INTERPOL trains its officers to use the Dark Web to fight illegal commerce. Meanwhile, the biggest Dark Web marketplace, Agora, decided to close because of security threats identified.

To fight the Dark Web, one needs to know how it works. That was the reasoning of the INTERPOL’s Cyber Research Lab when the experts decided to create their own Dark Web network, private cryptocurrency and an underground marketplace. According to the INTERPOL’s news site,

“During the five-day (27 -31 July) training course, participants role-played as vendors, buyers and administrators to improve their understanding of the technical infrastructure of the Tor network hidden services, the structure of illicit marketplaces, and cryptocurrencies. Exercises also included live law enforcement ‘take downs’ of the simulated market places.”

Police officers of eleven countries took part in the training course that took place in Singapore. The second such course is scheduled for November in Brussels.

While the police officers learned how to move around in the Tor network, the researchers from MIT and Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI) found breaches in Tor security features that could lead to deanonynimisation of the servers. The results of this research prompted Agora, possibly the biggest underground marketplace on the Dark Web, to suspend its operations, according to a message published on Agora’s hidden site (and cited in a Reddit thread). Agora states that attacks of new type, discovered by the researchers, are probably being already carried out:

“Additionally, we have recently been discovering suspicious activity around our servers which led us to believe that some of the attacks described in the research could be going on…  To our great sadness we have to take the market offline for a while, until we can develop a better solution. This is the best course of action for everyone involved.”

Agora asked all users to withdraw the money from their accounts as soon as possible and promised to keep intact all the market data including user history and profiles. Luckily for the customers, Agora does not follow the example of two large underground markets that just went offline, disappearing without any notice – Sheep (in December 2013) and Evolution (in March 2015).

CoinFox has written extensively about Dark Web marketplaces trading in bitcoin. According to a research paper by Carnegie Mellon University, those marketplaces routinely process around $300,000-$500,000 a day in cryptocurrency, which is comparable to the total amount processed by BitPay. While they offer all sorts of merchandise, the majority of goods are illicit, as was demonstrated by a Random Darknet Shopper programmed by Swiss techno-artists. They include war materials (weapons and ammunition for the war in Eastern Ukraine were allegedly bought for bitcoins on the Dark Web) and drugs. Even if, according to the Global Drug Survey 2015, Dark Web marketplaces do not turn people into drug addicts, the reason for the authorities to take measures against them is quite obvious.

Hopefully, police officers trained to use the Dark Web would not be tempted by the example of Carl Mark Force IV and Shawn W. Bridges, U. S. Federal agents that used their cryptocurrency knowledge to steal and extort bitcoins and, even being caught by law enforcement, are not facing life imprisonment, unlike Ross Ulbricht, the operator of the Silk Road anonymous marketplace. 


Alexey Tereshchenko