Darknet's Largest Marketplace Still Offline; Fears of Exit Scam Rise

Empire Market, the darknet's most popular marketplace by site traffic, was suddenly taken offline on Aug. 22.

AccessTimeIconAug 26, 2020 at 11:01 a.m. UTC
Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 9:48 a.m. UTC
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A top darknet site used to sell illicit goods has been offline for more than three days, with fears growing that administrators may have fled with an estimated $30 million in cryptocurrency.

  • According to a Tuesday report by Darknetstats, Empire Market, the darknet's most popular marketplace by site traffic, was suddenly taken offline on Aug. 22.
  • Speculation is mounting over the whereabouts of the site's administrators, who some believe have made off with an estimated 2,638 bitcoin ($30.2 million), according to John Marsh, a Darknetstats representative, speaking to CoinDesk via email.
  • However, Marsh said that figure is not certain as no large movements of funds have been identified.
  • There is plenty of speculation, but nothing "concrete" about what has happened to the site, he said.
  • An Empire Market head moderator known as "Se7en" confirmed the site was down on the darknet forum Dread late Tuesday evening.
  • Se7en suggested the incident was not an exit scam because that usually entails disabling withdrawals and accepting bitcoin for a period of weeks.
  • Marsh, however, contested this and said his publication believes it was an "unplanned exit scam," as bitcoin withdrawals were working up to the day the marketplace went offline.
  • The darknet refers to certain sections on the internet that are only accessible with specific software and use unique communication protocols to provide access.
  • According to a tweet thread by anonymous darknet journalist "dark.fail," the darknet has been in a "golden age of trust" but darknet users should "expect a rough year of exit scams ahead."
  • Dark.fail added that, while it's easy to have a sound idealogy when creating a darknet market, when thousands of bitcoin become involved "greed can defeat all good intentions."
  • One theory raised by Se7en is that Empire Market had been the subject of an ongoing direct denial of service (DDoS) attack and the controllers had just decided to "call it quits."
  • The site has suffered multiple such attacks since going online in 2018 and has been extorted for between $10,000 to $15,000 per week to keep the site live, according to Marsh.

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