Meet Darkleaks, a Bitcoin-Powered Black Market for Secrets

Darkleaks will let users sell leaked data in an anonymous, trustless environment powered by bitcoin's blockchain.

AccessTimeIconFeb 3, 2015 at 2:50 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 11, 2021 at 11:30 a.m. UTC

A new black market where informants can trade secrets for bitcoin has been announced this week.

, masterminded by members of crypto-anarchist collective unSystem, will let users sell leaked data in an anonymous, trustless environment powered by bitcoin's blockchain.

Amir Taaki, the project's systems developer, told CoinDesk he hopes to "[devalue] business models based around proprietary secrecy" by providing a financial, rather than moral, incentive for insiders to reveal information.

History of radical schemes

The unSystem team has divided opinion with radical projects like the anonymous Dark Wallet, due for release soon, and Dark Market, a P2P eBay-style platform designed to run outside government control.

Darkleaks, which Taaki said has been in development "on and off for many months", is no less controversial.

The programmer, known for his anti-censorship stance, argues the Darkleaks concept is "ethical", if not necessarily legal. However, detractors are likely to argue that rather than exposing misconduct, the platform's profit-driven structure may, in fact, encourage it.

The marketplace builds on another proof-of-concept, PayPub, revealed last May, that rethinks the moderated, feedback-focused model used by sites like Silk Road.

Unlike other dark markets, there are no third parties to weigh in on disagreements between users. In fact, buyers and sellers on Darkleaks cannot communicate at all. Instead, the marketplace functions via technology – using bitcoin to encrypt, store and release users' files.

The site explains:

"The software uses bitcoin’s blockchain to encrypt files which are released when payment is claimed by the leaker. Files are split into segments and encrypted. These segments are unlocked only when the leaker reveals the key by claiming his bitcoins."

To prevent disputes, several of each leaker's file segments are released at random, via a provably fair cryptographic system, on a specified date. This way, potential buyers are able to authenticate and value the leaker's document before making a payment.

'No limits' on content

Darkleaks, as with unSystem's other tools, is "all about communication, knowledge and economy," Taaki said.

However, as the project's page makes clear, there really are no limits on the type of information on sale. Users can monetise everything from evidence of tax evasion or corruption, to more unsavoury items, including stolen databases and naked pictures of A-list celebrities.

CoinDesk - Unknown

darkleaks shot 1

While this illicit content puts the platform in a grey legal area, Taaki said the team has not yet received any formal notice from the authorities.

"Seems like they're happy with our work, otherwise they've had plenty of excuses to try and make moves," he added.

Currently, Darkleaks' open-source software is in alpha, with code available to view on the project's GitHub page.

Taaki said he hopes to encourage other developers to build on the project's foundations and make the secrets-for-bitcoin model a reality:

"I think the idea is widely applicable, so I hope by putting this out there with Python bindings that the community starts to use this concept in novel and interesting ways."

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