Online black markets hidden in the murky "deep web" are becoming more sophisticated and selling a wider range of illegal products than their predecessors, a dangerous trend that illustrates the evolution of online criminal activity.
According to Wired, a new online marketplace called Evolution that was created earlier this year offers over 15,000 mainly contraband products including illegal drugs and weapons. Unlike Silk Road -- a similar marketplace that was taken down by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 2013 and only sold "victimless" contraband -- Evolution reportedly offers stolen credit card numbers and other information that facilitates identity theft.
Evolution also has more sophisticated security measures than other online black markets and a complex financial system that prevents bitcoins -- a digital currency -- from being seized by law enforcement, reported Wired.
According to Wired, Evolution is the third largest online black market bazaar, after a similar site called Agora and Silk Road's successor, Silk Road 2.
InSight Crime Analysis
Websites like Evolution represent the newest frontier in online criminal activity and exist in a shadowy parallel internet system known as the "deep web" or "dark web." The deep web hosts encrypted websites that allow users to navigate anonymously, making it a haven for criminals offering a range of contraband items and services including illegal drugs, hired assassins, and child pornography.
Deep web transactions typically take place using digital currencies like the largely unregulated bitcoin, which can be traded with almost complete anonymity. In addition to purchasing illegal goods, virtual currencies can be used to launder money. In April, bitcoin promoter Charlie Shrem was indicted in the United States and charged with money laundering and failing to file suspicious activity reports for allegedly selling over $1 million in bitcoins to individuals who used the currency for illegal activities.
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Although websites like Evolution are extremely difficult for law enforcement to track and remove, they are not completely immune to prosecution. In October 2013, the FBI arrested the alleged owner of Silk Road, who went by the name of Dread Pirate Roberts on the deep web. According to Time magazine, authorities believe Silk Road facilitated $1.2 billion in bitcoin transactions, many of which involved illegal drugs. As Wired's report demonstrates, however, Silk Road has already been replaced by larger, more sophisticated black market sites with an even greater potential for facilitating drug trafficking and other illegal activities.