In Brief
Dark Web’s Biggest Market May Have Been Hacked by Police

The largest and oldest dark web marketplace—Dream—plans to shut down this month. Even by the standards of the dark web, the circumstances are mysterious.

In March, a message began appearing when users opened the site. As well as stating the closing date, it promised that listings would transfer to a “partner company.” With just three weeks to go, all trading has stopped, according a report in Vice.

There are several unusual things about how the site is closing. First, normally messages from dark web sites are signed using PGP encryption, so as to prove authorship. Dream’s admin closure message had nothing like that, raising the possibility of capture by hackers—or law enforcement.

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Second, closures are often immediate and represent exit-scams. In other words, the admins suddenly disappear with all the money in the central escrow system. They don’t give users a month to withdraw as much money as possible.

Third, whoever runs the site doesn’t seem to be retiring with their gains, but rather carrying on using a different site. The partner company mentioned in the message sounds like a simple replacement for Dream.

One theory in dark web forums is that Dream has been taken over by the authorities—possibly some time ago. Changing to a new site could be part of a honeypot operation.

One theory in dark web forums is that Dream has been taken over by the authorities—possibly some time ago.

That tactic has been successful before. An international police effort called Operation Bayonet 2.0 took control of dark web marketplace AlphaBay in 2017, causing users to rush to another site called Hansa. The latter had been seized weeks earlier by a Dutch high-tech crime unit.

One Dream admin says that a regular private hacker holding the site for ransom. It’s not clear whether the closure is connected to a series of ‘Distributed Denial of Service’ attacks on Dream earlier this year, which slowed it down its performance.

But one thing is for certain: doubt and confusion about the security of the marketplace will put off users in search of secrecy. Whether or not the authorities are responsible, they will be pleased with that result.