dark for years Online marketplaces and the law enforcement agencies that fight them are caught in a cycle of raiding, flushing, repeating: for every online black market destroyed, another online black market takes its place. But it is rare that a dominant darknet market is destroyed by a massive law enforcement operation, only to rise from the ashes and regain the top spot five years later – a feat that may soon be swept away by the once and future kings AlphaBay kicks off. Prohibition of the cryptocurrency economy.
In July 2017, a global law enforcement agency known as “Operation Bayonet” cracked down on AlphaBay’s vast drug and cybercrime bazaar, seized the site’s central server in Lithuania and arrested the site outside his home in Bangkok The creator of Alexandre Cazes. However, in August of last year, AlphaBay’s second-largest administrator and security expert (known to the public only as DeSnake) suddenly resurfaced to announce AlphaBay’s resurrection in a new and improved form. Now, 10 months later, thanks in part to the collapse and mysterious disappearance of competing darknet marketplaces, DeSnake’s reincarnation of AlphaBay is now well on its way back to its pre-digital underworld heights. In some ways, it appears to have regained that spot.
“Yes, AlphaBay is currently the #1 darknet marketplace,” DeSnake wrote to WIRED in a text-based conversation last week. “I did tell you before that we’d be number one,” he added, referring to our interview with AlphaBay’s new administrators during last summer’s reboot. “I have told you that I will do as I say.”
DeSnake’s bragging is true, at least in part: As of last week, AlphaBay had more than 30,000 unique product listings — mostly drugs, from ecstasy to opioids to methamphetamine — but thousands more List details of malware and stolen data such as social security numbers and credit cards. That’s up from 500 listings last September. Another old marketplace called ASAP shows over 50,000 listings. But ASAP is known to allow vendors to post duplicate lists, and AlphaBay had about 1,300 more active vendors in the first six months of this year, compared with about 1,000 for ASAP, according to Flashpoint, a security firm that closely tracks the competitive market. AlphaBay’s listing growth rate also appears to have accelerated significantly, according to Flashpoint data.
Meanwhile, other marketplaces touted on darknet forums like Archetyp and Incognito have only a few thousand or hundreds of listings. All of this suggests that AlphaBay may already be the most popular marketplace for darknet vendors to list items for sale.
AlphaBay’s tens of thousands of product listings are still just a fraction of the more than 350,000 it offered before it was canceled in 2017, when it was the largest darknet marketplace ever. It was 10 times the size of the fabled Silk Road drug market, according to FBI estimates. DeSnake acknowledged that revenue for the new AlphaBay is not yet close to the peak levels of 2017, when blockchain analytics firm Chainalysis estimated AlphaBay was doing as much as $2 million a day in sales. (DeSnake declined to disclose the current sales numbers, but said they were “big numbers.”)