AlphaBay is taking over the dark web once more

Law enforcement agencies and dark web markets have for years been in a cycle of raid, rinse, repeat: For every black market destroyed, another always shows up to replace it. AlphaBay, the once and future king of the contraband crypto-economy, may soon achieve the feat of rising from the ashes after being brought down by a law enforcement operation half a decade ago.

Operation Bayonet took down AlphaBay’s vast narcotics-and-cybercrime marketplace in July 2017, seizing the site’s central server in Lithuania and arresting its creator, Alexandre Cazes, outside his Bangkok home. As of August last year, DeSnake, AlphaBay’s second administrator and security specialist, suddenly reappeared, declaring AlphaBay’s resurrection as a new and improved venture. In its reincarnation, DeSnake’s reborn AlphaBay is well on its way to its former apex atop the dark web underworld, thanks to a tumult of takedowns and the disappearances of rival dark web markets. The country has already reclaimed some of those positions, as measured by some measures.

According to DeSnake, AlphaBay is the #1 darknet marketplace right now, writing to WIRED in a text-based conversation last week. “I did tell you we’d be #1 before,” he added, referring to our interview with AlphaBay’s new administrator at the time of its relaunch last summer. “I am a doer, just as I have said.”

Despite DeSnake’s boast, AlphaBay has thousands of unique products listed as of last week, including drugs, such as ecstasy, opioids, and methamphetamines, but also malware and stolen personal information like Social Security numbers and credit card numbers. In September last year, there were only 500 listings. There are more than 50,000 listings on another market called ASAP. This market, however, is known for allowing duplicate listings. AlphaBay had more than 1,300 active vendors in roughly the first six months of this year, compared to about 1,000 for ASAP, according to security firm Flashpoint. AlphaBay’s listings are also growing significantly faster, according to Flashpoint’s data.

Meanwhile, other dark web markets like Archetyp and Incognito have only a few thousand or a few hundred listings. This suggests AlphaBay may already be the most popular dark web market for vendors to list their products.

There are just tens of thousands of listings on AlphaBay, compared to more than 350,000 before it was taken down in 2017, when it was the largest dark web market ever. FBI estimates that it was ten times the size of Silk Road’s legendary drug market. According to Chainalysis, AlphaBay generated as much as $2 million a day in sales in 2017. DeSnake concedes the new AlphaBay hasn’t yet reached its 2017 peak in revenue. According to DeSnake, sales are in the high digits, but declined to provide specific figures.

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