History is replete with examples of how government agencies and people involved in criminal activities keep playing cat and mouse games.
With a lot of fanfare, the agencies will declare that they have solved a particular crime just by shutting down an illegal operation.
But within months, another set of activities will inevitably emerge, since criminals always manage to find and exploit loopholes in the law and relevant enforcement systems.
And darknet markets are no exception to this.
Last month, the United States Department of Justice managed to use its powers to bring down the leading dark web market AlphaBay.
Subsequently, in July, a global law enforcement operation shut down another top darknet site, Hansa Market.
The activities of many sellers and buyers who were engaged in illegally transacting drugs, goods and guns stood paralyzed.
But it appears the impact was only temporary.
After AlphaBay, Hansa Also Brought Down
Soon after AlphaBay was seized by U.S. governmental powers, a joint effort involving agencies across countries and continents initiated a similar crackdown in Europe.
And this time, the agencies played a more proactive role by taking over and running the servers of another dark web site, Hansa.
The servers were operating in places like Lithuania and the Netherlands, and after taking over, the agencies managed to collect data about the people who were trading on that platform.
The information supposedly includes the addresses to which contraband goods were being delivered.
The trove of data has been passed on to Europol for further action.
Alternate Sites Emerge
The general perception among observers was that people dealing in darknet markets will now find it difficult to do business, and there will be a slowdown in relevant activities.
But nothing like that has taken place.
In fact, these dark web users have moved to other sites like Dream Market, which has seen a massive surge in membership since the takedowns of AlphaBay and Hansa.
Many of these sites have existed even before but would attract very few customers when compared to top darknet markets like AlphaBay.
But with Hansa and AlphaBay’s closure, those habituated to the darknet markets can hardly resist the temptation to look for other pastures.
Studies have shown that this is usually the case after digital drug markets are compromised by law enforcement.
Emerging leaders like Dream Market have offered former AlphaBay and Hansa users this refuge.
It is estimated that Dream Market has suddenly expanded with the number of products listed on its platform rising to about 100,000 in a short span of time.
Also, Tochka is another portal which has seen serious increase in traffic.
Same Procedures Followed by Dream Market
In many ways, the operations of the dark web portal Dream Market are identical in nature to other websites dealing in similar products.
One can use the Tor Browser, in combination with a Virtual Private Network, to access the site and make a registration.
All communications have to be encrypted to ensure complete security.
Some vendors have expressed difficulty in finding their feet, since seller recognitions are earned through more than just a few transactions, and a new seller does not have that advantage.
Buyers have to have trust in the seller before they confirm their orders.
The Dream Market site appears to be reliable in making customer deliveries as well.
It is reported that Dream Market is strict about not permitting some more precarious items to be sold or bought on its portal.
If the site sees its business growing, it may streamline its systems even more.
Darknet markets have to give the confidence to their customers that they are, in fact, a secure site and that users’ identities will not be compromised at any cost.
How Long Will This Run Last?
Despite this shift in popularity from one market to another and the continued expansion of business within darknet markets, it cannot be denied that the intelligence community and law enforcement departments in different countries are keeping a close watch over the dark web.
As mentioned, in some cases, the police even have in their possession the personal details of those who are being delivered products that were ordered through the darknet markets.
There may be a certain amount of leverage given to the kind of products being purchased.
Small quantities of drugs may not receive the same attention as guns or other contraband and stolen goods.
But, if they can help it, the agencies are not going to allow these sites to flourish unless they deal in legitimate trade.
That day may not come since crime never stops and vendors often revel in taking the necessary risks to conduct their business efficiently online.
It might be a long haul.