The top Deep Web drugs marketplace, Evolution, suddenly vanished overnight, Wired’s Andy Greenberg reported, in what appears to be a scam.
Evolution was only accessible through anonymising web browsing software Tor. It functioned as a kind of eBay for drugs and illicit substances: After registering an account for free, users could browse thousands of user-submitted listings, buy products with digital currency Bitcoin, and leave ratings and reviews on vendors’ pages.
Evolution didn’t just sell drugs: it also sold hacking tutorials, stolen goods, weapons and an array of other hard-to-find contraband.
But now the marketplace and its accompanying forum has vanished altogether. Business Insider tested to see if the site was still there but we can confirm that the site is no longer online. Greenberg reported that the site, which holds vendors’ Bitcoin funds in escrow, halted withdrawals over the weekend, citing “technical difficulties.” The site then disappeared on Tuesday night.
The best-known of the Deep Web marketplaces is undoubtedly Silk Road — the libertarian-tinged drugs free-for-all that Ross Ulbricht was convicted of running earlier this year. Since then, there has been a concerted clampdown by global authorities on Deep Web drug vendors in recent years.
In November 2014, a year to the day after Ulbricht was first arrested, a coalition of international law enforcement groups swooped in on hundreds of deep web sites in Operation Onymous. Silk Road successor Silk Road 2.0 was shut and alleged administrator Blake Benthall was arrested, along with more than a dozens other around the world.
Since then, Evolution grew to become one of the largest illicit marketplace on the Deep Web. Whereas the original Silk Road’s administrator Dread Pirate Roberts (Ross Ulbricht, according to prosecutors) was outspokenly political, Evolution’s administrator Vertu is far more reserved, avoiding all publicity and press requests. Vertu also operates a “carding” forum known to help facilitate identity theft, and is joined on Evolution by a second administrator, Kimble.
An Evolution “staff member” paid to help run the site posted on Reddit last night that they could see that “the admins are preparing to exit scam with all the funds,” and that “not a single withdrawal has gone through in almost a week.” After confronting Kimble and Vertu, the administrators “confirmed they are doing it right now,” they write, later adding that “yes, this is real, no this isn’t maintenance.”
It’s difficult to estimate precisely how much Bitcoin Vertu and Kimble have made off with if this in an apparent scam — though it’s certain to be in the millions of dollars range. The staff member posting on Reddit claimed they alone had lost $US20,000-worth as a result. To give an idea of scale, there were more than 20,000 separate product listings on the site.
Community members are furious. One, going by the name of DeepThroat, warned that Kimble and Vertu have “got got 24 hours (and that is being generous) to make this right and re-open the market, and allow people access to their funds. Once that time passes – my crystal ball starts talking and unless you’ve changed identities and moved, you will be F—-D.” (Emphasis theirs.)
Security researcher Brian Krebs wrote that the apparent scam could have a knock-on effect beyond the Deep Web community. The price of Bitcoin could well drop as a result of the disappearance, as it has done when previous marketplaces have shut. As of press time Bitcoin was was worth $US281 and dropping, according to CoinDesk stats, down from $US291 yesterday.
Just last week, German police led what is reportedly the largest-ever Deep Web drugs bust, swooping in on drug distribution ring “Shiny Flakes.” More than $US4-million worth of drugs were seized, which “Shiny Flakes” had intended to distribute through Evolution.