Wall Street Market, the second-largest darknet in the world in recent months, has been shut down by international law enforcement agencies, including Europol as well as U.S., German, Dutch and Romanian law enforcement. Three suspected operators of the online marketplace for illegal goods and services have been arrested in Germany, while some of the highest-selling suppliers of narcotics were arrested in the United States.
Darknet markets are the digital black markets only accessible through the anonymizing Tor browser; they use bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies for payment. They have only grown in popularity since the pioneering Silk Road was shutdown in 2013. According to research by blockchain analytics firm Chainalysis published in January 2019, darknet market activity almost doubled throughout 2018, surpassing a yearly volume of $600 million. Back in the days of Silk Road, the record yearly volume was only $200 million, according to Chainalysis.
One of Silk Road’s recent successors, Wall Street Market, offered a platform for selling illegal drugs as well as weapons, hacking software and stolen login credentials. According to Europol, over 1,150,000 user accounts were registered on Wall Street Market, and over 63,000 offers had been placed on the website by more than 5,400 seller accounts. This made Wall Street Market the second-most popular darknet market at the time of closure, Europol noted, presumably behind Dream Market.
The website was ultimately shutdown by German Federal Criminal Police, under the authority of the German Public Prosecutor’s office, and three suspected operators were arrested. The German police were supported by the Dutch National Police, Europol, Eurojust and various U.S. government agencies including the DEA, FBI, IRS, Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the U.S. Department of Justice. German authorities also seized €550,000 (approximately $615,500 USD) in cash and six-figure amounts worth of bitcoin and XMR (monero), as well as several vehicles and other evidence.
Europol’s Executive Director Catherine De Bolle commented in a statement published on the Europol website:
“These two investigations show the importance of law enforcement cooperation at an international level and demonstrate that illegal activity on the dark web is not as anonymous as criminals may think.”
As reported by Bitcoin Magazine last week, Wall Street Market had been in a state of turmoil for several weeks. Following a presumed influx of new users from the also-defunct darknet market Dream Market, Wall Street Market operators started pulling an exit scam, reportedly stealing a total of $14 million to $30 million worth of bitcoin and XMR from user accounts. On top of that, some Wall Street Market users were being blackmailed, as one of the website’s moderators threatened to leak identifying information about the users to law enforcement, unless these users paid him 0.05 BTC.
As reported by ZDNet, the same moderator went a step further only days later, as he published the IP address and his login credentials to the darknet market on darknet-focused forum Dread. This not only revealed the location of the Wall Street Market server, which was located in the Netherlands, but also allowed anyone access to the website’s administrative section to collect information about users and orders, which reportedly included deanonymizing details like home addresses. It’s likely that this is how law enforcement was able to shut down Wall Street Market and arrest suspects, but this has not been confirmed.
The takedown further confirms that the recent “darknet market era,” with Dream Market and Wall Street Market as market leaders, is coming to and end. Wall Street Market is now officially offline, and Dream Market halted trading weeks ago with its future unclear. While a notice on Dream Market predicted it would shut down on April 30, 2019, the website is still up — though with trading still disabled. The Dream Market replacement website is not online either, as the onion address in the notice is unresponsive.
On top of that, in the same press release, Interpol announced that Finnish authorities shut down yet another darknet market earlier this year. Valhalla, which was previously known under its Finnish name Silkkitie, was one of the oldest darknet markets online, though, according to Finnish customs, the site had been compromised by them since at least 2017. Still, according to Europol, Valhalla had its contents seized by Finnish Customs only this year, in close cooperation with the French National Police.