The Deep Web Stack is a representation of the markets and structures in the order of their popularity and its number of products. They function primarily as black markets, selling or brokering transactions involving drugs, cyber-arms, weapons, counterfeit currency, stolen credit card details, forged documents, unlicensed pharmaceuticals, steroids, other illicit goods as well as the sale of legal products. In December 2014, a study by Gareth Owen from the University of Portsmouth suggested the second most popular content on Tor were darknet markets.
- Middle Earth
- The Marketplace
- Tor Bazaar
- The Pirate Market
- Tom Marketplace
- Cloud Nine
- Silk Road 2
The first pioneering marketplace to use both Tor and Bitcoin escrow was Silk Road, founded by Ross Ulbricht under the pseudonym “Dread Pirate Roberts” in February 2011. In June 2011, Gawker published an article about the site, which led to “Internet buzz” and an increase in website traffic. This, in turn, led to political pressure from Senator Chuck Schumer on the US DEA and Department of Justice to shut it down which they finally did in October 2013 following a lengthy investigation.
Silk Road’s use of both Tor, Bitcoin escrow and feedback systems would set the standard for new darknet markets for the coming years. The shutdown was described as “the best advertising the dark net markets could have hoped for” following the proliferation of competing sites this caused, and The Guardian predicted others would take over the market that Silk Road previously dominated.
From late 2013 through to 2014, new markets started launching with regularity, such as the Silk Road 2.0, run by the former Silk Road site administrators as well as the Agora marketplace.
Such launches were not always a success, in February 2014 the highly anticipated market based on Black Market Reloaded, Utopia opened only to shut down 8 days later following rapid actions by Dutch law enforcement.February 2014 also marked the short lifespans of Black Goblin Market and CannabisRoad, two sites which closed after being anonymised without much effort.
November 2014 briefly shook the darknet market ecosystem, when Opeation Onymous executed by the FBI and UK’s National Crime Agency led to the seizure of 27 hidden sites, including one of the largest markets at the time Silk Road 2.0 as well 12 smaller markets and individual vendor sites.
By September 2014, Agora was reported to be the largest market, avoiding Operation Onymous and as of April 2015 has gone on to be the largest overall marketplace with more listings than the Silk Road at its height.
2015 would feature market diversification and further developments around escrow and decentralization.