet's biggest markets, along with its anonymous administrators and all its customers' Bitcoin, was supposed to be a lesson in trusting strangers on the darknet. The lesson was, basically, don't trust them.
But angry darknet denizens are already forking over thousands of dollars in Bitcoin to yet another anonymous entity. This time, it's to amass a bounty for whoever can reveal the identities of the erstwhile Evolution administrators—a practice known as "doxing" in hacker circles.
"Let us not allow them get away with this," the Reddit post read. "If we do not try to catch them now, this will continue to happen in all darknet markets. If we do not try to put a stop to these exit scams by darknet marketplace admins, then there will never be any secured darknet market for us."
"It is time to put a stop to this once and for all," the announcement concluded.
Evolution, an online black market only accessible through the anonymizing software Tor, disappeared yesterday along with Verto and Kimble, and all the Bitcoin stored on the site's "escrow" wallet. Evolution's escrow system set Verto and Kimble as trusted mediators in the exchange of Bitcoin on the site, but also gave them carte blanche access to all the funds in the wallet. If they ran off, it was because everyone trusted them not to.
Calls to dox Verto and Kimble, Evolution's admins, were raised almost immediately after news broke that Evolution was down, potentially for good. One Reddit user, "Deepthroat_," even issued an ultimatum for Verto and Kimble, threatening to reveal who they are if they didn't return everyone's Bitcoin. As of now, it looks like Deepthroat_ was just full of hot air. (Deepthroat did not answer to Motherboard's encrypted email requesting comment.)
Whoever is behind this doxing campaign has already collected almost 22 Bitcoin, or around $5,800 at the current exchange rate, despite the fact that there are no assurances that this is not a scam to trick angry Evolution users.
"They incentivize the wrong type of people to take the wrong types of action."
There is already even a red flag. The first two donations to the bounty wallet, one of which made up half of the total donations with 11 Bitcoin, came from the same person. This indicates that, perhaps, the person behind the campaign was trying to give it legitimacy by transferring funds from another wallet under his control.
This is hardly the first time something like this has happened on the darknet.
"Posting a hacker bounty happens after every large-scale bitcoin-related theft, to the point where it is now predictable," Nik Cubrilovic, a security researcher who has followed darknet markets for years, told Motherboard. But, he added "None of the previous bounties raised achieved anything."
As Cubrilovic noted, doxing campaigns were also launched when MtGox, which at the time was the world's largest Bitcoin exchange, went down, as well as when another online drug bazaar Sheep Marketplace, shut itself down amid rumors of what's called as an "exit scam."
In the Sheep Marketplace doxing campaign, an innocent person was doxed, Cubrilovic said, showing the dangers of this kind of endeavors.
"They incentivize the wrong type of people to take the wrong types of action," he said in an email. "In almost every one of these cases somebody has been falsely accused or information that has later turned out to be false has been released."
For now, this particular campaign hasn't produced any leads, nor victims, and it's unclear if it's a scam or not. The person behind it did not answer Motherboard's request for comment.
Internet sleuths also managed to track down a possibly random IP address and what appears to be a Google Maps screengrab of a normal-looking dude at a Starbucks. It appears as though amateur attempts to dox Verto and Kimble have been fruitless, perhaps making the idea of amassing a bounty an attractive one.
But if past doxing campaigns are any indication, this will most likely be fruitless too—or worse, a scam.