That’s right! Another longstanding dark web drug hub, the Outlaw Marketplace, goes under. By now, that really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given the slough of shutdowns that have taken place over the last few years, starting with the iconic Silk Road seizure.
Ever since, headlines have been littered with accounts of illicit ecommerce enterprises suddenly imploding—leaving the digital social sphere mired in tales of conspiracy and greed. However, there is something peculiar about the Outlaw “meltdown” that differs in character from other cases.
The very last post from site admins states:
“This website has been hacked, the wallet stolen. it’s over. Goodbye outlaw market…”
Curt, cold and assuming none other than the solemn character that often accompanies the pretense of an apology, the statement reads as nonchalant as an Albert Camus novel.
As to whether the site was truly the victim of a hack or if this event was actually an exit-scam, the answer is still unknown. Nonetheless, it isn’t hard to gather somewhat of an idea about what happened, especially considering the possibilities.
A low level, but outspoken admin named 2CTFM, who is familiar with the operations of the site, claims there wouldn’t have been more than $20,000 in escrow at the time of closure.
This implies that an exit-scam would not have been a very profitable act to perpetrate. Regardless, the admin maintains the honesty and integrity of the site’s main operators.
This really begs the question as to whether an exit scam would really have been worth executing. That brings us to possibility number two: could the Outlaw marketplace have actually been a victim of a fatal hack attempt?
Dark web markets are constantly under the threat of exploit, both by profit-seeking hackers and law enforcement alike. In cases similar to this, it really shows the threat these websites face.
This is made ever more true by the recent explosion in bitcoin prices. Bitcoin hit almost $3,000 recently.
Alphabay, for one, constantly updates its controls over security and defense against DDoS attacks and other exploits, which are capable of paralyzing a site’s operation.
Hansa, another top marketplace, put in place a bug bounty incentive that rewards hackers that are in a position to detect any vulnerabilities in the site’s infrastructure.
Hence, it’s nowhere near far-fetched to entertain the likelihood that Outlaw would have actually been subject to those very same issues. “If larger, better funded sites on the Deepweb are vulnerable, than Outlaw was by no means immune,” states dark web market researcher Hanson McColley.
In truth, who is to say it couldn’t have been a little bit of both. In the days that preceded the shutdown, 2CTFM explains that the site’s admins had spent countless hours trying to fix a problem with the system’s bitcoin mixer, which was affecting customer withdrawals and dispersals.
Why dedicate hours improving a site only to exit scam? One possible explanation according to McColley is that the admins may have noticed that some funds were missing or that the accounts of the site were not solvent. In that scenario, it could possibly be likely that they pulled the plug before any further damage could be caused, keeping whatever was left of the spoils for themselves.
Whatever the case when it comes to the dark web, greed is as constant as the speed of light. It is the foremost temptation in an unregulated digital playground of neo-cocaine-cowboys who monopolize control over digital money worth more than gold.
As a result of the impunity that dark web enterprises allow for, what can happen will happen—and has happened—over and over again.
The future going forward will see more use of sites that employ what’s called multi-sig wallets, instead of the current single-sig scheme. In a “single-signature” wallet, the final bitcoin transaction can be made with one signature (presumably, the one held by the site).
In a multi-sig transaction, it would take an additional signature (or signatures) to authorize a transaction/withdrawal.
What that means is that three parties would engage in a bitcoin transaction: the buyer, the seller and the site. Two of the three parties would need to authorize a withdrawal, meaning that if the site wanted to jet with the money, it would actually need one additional key held by either the buyer or the seller (neither of which would ever allow the site to run off with their money!).
While another shutdown may seem like a negative hit for the dark web market scene, it will actually be a healthy step forward and another reason for multi-sig adoption to gain greater favor going forward.
Whether the Outlaw case was ultimately caused by a hack, an exit scam or both, we may never know, but one thing is for sure: it won’t be the last time.
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