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A new king of online black markets? Call it Evolution

Ones and zeros

The new king has secured the throne.

It’s a one-stop shop to beat the cops.

Evolution Marketplace already crossed the threshold to become the largest online black market of all time last month. But now, it’s beating the rest of the Dark Net markets with a staggering share of the pie.

Evolution now offers over half of all products on sale on Dark Net markets, ranging from credit cards to weapons and nearly half of all the drugs you can buy anonymously, according to a new study from the Digital Citizens Alliance. A month ago, the market only accounted for a third of all Dark Net sales.

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This kind of dominance of the Dark Net marketplace hasn’t been seen in over a year, when the original Silk Road reigned supreme. Of course, that ended in handcuffs, and trial is set to begin next month.

While the rest of the Dark Net has plateaued in size or even shrunk slightly, Evolution’s growth has been rapid. Launched in early 2014, the market has listed 32% more products just since the FBI shut down Silk Road 2 in Nov. Over the past two months, its growth is at 71 percent. Since April, Evolution has seen explosive 500 percent growth.

It now features 26,840 total products on sale, the vast majority of which are illegal around the entire world.

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“Evolution Marketplace is a much different animal than Silk Road,” Digital Citizens Alliance Research Director Dan Palumbo said in a release he emailed to the Daily Dot. True to its name, Evolution is willing to to push the boundaries of what it sells, Palumbo said:

They sell weapons, stolen credit cards, and more nefarious items that were forbidden on both versions of Silk Road. Silk Road sold a lot of dangerous things, but operators drew the line at their version of ‘victimless crimes,’ i.e. no child pornography, weapons, or identity theft.  Now, four of the top five DarkNet Marketplaces sell weapons while three of the top five sell stolen financial data. This is a darker DarkNet. It speaks to the challenge facing law enforcement as they knock one set of bad actors offline, another comes along with bigger and bolder intentions.

Since authorities seized Silk Road and over a dozen other markets in Nov., five new anonymous markets have come online. At most, however, they’re medium-sized, and they don’t compete on the same tier as Evolution.

“It is a victory for the FBI to take down a large group of markets at once and see the numbers go down, but we have to see what happens as the new, and existing, markets continue to adapt to a new landscape,” Palumbo continued. “We should remember that after the first version of Silk Road went down in 2013, the traffic was up by more than 30 percent just six months later. This is a persistent crowd and they will keep looking for ways to evade law enforcement.”

Illustration by Max Fleishman

This story has been updated to reflect the fact that Evolution had already displaced the Silk Road as the Dark Net’s largest marketplace.

Patrick Howell O'Neill

Patrick Howell O'Neill

Patrick Howell O'Neill is a notable cybersecurity reporter whose work has focused on the dark net, national security, and law enforcement. A former senior writer at the Daily Dot, O'Neill joined CyberScoop in October 2016. I am a cybersecurity journalist at CyberScoop. I cover the security industry, national security and law enforcement.