FBI Releases Darknet Marketplace Primer


The FBI released on November 1 a primer on darknet marketplaces, just one week after the Bureau wrapped up, along with other U.S. law enforcement, Operation Hyperion. The Operation intended to disrupt darknet marketplaces on the international level.

According to the FBI, the operation started with the Five Eyes Law Enforcement Group (FELEG), an international coalition of law enforcement agencies based in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. They collaborate on intelligence operations to combat transnational crime.

One working group within FELEG, the Cyber Crime Working Group, targets “sophisticated perpetrators operating key criminal services in the cyber underground marketplace.”

FBI agents made contact with more than 150 Darknet marketplace-related individuals in the U.S. who they suspected purchased illicit goods on the darknet.

“Some of these individuals confessed to ordering a range of illegal drugs and controlled substances online, including heroin, cocaine, morphine, and ketamine.”

The FBI released its Primer to help readers understand the Darknet. The Primer details how the Clear Web works, which is what the general public is used to browsing.

“But there is a vast amount of web content out there on the Internet, and much of it is not indexed by traditional search engines—that part of the web is known as the Deep Web,” the Bureau writes. “Its content is still available to the general public, but it’s harder to find unless you have the exact URL. Examples of Deep Web content are websites and forums that require log-ins, websites that don’t allow for indexing or aren’t linked to anything, and databases.” The Bureau then describes the Darknet.

“DarkNet content is not indexed and consists of overlaying networks that use the public Internet but require unique software, configuration, or authorization to access,” the FBI writes. “And this access is predominately designed to hide the identity of the user.”

The Bureau says there is some criminal activity on the Clear Web and Deep Web. “…[T]here are some legitimate uses—and users—of the DarkNet. But because of the anonymity it offers, many criminals and criminal groups gravitate toward the DarkNet, often doing business through online marketplaces set up for nefarious purposes.” The FBI then lists products often found on Darknet marketplaces.

“Typically, products and services involve child sexual exploitation; drugs; guns; chemical, biological, and radiological materials and knowledge; stolen goods; counterfeit goods; and computer hacking tools,” the web post notes. “Payment for these goods and services is usually through virtual currency like bitcoin, also designed to be anonymous.”


The Bureau also goes over how on illicit DarkNet marketplaces buyers provide feedback on products and services in a manner similar to eBay, including internal messaging systems, website forums and so on.

“The difference, of course, is that the feedback, internal messaging, and forums on DarkNet marketplaces focus on topics like the quality of child pornography images, the potency of a particular poison, or the speed at which a cache of guns is mailed to its buyer,” the FBI warns.

The FBI focuses its investigations “not on individual criminals but on the most egregious criminal organization and activities.” The FBI admits difficult accessing Darknet marketplaces due to “their very nature. They say it’s not impossible.

“The Bureau, with its partners, uses all available investigative techniques to target buyers, sellers, marketplace administrators, and the technical infrastructure of the marketplaces themselves. And we have had success doing it.”

There are examples thereof. In November 2014, U.S. law enforcement filed charges against more than 400 hidden service Darknet addresses, such as dozens of illicit marketplace websites on the Onion Router or Tor.

Silk Road 2.0 website operator was arrested and chargedSuch actions are “vital” for the FBI’s actions.

“They allow us to dismantle illicit websites and go after those responsible for them,” the Bureau wrote.  But they also enable us to develop actionable intelligence on other websites, criminals, and criminal organizations. And the knowledge we gain from these investigations helps us create more sophisticated investigative tools to shine a brighter light into criminal activity on the DarkNet.”

Images from Shutterstock.

Justin O'Connell is the founder of financial technology focused CryptographicAsset.com. Justin organized the launch of the largest Bitcoin ATM hardware and software provider in the world at the historical Hotel del Coronado in southern California. His works appear in the U.S.'s third largest weekly, the San Diego Reader, VICE and elsewhere.