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With Empire Gone, Patrons Eye Other Illegal Darkweb Markets

With Empire Gone, Patrons Eye Other Illegal Darkweb Markets

Dark Web

Dark web marketplace Empire has recently made an abrupt exit after being subject to a heavy DDoS attack campaign, and extortion attempts.

According to the latest reports, Empire site admins had been struggling to keep the operation afloat, and the recent blow from cyber-attacks left them no choice but to put the illicit marketplace to rest with a bleak possibility of its return.

Where’s the next stop?

With many customers and vendors left in the dark (no pun intended) about Empire’s whereabouts, and with their money stuck in escrow, what will be their next plan of action?

Suffice to say, Empire’s sudden disappearance has shattered the trust of darknet patrons in the so-called “escrow” systems employed by these marketplaces.

Israeli cyber threat intelligence monitoring firm, KELA has provided BleepingComputer with information on the matter, along with screenshots.

The company analyzed forums where darknet surfers frequent, and have offered insights on their footsteps.

“Upon analysis of several posts in forums such as Dread and TheHub, where darknet actor freely communicate, we’ve noticed that there seems to be a consensus on the fact that most users will likely begin moving their activities and communications to the following three popular underground sites:  VersusWhite House Market, and Icarus, as well as the messaging app, Wickr,” states Victoria Kivilevich, a Threat Intelligence Analyst at KELA.

[Correction: clarified that Wickr refers to a messaging app, not an underground forum.]

Empire patrons PMing on forums eying other markets
Former Empire users discuss collaborating on illegal darknet markets: White House Market and Monopoly
Source: KELA

In another forum post provided by KELA, one “ex Empire Vendor,” Arbeitsamt stated they lost €5,000 with the marketplace’s abrupt exit.

“I basically lost my living existence. My main income source. I was so committed since Empire had so much traffic, it just worked,” said the vendor, announcing plans to potentially join Monopoly.

empire market gone discussions
A forum post where members discuss potential marketplaces to replace Empire
​​​​​Source: KELA

While there is mention of Monopoly and Torrez, the analyst believes those choices would be secondary with the markets mentioned above taking precedence.

“Additionally, we’ve noticed several also mentioning moving to Monopoly or Torrez, however, those were not the main ones discussed. Below we’ve included several screenshots showing the chatter between Empire’s members about where to go next,” Kivilevich continued.

Also read: What is Pseudonymisation: 5 Techniques and Its Best Practices

Introducing fee-free markets

Based on the chatter in dark web forums, it seems some illicit marketplaces like Icarus are looking to waive fees to draw Empire’s patrons in.

However, these alternative marketplaces aren’t guaranteed to be immune from extortion threats and DDoS attacks as those that led to Empire’s demise.

Empire alternatives fee waived
Some markets waiving feees in anticipation of Empire’s patrons​​​​​

“Icarus Market are apparently waving [sic] vendor fees to get the vendors to come after the shutdown of empire,i’m sure it will take the most of the fall out. only thing about the most popular market is all the ddos attacks that’s sure to follow,don’t think I’ll rush in anywhere for the 1st week or 2 if possible,” stated one user.

Another forum post comes from a vendor who claims to provide the “best cocaine in Europe shipping from Germany, all tracked.”

The post reassured potential customers that the vendor has had no intentions of scamming anyone or disappearing with funds, and have themselves been hit heavily by Empire’s “exit scam.”

But more importantly, the vendor shares details of their reemergence on Wickr and White House Market.

Empire market trust shattered in users
Another darknet vendor from Empire providing a statement

Crooks with ethics?

In a rather ironic forum post shared by KELA, a happy customer who had received a product offered to pay up the “$250 of that $16k” they believe they were responsible for, given the escrow previously maintained by Empire has vanished.

“I wish I could make the [sic] fully right for you. Product did land and looks good. I’ll be sure to look you up on WH soon,” said the user, sharing their plan to visit White House (WH) Market next. 

Empire market customers repaying
A discussion between an apparent customer and a vendor, both former Empire Market patrons

Empire Market was one of the largest and most popular illicit places on the dark web dealing in illegal drugs, chemicals, counterfeit items, jewelry, and credit card numbers while offering payment methods including Bitcoin (BTC), Litecoin (LTC), and Monero (XMR).

While multiple DDoS and extortion events may have brought Empire to their knees, alternative darknet markets exist and open up safe havens for cybercriminals to thrive. 

Of course, that is not to say these alternative illegal markets couldn’t end up being extinguished like Empire one day.

Moreover, with their increased popularity, these illegal dark web markets are sure to fall under the scrutiny of law enforcement agencies like the FBI, given the scale of their illicit activities.

Also read: Top 3 Simple Data Backup Singapore and Recovery Methods



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