Growing traffic and scams drive downtime and instability across dark web drug marketplaces

Dark web struggles to keep up with high traffic volumes

Large drug marketplaces on the dark web cannot keep up with high traffic following the disappearance of their competitors through scams and security concerns, new research by NDARC reveals.

The latest bulletin by the Centre’s program monitoring online drug marketplaces, including the “dark web”, reports that there has been an increase in retailers across all marketplaces during the monitoring period from July to December 2015, but this trend was characterised by a high level of instability and fluctuation.

Dark web drug marketplaces are constant subject to scams, hacks and technical instabilities and new portals can fall as quickly as they have risen, say the authors.

"By December 2015, five of the eighteen marketplaces being monitored had closed, either as a result of scams, or various other reasons, reinforcing the volatility of these marketplaces."

Alphabay and Nucleus were the largest biggest marketplaces by number of retailers during the reporting period, but the authors note that none of them have reached the size of Evolution, the biggest marketplace before its moderators shut it down in an exit scam in early 2015, stealing millions of dollars in bitcoin from their users.

Following the closure of another large marketplace, Agora, due to security concerns during the reporting period, many users switched to Alphabay and Nucleus, which experienced significant service disruptions and downtime.

“This may be a result of servers not being able to accommodate large volumes of traffic attempting to access these markets as an alternative,” the authors write.

Despite high levels of instability, the authors observe that a downwards trend in outages compared to the previous reporting period suggests more marketplaces being better equipped to handle high demand and that outages occur mainly on those marketplaces with large spikes in traffic.

“There appears to be fewer missing data points for many marketplaces in the latter part of the monitoring period, which may reflect expansion of these markets and increased capacity to accommodate large volumes of traffic,” write the authors.

The full bulletin can be read at Drug and New Technologies, Issue 6. March 2016.