Before the story on AlphaBay broke (see my last post), I had concluded that the deep web markets had improved since my last report on them in early 2016. At that time, I found that the deep web was operating, but not as well as it had been in the past. Yes, there were sites that were up, but there was a lot of paranoia about them being infiltrated by law enforcement. There was also the fear that these relatively new markets might pull an ‘exit scam’: suddenly closing and taking everyone’s money with them. This is what happened when the Evolution Marketplace suddenly disappeared overnight. Paranoia will always be a by-product of the deep web, but it seemed to have subsided a little over the course of 2016. It is now, after the AlphaBay hack, back in full.
Before I continue this discussion on deep web markets, let me restate my working definition of the deep and dark web. In my opinion, any site that is accessible through normal browsers, including those that require passwords to enter, are really in the normal web. Those sites that can only be accessed by special, secure browsers, like Tor, I refer to as deep web sites. Within this deep web region, there are dark web sites. These are sites that are dedicated to illegal activities which victimize people. These include child pornography sites, human trafficking sites, hackers-for-hire sites, and any site that will accept money for harming individuals. I do not include in the dark web those victimless, though technically illegal, sites such as drug-selling or weapon-selling sites. Anyway, that’s the definition that I will be working within here.
In this post, I want to focus mainly on what you can purchase on deep web sites. As has always been the case, drugs are the main item purchased in deep web markets. Markets still depend largely on trust scores given by buyers and there are a variety of methods used to make deals secure and keep customers satisfied. For those who want to know the details on purchasing and delivery, see my previous posts.
Vendors selling guaranteed-working credit card information are in abundance. A working card will cost you around $10 (in Bitcoins) but with a discount offered for those buying more cards. If you want a physical credit card, you can get that if you pay for shipping. If, for some reason, the card information you purchase doesn’t work, it will be replaced for free. No vendor wants to get their trust rating lowered. Keep in mind that two-thirds of cards are in the form of information that can be used for purchasing items on legitimate websites, such as Amazon. Only a third of cards bought on deep web markets are physical cards.
You can buy any type of fake document including passports from almost any country, drivers licenses (every US state and many countries), and even fake degrees from Ivy League schools. Counterfeit money sites are also popular, with some clearly offering a better product than others. Some sites will sell you loads of personal information like the, somewhat disturbing, site below.
Guns don’t seem as popular as they once were, even though there are vendors that specialize in selling them. This may be because guns are relatively easy to purchase in the US and the risk of having a gun sent to you overseas may simply be too great. That said, some, like the one below, are still available.
Some fraudsters target certain retailers and, among these, Amazon continues to be their main target. Here is one of the more comprehensive attacks.
And here’s a similar assault on McDonald’s.
I don’t know how valid these are. I’m only using them as examples of what is being sold in these markets. The trust scores seem to indicate that most customers are satisfied.
There continues to be a lot of malware for sale on these deep web sites. Some are more scary then others. This site seems suspiciously like information offered by The Shadow Brokers, the allegedly Russian hacking group that hacked the NSA. However, on closer inspection, the tools that it makes available are really re-packaged, free tools that can be downloaded on the regular internet, so be careful what you’re paying for. The low trust scores show that most hackers realized this.
There are far more troubling sites than this on the deep web. Among these, are two sites that are selling insider trading information: The Stock Insiders and KickAss Marketplace. From time to time, individuals selling insider information appear on deep web market sites in an effort to profit from secrets that they know. The difference here is that these two sites are trying to form an exclusive community of insiders who work together to benefit from each other’s inside trading tips. It is organized crime at the corporate level as all informants/members must be connected to publicly traded companies. Both of these sites are concerned with being infiltrated and, thus, have a careful vetting process. To be allowed on The Stock Insiders, you must give up some information that checks out and you must continue doing so to keep your membership. The KickAss Marketplace has an even more extensive (and somewhat bizarre) vetting process that also involves participants paying a steep monthly fee.
The scary part is that both sites claim to have legitimate trading firms and employees of publicly traded companies as members. The potential danger of these markets cannot be underrated and I will write a more extensive post on them in the near future.
For now, this is about as dark as the deep web gets. Of course, the dark web is far more evil, and the two do share some tenuous connections. Selling drugs, credit cards, and weapons can lead to or involve more serious criminal activity, and it is seems that some vendors serve as circuitous portals to more sinister dark web sites. That said, and despite all the risks inherent in purchasing in these markets, deep web markets will continue to thrive. Individual markets will come and go, Law enforcement will occasionally make high profile closures of certain markets to discourage their use. They may even infiltrate these markets to use them for gathering information on the buyers and sellers. Even if they don’t, they would like the participants to believe that this is possible. For these reasons, paranoia will continue to exist. However, paranoia has never been enough to close these markets in the past and it won’t in the future. Like it or not, it has come to the point where deep web markets have become an established business model.