First there was the Silk Road, which was seized and taken down by the Feds while its owner was arrested. Then a number of successor sites sprung up, including the Sheep Marketplace that was hacked apart and robbed of an estimated $100 million worth of Bitcoin. So will it be third time lucky?
Maybe so, if you believe the masterminds of a new, proof-of-concept ‘dark marketplace’ aptly named the “DarkMarket”, who say that it’s impossible for law enforcement to take down their model.
DarkMarket was revealed at the Toronto Bitcoin hackathon earlier this month, and claimed a $20,000 prize in the process. The way it works is pretty complex, but the key is that it’s built on peer-to-peer technology, which means the FBI or other concerned law enforcement agencies would need to arrest every single buyer and seller to take it offline.
For a more in-depth explanation of how DarkMarket works you can read this article in Wired. Essentially, each user is given a page from which they can sell their illicit goods to other buyers on the network, in the same way eBay does. Meanwhile those who don’t intend to sell can simply leave their own page blank. Sales are conducted through a messaging system, and an “arbiter” is selected to act as an intermediary to make sure the deal goes over smoothly. These arbiters are simply other users who have been chosen by others to take that role. It sounds similar to how Reddit chooses moderators for its subreddits.
The developers of DarkMarket have already published its source code on GitHub, and a prototype has already shown how it could operate in much the same way as the hugely successful Silk Road – the only difference being there’s no centralization that allowed the FBI to take it down. For now though, DarkMarket remains just a proof-of-concept – currently it still shows user’s IP addresses and so it’s far from anonymous. However, the source code can easily be altered to mask its user’s identities, something that would give law enforcement a serious headache.
DarkMarket’s creators don’t have any plans to establish a dark marketplace of their own, but now that the proof-of-concept has already been published, it’s likely only a matter of time until someone takes the source code and builds one with full anonymity.