Though ending on a down note with the Dread forum and several markets currently offline, 2022 was an impactful year for darknet markets which saw old mainstays in the industry crumble and new contenders rise to take their place. 2022 also saw a continued evolution of the cat-and-mouse game between law enforcement and market admins/vendors, with world governments taking new steps to identify key players and the players finding new ways to stay in operation.
Perhaps the biggest event of the year was the dismantling of Hydra, the Russian language darknet market that had been in operation since 2015. Hydra wasn’t just any ordinary market, however: it was the biggest DNM the world had ever seen, and thus far nobody seems capable of filling their shoes. On the English language side of things, AlphaBay, which was famously shut down with the capture of famed admin Alexandre Cazes, re-emerged as the world’s #1 darknet market — a title which it last had in 2014.
Also in 2022, Monero overtook Bitcoin as the most popular cryptocurrency for DNM transactions, with several markets now operating as XMR-only. Bitcoin multisig payments were revealed to be easily identifiable on the blockchain, and Litecoin introduced anonymizing MimbleWimble features into its core software. Monero also saw a hard fork upgrade that increased its anonymity while reducing average transaction sizes, making it all the more fitting as the darknet’s currency of choice.
The following is a chronological look back at some of the year’s biggest events in darknet markets, a year that was marked by a rash of closures, exit scams, and dominated by one of the most persistent DDOS attacks the Tor network has ever seen.
- January – Monopoly and Cartel markets, which had been offline since the end of Dec., are declared to have exit scammed after their admins cease all communications, taking trapped user funds along with them. Monopoly was the longest-standing non-Russian darknet market at the time. On Jan. 30, the admin of darkfail tweeted that Monopoly’s servers had been confiscated by their provider.
- February – Dark0de market exit scams after going offline and deleting their posts on Dread. Dark0de was made popular through its Direct Pay system and stylish interface. It had over 40,000 listings at the time of its closure.
- March – After a couple months of user-reported problems and several warning signs, World Market exit scams; its admins reportedly taking around $15 million in escrowed crypto funds along with it. An apology by staff members does little to quell the anger of customers who lost money.
- April – Hydra, the world’s longest-running darknet market which accounted for 80% of all DNM transactions, is taken offline in a joint effort by US and German law enforcement. Previously thought to be entirely based in Russia, Hydra’s servers were actually located in Germany. AlphaBay regains its former title of world’s biggest darknet marketplace.
- May – Versus market goes offline, initially thought to be caused by a hacking incident in which a major security breach was exploited; however it is later revealed that the market admins decided to close down the market due to site security issues. Unlike prior exits this year, many users are compensated for their trapped funds by the admins.
- June – Newly-launched Kerberos, Cocorico and Black Pyramid markets begin to find user bases, competing to pick up refugees and market share from recently-exited, closed, or seized marketplaces.
- July – On the 5th anniversary of the death of original AlphaBay founder & admin Alexandre Cazes, current AB admin DeSnake publicly reiterates his belief that Cazes was “killed after an operation by LE” and did not die by suicide, as was generally reported by the news and government agencies.
- August – Mega, a little-known market that existed side-by-side with Hydra through much of its existence, overtakes local competitors to become Russia’s biggest darknet marketplace. It still trails Hydra’s multi-billion-dollar volume by orders of magnitude, however.
- September – Dread, the dark web’s pre-eminent forum for darknet market-related discussion, is knocked offline by a crippling DDOS attack after refusing to give into extortionate demands of the attacker. The attack would abate only temporarily, affecting other markets & slowing down the Tor network overall. Dread would spend the entirety of December offline.
- October – After being offline for three weeks during which several problems mounted for his marketplace, AlphaBay admin DeSnake resumed public communications, putting to rest fears that it was on the verge of pulling an exit scam. Customer deposits were credited, login issues sorted, and disputes were once again being handled.
- November – The recovery of 53,000 BTC stolen from Silk Road in 2012 becomes the US government’s largest seizure ever, equating to roughly $3.3 billion in proceeds. Defendant James Zhong, 33, admitted to having used an exploit in Silk Road’s withdrawal system to obtain the BTC which he held most of in cold storage in his home for the better part of a decade.
- December – The DDOS attacker that forced Dread offline in September appears to ramp up & spread his attack to several darknet markets, rendering several of the biggest markets unreachable. This includes AlphaBay, Bohemia, Incognito, ASAP, Abacus, Tor2Door, and Tor Market. While down on the Tor market, some markets remain functioning via their I2P network site.