Dark marketplaces raked from $300,000 to $500,000 a day

Pierluigi Paganini August 16, 2015

A Study that will be presented at the USENIX Security Symposium shows that principal Dark marketplaces raked from $300,000 to $500,000 a day.

We all remind the operation Onymous and the seizure of several black markets operated by law enforcement last year, despite the enormous effort spent every day by the authorities the illicit activities in the Deep Web are still very profitable for the cybercrime.

How much is the turnover for these markets?

According to an academic research, after Silk Road was taken down in 2013, the total revenue from a selection of markets has averaged at nearly half a million dollars a day.

The researchers Nicolas Christin, an assistant research professor at Carnegie Mellon University, and a PhD student, Kyle Soska, published an interesting paper titled “Measuring the Longitudinal Evolution of the Online Anonymous Marketplace Ecosystem.”

The duo will the results of their research at the 24th USENIX Security Symposium next week.

The researchers studied the original Silk Road just before it was shut down and analyzed other dark markets shortly this event, through to a few months after Operation Onymous.

The experts crawled 35 different online anonymous dark marketplaces and parsed them a total of 1,908 times yielding a dataset of 3.2 TB in size.

“Our measurement methodology consists of 1) crawling online anonymous marketplaces, and 2) parsing them. Table 1 lists all the anonymous marketplaces for which we have data. We scraped 35 different marketplaces a total of 1,908 times yielding a dataset of 3.2 TB in size. The total number of pages obtained from each scrape ranged from 27 to 331,691 pages and performing each scrape took anywhere from minutes up to five days. The sheer size of the data corpus we are considering, as well as other challenging factors (e.g., hidden service latency and poor marketplace availability) led us to devise a custom web scraping framework built on top of Scrapy [3] and Tor [16], which we discuss first. We then highlight how we decide to parse (or ignore) marketplaces, before touching on validation techniques we use to ensure soundness of our analysis.” explained the researchers in the paper.

crawled marketplaces

The author considered feedbacks left by sellers a significant element for the analysis of every transaction, some dark marketplaces make leaving these reviews mandatory, a useful information to estimate the overall amount of money resulting from the sales.

“While we can not directly measure the money being transacted from buyers to sellers, or packages being shipped from vendors to customers, we do make frequent observations of product feedback left for particular item listings on the marketplaces,” the authors write.

They found that before Operation Onymous, major dark marketplaces such as Silk Road 2, Agora, Evolution, Hydra and Pandora raked from $300,000 to $500,000 a day on average, with the peak going up to $650,000.

“At its height, I think Silk Road 2 was probably the most successful one. In February 2014 it was clearing around $400,000 [a day],” Christin told Motherboard in a phone interview.

Despite the figures are significant, the majority of vendors on the dark marketplaces wasn’t getting rich. The study confirmed the resilience of the online black marketplace ecosystem to the action of law enforcement.

A number of products were common to the various black marketplaces including cannabis, ecstasy and cocaine and related products that consistently account for about 70% of all sales. Analyzing the vendors, the researchers discovered that some of them was highly specialized and focused on a single product, other offered a large number of different products.

“We also discover that vendor population has long-tail characteristics: while a few vendors are (or were) highly successful, the vast majority of vendors grossed less than $10,000” states the experts “About 70 percent of all sellers never managed to sell more than $1,000 worth of products,” the study reads.

The data related the volume per vendor shows that 18 percent made between $1,000 and $10,000, and only two percent cracked the $100,000 mark.

black marketplace study Total volume

“About 70% of all sellers never managed to sell more than $1,000 worth of products. Another 18% of sellers were observed to sell between $1,000 and $10,000 but only about 2% of vendors managed to sell more than $100,000.” continues the study.

Thirty-five sellers were selling over $1 million worth of product, and the top one percent of vendors made up over half of all the volume transacted.

“In fact, 35 sellers were observed selling over $1,000,000 worth of product and the top 1% most successful vendors were responsible for 51.5% of all the volume transacted. Some of these sellers, like “SuperTrips” (or to a lesser extent, “Nod”) from Silk Road, have been arrested, and numbers released in connection with these arrests are consistent with our findings”.

There are no doubts, online dark marketplaces are efficient facilitators for the sale of drugs that will continue to generate millions of dollars of revenue.


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Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs – dark marketplaces, Deep Web)

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