Last month's FBI raid on Silk Road 2.0 has done little to slow the drug, weapon, and stolen identity trade on the dark net—in fact, shutting down the relatively tame Silk Road created a vacuum that was immediately filled with sites that are "more dangerous in their nature," according to a new analysis by a group called the Digital Citizens Alliance.
Since the early November raid that shut down Silk Road, BlueSky Marketplace, Cannabis Road, Alpaca Marketplace, and several other dark net drug markets, the overall number of drug listings available on the dark net is down by roughly 30 percent. That might seem like a win for the FBI, but the overall number of drug listings on the dark net is more than 32,000—so it's still not exactly very difficult to trade Bitcoin for illegal drugs.
What's more, new marketplaces have obviously popped up, with many of them willing to sell things that Silk Road wasn't willing to touch, such as weapons and stolen identities. The most popular of these, Evolution Marketplace, has more than 14,700 drug listings and more than 12,100 listings selling other illegal items.
"Evolution Marketplace is a much different animal than Silk Road," Dan Palumbo, author of the Digital Citizens Alliance analysis, said in a statement. "They sell weapons, stolen credit cards, and more nefarious items that were forbidden on both versions of Silk Road."
It's not just Evolution, which had been around before the Silk Road raid and has thus far managed to evade law enforcement: Since last month, at least five new markets, Nucleus, Silkkitien, Panacea Flower Sanctuary, System D, and Topina, have popped up.
"Now, four of the top five dark net marketplaces sell weapons while three of the top five sell stolen financial data," he added. "This is a darker dark net."
As an aside, it's worth noting that Digital Citizens Alliance has come under fire in the past for advocating for internet filtering, and its name is slightly misleading—it's a Microsoft-backed group that has little to do with "citizens." However, its general monitoring of dark net marketplaces, and its numbers, have generally been considered to be accurate.
In many ways, the digital war on drugs is much like the conventional war on drugs—there's a fairly well known effect that, when law enforcement takes down one cartel, several others pop up to replace it. Oftentimes the ones replacing the previous regime are more brutal in an attempt to establish dominance.
And, well, the demand is there, and often increases because of the publicity involved in any raid. After the first version of Silk Road was raided in 2013, for instance, traffic to its replacement was up more than 30 percent half a year later. And, after The Pirate Bay, which was the largest piracy site on the internet, was raided last week, torrent traffic fully rebounded just two days later.
"This is a persistent crowd and they will keep looking for ways to evade law enforcement," Palumbo said.