Last summer saw the ultimate downfall of two of the most influential darknet markets of their time—AlphaBay Market and Hansa Market.
By the time they were seized by law enforcement authorities, these darknet markets were among the biggest in the world.
They generated income running into the upper thousands of Bitcoins on a daily basis for both sellers and site admins.
The sellers would cash in from profits acquired after the sale of goods or services, while the admins would rake in commission revenue generated from the sites.
Due to the influence of AlphaBay and Hansa on the dark web scene, the operation that led to their ultimate seizure was regarded as the biggest ever dark web takedown.
Several arrests were made, including the arrest of AlphaBay Market admin Alexander Cazes, who later died by suicide in a Thai jail.
The takedown was a major blow to thousands of darknet users who ended up counting losses after their cryptocurrency funds were seized by the law enforcement agencies heading the operation.
Not only that, most of the customers who had purchased goods/services on the seized markets never received their order.
A month after the shutdown of AlphaBay and Hansa in mid-2017, a group of developers began working on what is now known as Empire Market—a replica of the long-gone AlphaBay Market. The new darknet market is built in memory of Alexander Cazes.
The screenshot below is a message from the admin of Empire Market detailing how the site is modeled.
The admin goes by the name Syd, and it seems he is in charge of announcements since most posts in the forums were posted by him.
Acknowledging the fact that AlphaBay was a beacon of hope to most darknet market users during its time, Syd implies that Empire’s developers have put a lot of effort into bringing new life to AlphaBay’s design and interface.
Features & Capabilities of Empire Market
Most of the features in the new darknet market are a replica of AlphaBay’s features, including user interface, the use of Two Factor Authentication (2FA) and Pretty Good Privacy (PGP), deposits and withdrawals, plus a grading system.
However, Empire Market seeks to offer more security and anonymity by adding new features to the model currently in existence.
The addition of new features, referred to as phase 2, seeks to integrate altcoins such as Bitcoin Cash, Monero, Ethereum and ZCash as payment options. Other features will include affiliate programs, multisig and CC Autoshops.
Despite all the similarities, the admins are quick to note that every code is written from scratch to be completely original.
One thing to note is that before the seizure of AlphaBay, the market had adopted Monero, Ethereum, ZCash and, of course, Bitcoin. For Empire, the only cryptocurrencies currently in use are Bitcoin and Litecoin.
AlphaBay never integrated Litecoin, but perhaps it would have done so by now if it were operational.
Remembering AlphaBay’s Innovative Qualities
To generalize, one can say that AlphaBay was a trendsetter.Having four cryptocurrencies added as payment options before the site’s seizure showed its zeal and determination in maintaining its position as the world’s top darknet market.
Months have passed since AlphaBay Market was closed, but still, no darknet market has been able to integrate the four altcoins that AlphaBay had.
If it were still in existence, the only conclusion is that AlphaBay would have added several new features to make it stand out among other markets due to the level of innovation the developers shared.
Establishing a new darknet market that operates similarly as a previous top market can be considered as a marketing strategy in the eyes of many.
Of course, the more darknet users hear about Empire, the more curious they become and in turn, they may end up opening accounts on the market to see if it has any potential.
A Look into the Future
From previous case studies, it is evident that the trends and patterns of darknet markets are highly unpredictable. But the most notable factors that cause markets to exit from the scene are seizure by law enforcement, hacks and exit scams.
Depending on the reason, a market’s closure may be temporary or long term. But what is evident is that exit scams and law enforcement seizures are permanent.
Crackdowns by law enforcement agencies lead to arrests and prosecution, as was the case with AlphaBay last year.
Hacks, on the other hand, can lead to either temporary or permanent closure. If users lose funds as a result of the cyber attack, then the admins may not be able to recover and will opt to shut down all operations.
But in the past, some markets have been brought back despite suffering major hacks.
In one of the most recent situations, a DDoS hack was orchestrated targeting the most popular darknet markets. As a result, some sites were offline for weeks.
As of now, the fate of Empire Market lies with a high level of uncertainty because what is for sure is that law enforcement agencies are already on the dark web radar, continuing to monitor other marketplaces to see if they can bring them down.
You can find Empire here: http://empiremktxgjovhm.onion. This address is sourced from Empire’s official subreddit page. (Note: Never enter a darknet site or market unless the URL is from a trusted source. Double-check to make sure you have entered the URL correctly before visiting the site.)