Mid-2017 saw law enforcement agencies from the United States, Europe and parts of Asia bring down two of the most popular dark web markets in the world.
The operation, which to date is regarded as the most significant darknet market takedown, saw AlphaBay and Hansa seized by law enforcement agencies.
It all happened within weeks, to give investigators time to undertake specific high-level investigations. It was a big blow to all darknet market users, who ended up counting losses since their crypto funds were seized in the takedown.
After the seizure of AlphaBay, the following month of August saw a group of developers come together to create a new site with features similar to the defunct marketplace.
The newly launched site, known as Empire Market, has a striking resemblance to its fallen predecessor and seeks to bring new life to the darknet market giant AlphaBay once was.
Below is a screenshot obtained by DarkWebNews from the community forum on Empire Market. An admin of the marketplace, who goes by the name Syd, introduces the new market and its features.
According to this forum post, darknet market users who were familiar with AlphaBay will find it pretty easy to navigate through Empire Market because all the basic concepts have been carried forward to the new site.
The recycled concepts employed by Empire Market include user interface, which takes into account theme colors and icon arrangement, a grading system, which gauges members based on trust level and vendor level, as well as the procedures for making purchases and deposits.
The Empire Market admin is, however, quick to clarify that despite the similarities, every line of code in the site was written from scratch and thus original.
More so, in creating the hidden site, developers have taken into account the latest server security features to keep the market safe from cyber attacks.
Boosted Security on Empire Market
Other features which increase the security of Empire Market are the use of Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) and Two-Factor Authentication (2FA).
PGP is an encrypted communications system that takes into account the use of both private and public keys. The public key is given to the sender of the message by the receiver.
The sender then uses the public key to encrypt a message, and the receiver will use the private key for decryption purposes.
For the case of Empire Market, setting up 2FA requires one first to set up a public key. Failure to do so results in an error.
Phase Two Developments and Cryptocurrencies in Use
As of now, Empire Market has adopted two methods of payment, which are Litecoin and Bitcoin.
However, during future iterations of the market’s roll out, otherwise known as “phase two,” admins will seek to integrate other cryptocurrencies. The altcoins to be considered are Bitcoin Cash, Monero, Ethereum and ZCash.
More developments to be included in the phase two growth stage of the market include the introduction of CC auto shops, multisignature wallets and affiliate programs.
Just like AlphaBay, which also offered CC autoshops, Empire Market will continue to offer new features.
The addition of multisig seeks to add additional layers of security to user funds where multiple authorizations will be required before a transaction is completed (mainly in the case of withdrawals).
An additional point to note: Given the nature of activities conducted on the dark web, Empire Market advises users to utilize crypto tumbling services such as BitBlender and PrivCoin.
BitBlender is used to tumble Bitcoins, whereas PrivCoin is used to tumble Litecoin.
The URLs of both of the above are given by the site.
Association with AlphaBay
It is no doubt that AlphaBay was the most popular market by the time of its seizure.
A comparison with its predecessor Silk Road puts the size of AlphaBay nearly ten times larger.
The parameters used to determine this are the number of users and the volume of transactions completed after a specific time.
To some, Empire Market’sassociation with AlphaBay may look like a marketing strategy—evident to the fact that those hearing about it will likely rush to the new site and open an account to try it out.
The only fundamental difference between Empire Market and its predecessor is its adoption of Litecoin as the preferred token.
This altcoin is quickly rising to be a solid contender for taking Bitcoin’s place as the dominant payment option on the dark web.
By the time AlphaBay was closed, it offered support for four cryptocurrencies—Bitcoin, Ethereum, Monero and ZCash.
The market never adopted Litecoin, but one can conclude that if it were still up and running, then it likely would have integrated the use of Litecoin and Bitcoin Cash as payment options.
The convenience brought about by the adoption of other altcoins into dark web markets continues to prove that there are other cryptocurrencies which have a lesser processing time and offer more anonymity than Bitcoin.
A Glance into the Future
Law enforcement agencies are ever on the prowl to shut down the dark web drug trade and arrest the admins running darknet sites.
As of now, it is still early to tell what the fate of Empire Market will be, but the result will unfold with time.
An analysis of darknet market trends and patterns before they exit from the scene indicates that apart from seizure by authorities, other ways in which markets fall are through exit scams and hacks.
Depending on the reason for the situation, these exits can either be temporary or permanent. But what is for sure is that exit scams and crackdowns by authorities result in permanent seizures.
But, as history shows, these setbacks do not put a dent in the darknet market community for long. After one major market closes, another takes its place.
Devoted users of one particular fallen market often model new sites that operate similarly to their predecessors. They often give the new market a similar name to take advantage of brand recognition, just like how new versions of Silk Road have come up in place of the original market.
And as is seen with the newly launched Empire Market, this trend lives on in the dark web community.
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